The stunning tale of a 16-year old boy who managed to sneak onto a busy airport field, climb into a wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 767 bound for Maui and, against all odds, survive the five-and-a-half-hour flight made me simply shake my head in wonder. So many things had to go right for him to survive, and so many things had to go wrong for him to even get into the plane in the first place.
Airport security is an understandably high priority in the terrorist age we live in. So how could this kid get onto the field and into the wheel well at an active airport? You can bet the Federal Aviation Administration and the FBI are asking the folks in charge of security at San Jose's Mineta International Airport that very question. It’s also a question airports large and small across the country should be asking themselves in the aftermath of this incident.
It’s a happy ending that the child survived apparently unharmed, but the ending for the airport officials in San Jose will be decidedly less pleasant as they face serious scrutiny and potential fines from regulators. This incident will also likely revive the debate around perimeter security at air fields, potentially leading regulators to mandate costly enhancements to fencing and surveillance at airports already facing tight budgets.
Airports can be vulnerable points in the transportation industry, as we’ve seen in incidents involving laser pointers into cockpits, as one example. Airport officials need to take the time – at least annually – to conduct crisis preparedness drills and to assess the risks their operations face. And now they have a new, ready-made crisis scenario that comes straight from the headlines.
While most companies don’t need to protect themselves against high-flying stowaways, every industry has vulnerabilities and risks. Thus, a company’s effectiveness in risk assessment and crisis preparedness can go a long way in avoiding headlines of its own.