Aeroflot has introduced 100% screening for checked-in luggage and is using cross-bred jackal dogs to sniff out explosives as part of its anti-terrorist project aimed at improving passenger safety and security. Work on the programme originally began after Chechen terrorists hijacked a Vnukovo Airlines Tupolev Tu-154M in March 2001, and it was speeded up after 11 September.

There has now been a push to fill other holes in the Russian aviation security system. Air marshals have been introduced on "higher-risk flights", including those to the North Caucasus or aircraft carrying sports club fans. According to the head of the airline's security service Valentin Baranov, 596 flights operated last year with air marshals on board. Rather than using guns or chemical substances, the air marshals are equipped with protective body suits and gloves "and other special means," says Baranov. So far they have only been called upon to help cabin crew "to pacify badly-behaving passengers," he adds.

Aeroflot established its own dog security service in May 2001, but has increased the number of flights undergoing dog checks to 15%. Because terrorists are increasingly using explosives based on plastids, a plant-derived material that ordinary police dogs cannot detect, Aeroflot has chosen a cross-breed of Siberian huskies and Tadjikistan's jackals which are "far better suited" to the role.

In 2002 there were six threats by terrorists on board. All were stopped by airline personnel, says Baranov, who adds that twice in 2001 bombs were found in Aeroflot's Sheremetyevo training centre and made harmless.

"Criminal category" passengers such as illegal immigrants, mostly from South-East Asia and the Middle East, are the biggest headache, says Baranov, with up to 1,700 people caught each year - 75% of whom were identified by Aeroflot's security screening system. Russian citizens make up 5-6% of this category, he adds.

Despite cases of Chechen rebels using shoulder launched surface-to-air missiles (SAM) against army helicopters, "Russian aviation authorities do not see portable SAMs as a threat to airliners", says Baranov.


Source: Flight International