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Troubling kidnapping of Turkish Airlines pilots


Kidnapping of Turkish Airlines pilots was an attack on the commercial aviation system.

A few thoughts on the disquieting August 9 gunpoint abduction in Beirut of two Turkish Airlines pilots, who remain missing as of this writing:

* This was an attack on the commercial aviation system. It’s not hard to determine the approximate time a shuttle bus carrying a flight crew from a particular airline is going to be headed from the airport to the hotel. It’s not uncommon for these shuttles to move late night or early morning in the dark. These buses are a critical element of the day-to-day running of the world’s airlines, though their presence in the larger commercial aviation system is largely taken for granted. The kidnappers took full advantage of the fact that there is almost never any security on these shuttle buses. For all the security-related attention placed on certain aspects of air travel, many components of the broader commercial aviation system—such as shuttle buses ferrying flight crews to/from airports—are completely vulnerable.

* This is a good example of how “nationalistic” the airline industry is. The attackers apparently wanted to send a message to the Turkish government and seem to view the pilots as essentially representatives of Turkey. The Turkish government does hold 49.1% of the carrier, but I think this has more to do with the “flag” element of commercial aviation.

* Though the attackers may view the pilots as representatives of Turkey and their kidnapping as perhaps an extension of the Syrian civil war, it should go without saying—but bears repeating any time something like this occurs—that civil aviation should always be unquestionably out-of-bounds as a legitimate “target.” Passengers and the civilian crews operating commercial aircraft are not engaged in any kind of military activity whatsoever and have nothing to do with the policies of governments, even though the aircraft in which they are flying may have a nation’s name emblazoned on its fuselage.

* The Middle East remains one of the fastest-growing regions in the world for airline travel and the potential for more growth appears high, but the region’s instability poses a threat to that growth potential. Operating into certain Middle East markets has become dangerous for airlines; Beirut is clearly one of those markets right now.

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