Center for Strategic Decision Research


A Proactive Approach to Global Security

Mr. Hans-Joachim Gante
President, BDLI (German Aerospace Industries Association)
Former CEO, Airbus Deutschland

Our self-confidence as aviators is based on the long-term benefits derived by our home countries and the global economy. We are, and will continue to be, one of the most dependable growth, employment, and technology engines of the economy. We will master the challenges of today and make use of the opportunities to come. 

About 40% of all global trade, based on the value of the goods, is transported by air. Therefore aviation has a hard time when the global economy goes through a difficult phase. In turn, any crisis affecting the airlines quickly affects manufacturers and equipment suppliers. We are currently experiencing this problem in an extreme form. 


September 11 and its aftermath have had a significant impact on many areas of aviation. According to the IATA, U.S. airlines in particular have experienced losses totalling well over $10 billion in both 2001 and 2002. Transatlantic traffic, which constitutes the core business of most major American and European airline companies, has still not recovered. 

This situation has been aggravated by unequal conditions on the two sides of the Atlantic: U.S. airlines have received significantly higher subsidies, and governments in Europe have generally restricted themselves to guarantees on liability. There is no doubt that U.S. airline companies have been hit harder, which Europeans prefer to forget in this context, but my intention here is not to stimulate a debate about commercial law. 

During 2003, the only air-travel market that remained relatively healthy, the market in the Far East, was visited by the SARS respiratory disease epidemic. The negative consequences affected the air-travel industry in that market as well as the major European airline companies. 

 All of the developments in air travel have been directly affecting production figures for aircraft manufacturers since the middle of 2001 (all of the industry's difficulties cannot be attributed to September 11 because the global economy had been showing signs of a downward trend prior to that date). Boeing, for example, has had to cut production by half. This, of course, is not just due to the crisis, but also to the increased strength enjoyed by Airbus in the marketplace. 

Airbus, however, was also caught by the crisis during a ramp-up phase. The goal was to follow 325 deliveries in 2001 by producing 390 aircraft in 2002. But only 303 aircraft were built. In 2003, the schedule was geared to break the 400-aircraft barrier. The reality is that only 300 Airbuses will be produced by the end of the 2003 fiscal year. The situation slammed the brakes on Airbus production abruptly. The supply sector was particularly hard hit and had to make some difficult adjustments. The German share in Airbus production is now around 40%. 

Lower production figures for new aircraft were not the only cutbacks that were made during 2001 and 2002. Hundreds of aircraft were taken out of service. Around 2,000 commercial aircraft are standing around in the American desert. If we look at the age and types of aircraft that have been mothballed, it is clear that many of them will never take off again. The majority will never again be used for passenger travel and only a small number will have a new lease on life as converted cargo aircraft. However, I do not think this represents a particular threat to the sales opportunities for new aircraft once we reach the end of the crisis. 

The perspectives for air travel are positive over the medium and long term. I agree with most experts that we will be able to resume the growth we enjoyed during previous years. Currently we are expecting an annual increase of around 5% in passenger numbers and around 6% in cargo traffic. While I do not want to be overly optimistic, I predict that sometime between the end of 2004 and mid-2005 we will see air travel taking off again. 

Many airlines have the same view. The number of aircraft orders booked for Airbus is positive, 300 in 2002. However, passenger confidence in aircraft as a means of transportation is a key factor for sustaining an air travel recovery, and manufacturers and aviation authorities have implemented a number of strategic measures in this area. 


Since 2001, everyone has been taking appropriate action to deal with the overall air-travel situation. We manufacturers have been working in close cooperation with the airlines to introduce a wide range of measures and develop different initiatives. The following four areas have been the focus of this work: 

  • Securing the transponder signal: Lessons learned from September 11 have shown that we need to make this electronic system a top priority. When the system is secure, hijackers can no longer intervene and change a flight path undetected. Air-traffic controllers on the ground will be able to track the flight path of any aircraft that is hijacked. 
  • Cabin security: Video cameras are now able to monitor not only the cockpit but the entire passenger compartment. Many aircraft have now been fitted with this equipment. 
  • Communication within the aircraft: Airlines are investing in new emergency-call systems between cabin and cockpit. These are intended to provide fast and secure communication between stewards and pilots. 
  • Strengthened cockpit doors: These have now become standard in every new aircraft. And since April 2003, all aircraft wishing to land in the U.S. must be fitted with strengthened cockpit doors. Medium-range aircraft in the rest of the world have until October 2003 to be fitted with strengthened doors. The aviation industry has been collaborating with customers for months to upgrade hundreds of aircraft. Incidentally, the upgrade kits for cockpit doors in all Airbus types are a German product from the aircraft factory Elbe Flugzeugwerke in Dresden. 

A number of extremely interesting product developments have also been made by several companies. One example is the Geographical Envelope Protection Program (GEP) by Diehl Avionik Systeme in Germany. Their product prevents aircraft from flying into protected areas and can be activated either by the cockpit crew or from the ground. Deactivation is only possible from the ground using a code. 

Remote control of an aircraft is also technically feasible. This development would enable a plane's flight path to be controlled automatically in the near future, and landing could also be controlled by personnel on the ground. Naturally enough, such a development raises the question of who should make decisions under this type of control. Air-traffic control would play a key role, but would its current organization, along strictly national lines, allow it to operate effectively? 

The above are all defense measures against hijackers and terrorist attacks inside an aircraft. However, there are also situations posing specific external threats, such as those confronting Israeli aircraft. Proactive missile-warning systems for protecting passenger planes have now been developed through Israel's initiative, a justified consequence of the attempted attack on an El Al aircraft in Kenya. The U.S. is also seeking technical solutions to protect commercial aircraft against attacks with surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). While these kinds of systems may or may not become standard on an international basis, many safety precautions at commercial airports thankfully are now standard internationally. This development has substantially raised the bar for potential hijackers. 

However, one problem in this area is the varying levels of funds made available for such measures by different countries. Unfortunately, competition has kept the work from being harmonized, even within the EU. Some countries perceive protecting the air-travel system as a core function of national sovereignty. In others, airports, airlines, and, in the final analysis, passengers have to finance their own safety. This can lead to substantial increases in ticket prices in some places. 

However, safety precautions cannot just exist in aircraft and at the airport. Commercial airlines and airports need to be more proactive in promoting internal and external safety in order to counter the threat to commercial aviation from terrorist attacks. Commercial pilots need to think beyond the confines of "air traffic safety" and direct their political lobbying activities toward increasing global security. This involves three issues: 

  • The entire area encompassing security authorities and civil defense needs to make preparations relating to personnel and particularly technology in order to meet the new threat scenarios. As the Department of Homeland Security was created in the U.S. after September 11, all of our countries need to focus our internal security awareness on creating an internal defensive front. Personnel and technological resources need to intermesh more closely between internal and external security. When a powered glider controlled by a deranged pilot circled over Frankfurt in early 2003, it became clear to us that Germany was not prepared for an incident of this nature. I am certain that other countries have also not yet taken adequate precautions. All of us need to learn from our experiences. 
  • Neither global air traffic nor our individual nations can consider themselves safe if the fire generated by a small flashpoint threatens to engulf us. Dealing with global crises requires close cooperation between partner nations. It demands that a new European architecture and a global security architecture be created. If we had made some decisive progress in this area earlier on, the substantial diplomatic conflicts of recent history might never have escalated to the point they did. 
  • Our armed forces worldwide, but particularly in Germany, require rapid reform. They need to be prepared to face the new asymmetric threat. The war against terrorism and terrorist regimes cannot be left to individual states. 

The German Aerospace Industries Association (BDLI) made these three issues the focus of a major joint air-traffic conference, organized in collaboration with the German airline Lufthansa, the airports, and the tourist industry. BDLI has received positive responses from many quarters. 


Post-September 11 developments have resulted in new issues relating to technological strategies for manufacturers, equipment suppliers, and the entire commercial air-transport system. Because of this there is a close connection between the rapid buildup of military potential in the U.S. since September 11 and future technological advances in the civilian economy.  

Other countries also need to find appropriate responses to the new challenges. Commercial aircraft development and air-traffic management need to continue benefiting from the substantial spinoff of military applications to civilian use. This includes developments in avionics as well as radar and communication technologies used in aviation. 


During 2003 we will be celebrating the centenary of powered flight by the Wright brothers. However, when we look back on history, we find that initial quantum leaps in technology were very often made in the area of military aviation. The first aircraft propelled by jet engines were military planes. The Boeing 747-the Jumbo-was based on a military development order from the U.S. Department of Defense. 

However, as I have just described, today's aircraft industry is facing new challenges that have resulted from the change in our security situation. Yet I am confident that this new situation can give rise to new commercial and technology opportunities. 



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