At a recent private dinner organised by Resilience First and jointly hosted with the Intel Corporation, guests heard from Dame Deidre Hutton, Chair of the Civil Aviation Authority, and Air Vice-Marshal Ian Duguid OBE, Air Officer Commanding 11 Group RAF.

It was a timely discussion around keeping airports, airfields and the airline industry resilient in the face of emerging challenges from climate change, protest, terrorism and the emergence of drones.

Through the differing contexts of military facilities and commercial operations, the discussion revealed strong parallels in the foundations for resilience.  While conducted under the Chatham House rule (of non-attribution), the following key themes emerged during the discussion.

“The opposite of learning is complacency”

Resilience in aviation relies on the foundation of ‘just culture’. The rule is if that something goes wrong, the issue is immediately shared thereby ensuring the opportunity to fix it and to learn from it.  Front-line operators are not admonished and the rapid response then benefits the whole industry.

Much of the sector’s regulation is aimed at resilience. Responsibility rests with the organisations and people delivering the services at airports, airlines and airfields.  Recognising this, the sector has moved toward a risk-based approach to regulation.  By scanning the horizon for changes in markets, technology, skills, etc, the aim is to understand where the risks lie and what is needed to respond.

 “Ensure the right decision-maker makes the right decisions at the right times”

There are clear parallels between industry and the military in what makes an effective chain of command with clear responsibilities to ensure that the right decision-maker makes the right decisions at the right time. Empowerment within the team is critical.

Ultimately, however, one person makes the decision.  Leaders must be assured of their own role. Teams making operational decisions must also know they are backed-up by their leaders.

“Imagine the unimaginable – someone will try it”

Anticipating future threats is absolutely critical for meaningful resilience planning.  It also requires clarity of mind. Threats emerge from many directions and sources from the changing doctrines of extremists, to country or corporate stability, or dramatic weather patterns.

From recent domestic experience, drones are clearly a challenge for airports and airfields: they are very hard to counter. It was noted that established counter-drone protocols were successfully used for incidents at smaller airfields prior to the recent incidents at Gatwick. An airport or airfield can do much to ensure operations continue.

 “Reality will never be as planned”

We don’t know when we will need to enact resilience plans so we must develop and test them with the right stakeholders. Reality will never be as planned but having the right disciplines in place will create confidence within the response team and ensure everyone knows their role. It will also generate trust and confidence from external stakeholders.

 “Have their backing”

Trust is fundamental to empowerment for teams.  Empowerment is supported by a clear hierarchy, team and individual responsibilities, well-practised procedures, and consistent and defined terminology.  However, team members must know the leadership has their backing as they make important decisions.