D’Aguilar: Cracking down on air hackers remains a big challenge
Aviation Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar said cracking down on air hackers has inherent challenges, but vowed to address the issue.
The prevalence of air hackers has been a long-standing issue in the aviation sector.
It came back to light in January when six people were killed after a small plane crashed off Andros.
Authorities said the pilot was operating a commercial flight in breach of his private pilot’s license.
Asked recently about efforts to crack down on air hackers, D’Aguilar said, “Unfortunately, The Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA) is being distracted by a whole host of things.
“One is the negotiations for the overflight fees…So all of this is sort of compounding the inability to sort of grapple this issue.
“And then also, if you want to make it a requirement for people to get [commercial] licenses, you have to look at the process and see how you can facilitate it because the complaint of the industry is getting a license is a long, arduous and painful process.
“So if you are now going to require everybody to go out and get these licenses then you have to make sure the process works.
“So we are trying to correct the other side as well, so that when we roll this out, it’s not just you have to get this license but it’s still the same old process taking the same old time, so we have to fix that too.
“We have all of these challenges on our regulatory side and on our enforcement side that’s making it a challenge.
“I’m not where I need to be right now. I’m not happy where we are right now. It’s still very much a work in process.”
D’Aguilar has pledged to address the shortcomings in the aviation sector, particularly the issue of hacking.
He noted that one challenge in addressing the issue is determining whether a pilot is operating a commercial flight or flying around relatives, friends and others for free.
“My idea was that when you go to a fixed base operator (FBO) or general aviation, that the operator of that FBO or general aviation facility would act as the person to check that you have a valid license, check that you have a valid pilot license, that you have done your required physicals and that your air operating certificate for your aircraft is up to date and current and that you [are] not abusing this carrying friends and family rule,” he said.
“…So it’s a vexing issue for us and now obviously if the FBO is going to do this function, they need to first of all have the right to do it and then not only do they need to have the right to do it, but they need to have the enforcement ability to stop the [pilots] from abusing it, have the ability to check [pilots] on an ongoing basis, every time they go on the ramp with people.”
D’Aguilar noted that the minister responsible for aviation has the ability to change the regulation to set a standard on what that threshold would be for pilots carrying friends and family members and empower the FBOs to act in an official capacity.
“The industry is somewhat resistant to this. They think it’s too much oversight,” D’Aguilar added.
“But I can’t see leaving it in the hands of the pilot to decide every time.
“[It] clearly has not worked and we need to come up with something that is a bit concrete and where there’s an automatic trigger.
“Once you carry X amount of people over a certain period, or X amount of people per month or a week, you trigger into this new category, irrespective of whether you are gunning for commercial gain or not.”
Asked whether this remains a serious issue in the aviation industry, D’Aguilar said, “It’s definitely an issue and you hear the [gossip] that it has come back again because you can’t be there every day to check it.
“Now we pop up on holidays and we try to frustrate the process, but I can’t see any way around it other than to engage the FBOs in the exercise.
“By having people on the ramp all the time leads to familiarity and they become friends, people start to turn blind eyes, so I think the FBO would be more like ‘hey, this is the rule and we are going to enforce the rule’.”
In February, Director General of the BCAA Captain Charles Beneby said the authority began reviewing relevant legislation and regulations to bring about stricter oversight of the sector in an effort to prevent hacking.
He also said the authority will introduce closed-circuit television cameras (CCTV) in strategic locations at Lynden Pindling International Airport to assist authorities in this effort.