By Colonel H R Naidu Gade – Indian Army Veteran


Critical infrastructures are physical assets, systems, networks, and facilities of such vital importance to a nation’s security and economy that their failure or degradation would significantly impact the social and economic wellbeing of the nation and its security. Critical infrastructure needs to be protected against all kinds of threats including cyber-attacks. India is the third largest domestic civil aviation market in the world behind the USA and China and is growing very rapidly in terms of the number of passengers carried, the freight transported, the infrastructure created and the number of airlines and aircraft operated, thus making it critical for economic development and nation functioning. Under the Governments new Regional Air Connectivity programme, a network of airports and other infrastructure are being developed across all regions, towns and cities. The article aims to elaborate on the civil aviation infrastructure and assets, the threats, the vulnerabilities and the measures in place to protect these from sabotage, disruption and damage.


The airports in India handled over 341 million passengers in the year 2018, domestic passenger traffic grew by 18.28 per cent to reach 243 million and is expected to become 293.28 million in 2020, international passenger traffic increased by 10.43 per cent to reach 65.48 million and is expected to grow to 76 million in 2020. The domestic freight traffic stood at 1.2 billion tonnes, while international freight traffic was at 2.2 billion tonnes. India’s domestic and international aircraft movements grew 14.40 per cent and 9.40 per cent to 1.9 million and 0.44 million during 2018, respectively. The government-owned Airports Authority of India (AAI) operates 126 airports and civil enclaves out of a total of 449 airports and airstrips located throughout India. Total operational civil aviation airports in India increased by 34% to 131 airports. In 2018, the Civil Aviation Minister said that as many as 100 new airports would be built in the next 10 to 15 years for about $60 billion to meet the growing domestic air travel demand. World class airports have been constructed in metropolitan and other cities over the last 20 years. The projected India’s demand for aircraft is likely to touch 1,740 or 4.3% of global volume, valued at $240 billion, over the next 20 years. A number of Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul facilities are being set up by world’s leading aircraft manufacturers. Remote and Virtual Tower (RVT), a new concept where air traffic service at an airport is performed somewhere else, thereby, dispensing with the need for a tower on its premises is being progressively developed. It is a rapid growth story for Indian Civil Aviation Sector.

Airports India. Source: Indian Civil Aviation Ministry.


Aviation security is a combination of human, material and technological resources to safeguard civil aviation against unlawful interference that could be acts of terrorism, sabotage, threat to life and property, communication of false threat, and bombings, etc. The threats to the civil aviation sector both physical and cyber emanate from the jihadi terrorists infiltrating from and supported by hostile neighbouring countries; insurgents in the North East; Left-wing extremists in Central India; militants in the State of Jammu and Kashmir and urban terrorists in densely populated cities and towns which house major aviation infrastructure assets. A terror attack on an airport is always something that gives a terrorist organisation maximum visibility and psychological advantage. The threats could be in the form of: hijacking of aircraft with passengers by extremists as a bargaining tool; bombing of the airports during peak hour traffic to increase the number of casualties manifold; physical destruction of aircraft while on the ground or take off stage by using drones and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles; Sabotage the air traffic control (ATC) operations there by creating chaos, disruption and innumerable air accidents; trafficking in narcotics; proliferation of slums around the airport boundaries in places like Mumbai and cyber-threats to the vast ICT and ATC networks dealing with aviation operations.

Benguluru International Airport. Source: Financial Express.

Hyderabad International Airport. Source: GHIAL.

Mumbai Airport-Slums. Source: Media India Group.

The security of small regional airports is provided by the respective state police forces which are not as well trained, organised and equipped as the central security forces at the major airports. There is a great probability of security lapses and breaches at these airports. High concentration of people at the airports and on large airliners increases the potentially high death rate with attacks on aircraft like the 1985 Kanishka bombing, and the ability to use a hijacked airplane as a lethal weapon providing an alluring target for terrorism such as the 11 September 2001 attacks in the USA. According to the top airport security officials, since the last few years the airports in India have been on a severe terrorist alert. Incidents happening in the neighbouring countries have done little to assuage the tension of the security personnel manning the airports in India. According to the latest reports, the chances of a terrorist attack on an Indian airport are “high”, which, for all purposes, means that airport security will have stay on its toes.


India stepped up its airport security after the 1999 Kandahar hijacking. The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), and the States Police Forces are in charge of airport security under the regulatory framework of the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS). The main responsibility of BCAS are: to lay down Aviation Security Standards in accordance with Annex 17 to Chicago Convention of ICAO for airport operators, airlines operators, and their security agencies responsible for implementing aviation security measures; Monitoring the implementation of security rules and regulations and carrying out survey of security needs; Ensure that the persons implementing security controls are appropriately trained and possess all competencies required to perform their duties; and planning and coordination of aviation security matters. The CISF manages airport security in about 64 major airports, and the States police forces manage the rest of the airports. CISF formed an Airport Security Group to protect Indian airports and every airport has now been given an Airport Security Unit, a trained unit to counter unlawful interference with civil aviation. Apart from the CISF, every domestic airline has a security group who looks after the aircraft security. The cargo security and screening are done by the Regulated Agents or airlines’ and airports’ security staff who are tested and certified by the BCAS.

Delhi-Airport Security Queue. Source: Delhi International Airport Limited.


The prevailing security scenario demands man and machine to work in tandem through a system of integrated security solutions by giving balanced and equal importance to security technology as well as manpower. Use of technology in security like CCTV, Door Frame and Hand-Held Metal Detectors, X-Ray Baggage Inspection System, Biometric Access Control, Perimeter Intrusion Detection System (PIDS), etc. results in optimal utilisation of human resources and early detection and neutralisation of threat. Airport security agencies have recognized the importance of behavioural analysis of passengers and staff as an aid in screening. “Behavioural” profiling is a special process through which the actions of the suspect are tracked before a decision is taken whether he needs to be taken aside for more detailed checks. Major airports have deployed highly sophisticated PIDS, a four-layered, hi-tech security system which has physical and covert detection systems with taut wire, buried cable, large number of CCTV cameras for live visuals, radars, a number of watchtowers and a patrolling track along the perimeter wall and integrating the PIDS with the radars, CCTV cameras and the control centre.

Airside Security. Source: CISF.

An electronic system for alerting authorities about suspicious travellers was recently launched at the Delhi airport. A new electronic Indian Customs Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS) has been developed which would act as an electronic database of all passengers, crew and other airline staff entering and exiting the airport. APIS automatically ‘red flags’ suspicious passengers on the basis of their movement and other parameters and gives a lead to customs officials for follow up. APIS is also capable of handling information such as the issuance of red corner notices against wanted persons and warrants issued by Interpol and other law enforcement agencies. The system would be helpful in checking the instances of smuggling at the airport, which have seen a rise lately. There needs to be a greater accent on modern technology and mechanisation to increase the effectiveness of the security forces deployed.

Remote and Virtual Air Traffic Control Concept. Source: Saab Group.

Most of the airports in India are brown field airports except Hyderabad & Bangalore which are green field airports. Mumbai airport is one of many airports having a large number of hutments around the perimeter which requires a different approach to security of the aircraft. Airports and the Aviation industry require specialised security solutions and in this current situation of elevated threats, the identification of suspicious activity amongst passengers as well as staff, in and around the airports, is imperative. The protection of airside and restriction of unauthorised access, particularly to aircraft, is a key element in the provision of airport security – this includes the security of the perimeter as well as the airside. As airport perimeters are normally several kilometres in length, this can often be a challenge.

Perimeter Security. Source: GHIAL.

Passenger Screening. Source: CISF.

Quick Reaction Teams. Source: CISF.


Airports and aircrafts across the globe have always been a target and will always stay so. The idea is to be constantly innovative to ensure that the unthinkable does not happen. It is generally said that a terrorist needs to get lucky only once to cause mayhem at any of the airports across the country and the agencies in charge of security have to be lucky every time. If no incident happens, it does not mean that threats have waned. ■


Colonel H R Naidu Gade – Indian Army Veteran
[B E (Civil), M Sc (Defence Studies), M B A (HR)]

Commissioned into the Corps of Combat Engineers. A Civil Engineer, Management, and Security Professional, with 44 years of rich experience (8 years international) in the field of Combat Engineering, Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives (CBRNe) Defence, Security & Disaster Management, Critical Infrastructure Security and Counter IED Operations. Colonel Gade is a qualified CBRN and C-IED Professional.

Graduate of Defence Services Staff College and Army War College. Commanded an Assault Engineer Regiment and held important Command, General Staff, and Instructional appointments in the Army. As the Joint Director for CBRN Defence, the Ministry of Defence (Army), he was responsible for evolving, planning, and executing CBRN defence measures and Disaster Management for the Indian Armed Forces.

Is former member International Civil Service while working 1997-2004, as Chief CW Inspector with the ‘Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)’, The Netherlands, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2013. He led teams of international professionals on many verification missions to various member countries, to verify the inventory of Chemical Weapons and monitor their destruction.

Presently, Chief Consultant with ‘CBRNe Secure India’ a ‘forum and a knowledge centre’ for bringing in awareness in the general public, government and security entities on the threats arising from the use of CBRNe material and their disastrous consequences? Speaks at various international & domestic fora on CBRN, Disaster Management, Critical Infrastructure Protection and C-IED Issues and writes articles for various journals worldwide on these issues.

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Protecting India’s Civil Aviation Sector – CIP Review Online March 2019

Publication date: March 2019