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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Security threats to aviation industry addressed at Dubai forum

A total of Dh600 billion were invested in the industry in the UAE last year and the country continues to implement measures to protect itself against potential risks

Mohammed Ahmed Al Marri, director general of residency and foreigners affairs after the Rims Risk Forum Middle East 2017 held at Hyatt Regency Dubai Creek Heights in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
Mohammed Ahmed Al Marri, director general of residency and foreigners affairs after the Rims Risk Forum Middle East 2017 held at Hyatt Regency Dubai Creek Heights in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National

The aviation sector is not immune to security threats, but the UAE continues to implement measures to protect itself against potential risks, experts said today at the Rims Risk Forum Middle East 2017 in Dubai.

According to Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi, director general of the General Civil Aviation Authority, in 2016, a total of Dh600 billion were invested in the aviation industry in the UAE and the industry contributed 16 per cent of the country’s income and 27 per cent of Dubai’s income.

During the event, organised by General Directorate of Residency and Foreign Affairs in cooperation with the American Risk Management Association, speakers highlighted that the UAE has long addressed the dangers of cyber attacks on the aviation sector; however, Al Suwaidi said, “The size of the aviation sector and its contribution to the [UAE] national economy requires us to immunise the sector against potential risks.”

The UAE has ten airports with 27 national airline companies operating and 873 aircrafts. There are 250,000 workers and 125 million passengers were handled by the country’s airports last year.

The potential risks faced by the aviation industry are divided into two main types: external security threats and operation-related risks. External security risks are carried out by outside forces with malicious intentions, while operations risks are attributed to holes in knowledge or resources, as well as conventional security threats.

Al Suwaidi said a national committee and a risk assessment committee currently monitor threats and provide measures to thwart them.

On the ongoing management of risks, he said: “[Attack] methods have developed due to technological advancements and there are new tools that threaten security, [especially] cyber security. Previously, the aviation sector separated electronic systems from the open internet; however, now lots of information is available on iCloud,” said Al Suwaidi.

“This allows hackers and terrorist organisations to hack into information and cause damage. We were alerted to this threat and we have put in place cyber security measures to ensure the safety of civil aviation,” he said.

The use of drones by members of the public has increased over the past three years, posing further difficulties for aviation security.

“We’ve all heard about the closure of Dubai Airport and Sharjah Airport due to drones. Closing airports for one hour costs tens of millions [of dirhams],” said Al Suwaidi.

“The UAE has set up rules for the use of drones among the public and organised campaigns to educate the public about the dangers of the use of drones … Thankfully, we managed to prevent some of the dangers of the use of drones.”.

Maj Gen Mohammed Ahmed Al Marri, director general of residency and foreign affairs in Dubai, said: “There is no life without challenges and risks. Thus, we need to prepare and equip ourselves to deal with the any risk.

“The UAE has been witnessing a rapid development in all aspects of life. We are in a rapidly changing world and we work for the future government. We are keen to set up an organisation to manage risks,” said Maj Gen Al Marri, referring to continuous efforts to prevent future risks through ongoing strategic plans.

Speaking on the potential worldwide impacts of cyber attacks, Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, group chairman and CEO of DP world, said that over the past three years, they have dealt with “116 projects Internationally and locally.” Mr Sulayem said that being ready to deal with challenges was key to fighting risks.

A survey presented during the forum showed that the estimated cost of cybercrime is US$446 billion and the expected size of the global cyber security market in 2017 is $120 billion.

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