Photo: Andrejs Terentjevs, f64
Andrejs Prāve, Head of Security
What is your position at airBaltic?
I am responsible for security at the company. As head of security, I have eight people working in my department, including me. Each of my employees is responsible for a specific sector. We coordinate all our activities, and each week I coordinate my activities with the Chief Operations Officer, Laila Odiņa, who is my direct supervisor and is responsible for the operational aspects of airBaltic.
So what exactly do you do all day long?
As I said, we are eight people, so there are eight basic functions. One is to coordinate our activities with all the European and Latvian authorities and the legislative acts. There are many regulatory documents in aviation, and particularly in security, which specify what must be in place and how—how certain services must work, according to what procedures, and who has to do what, when. This is a big job, and everything is reflected in our security handbook, which it is my job to keep up to date. I have also written and compiled this security handbook over time. Everything must also be approved by the necessary institutions, like the Civil Aviation Agency.
Are you also in charge of immigration matters?
Exactly, our department works to prevent illegal immigration. The airline is responsible for making sure passengers have valid travel documents. If a passenger does not have valid travel documents, then the airline is penalized. We therefore have to train people who register passengers and physically check documents.
So the airline is penalized if an individual crosses the border illegally?
Right. We are penalized if a passenger uses invalid travel documents. If they are forged documents, then that is not our responsibility. If it’s not possible to spot this forgery without special technical tools, then it’s not the airline’s responsibility. It’s our responsibility to make sure that people with obvious forgeries or invalid documents don’t cross the border. This includes documents or visas that have expired, or invalid visas. This is the airline’s responsibility. We coordinate these activities with the relevant immigration institutions.
Are you also responsible for the company’s internal security?
Yes. We work to avoid the threat of potential theft, both inside the company and in our planes. We must track everything that is bought and sold in the airplanes—food products, alcohol, etc.—so that there are no incorrect steps in regards to these goods, both by passengers and by our employees. Potential threats could also arise from passengers using fake or stolen credit card numbers to purchase tickets. Our department must react to these threats, in collaboration with national authorities, the police, security services, and customs authorities.
How do you go about training employees?
In accordance with European legislation, each airline employee must be trained in security, at least at the basic level. This includes things like where passengers are and aren’t allowed to go, what they are and aren’t allowed to do, and what they aren’t allowed to bring aboard. Everything from that to more complex matters. For this reason, I have a person in my department who has developed training programs. Together we have authorized these programs with the Civil Aviation Agency. These programs are used in Riga to train all of our subcontracted organizations, which provide us with grounds services like catering and cleaning. We also use the programs to train the ground handling companies we work with at our international destinations. Of course, we also train everyone who flies in our planes—cabin crews. This is a huge task, because we have more than one thousand employees. So there is a lot of work to be done.
What else are you responsible for?
We ensure the procedures for security clearances, and control access to airplanes. That’s a whole sector in itself. We also take care of background checks for employees. This includes looking for things like prior criminal offences and unfavorable contacts. All these things come into our sphere of attention.
What did you do before airBaltic?
I’ve been at airBaltic for almost ten years. But before that I worked in the aviation security department at Riga Airport, where I worked for eight years in various positions. So I’ve been in this sector for almost eighteen years. And before I worked at the airport I was a professional athlete. That was back in the Soviet era. I was on the U.S.S.R. Waterskiing Team, and was a three-time all-Union champion in waterskiing. That took up all my time, my entire life. I worked long days—morning till night, twelve, fourteen, sixteen hours a day—and in a sense this “systematized” me and taught my how to work hard and to work well. Sports teaches you important things like how to work toward set goals. I graduated from the Physical Educational Institute, but when I started working at airBaltic I entered the Faculty of Law at the University of Latvia. And now I’ve almost completed my law degree.
How did your job change after the events of September 11, 2001?
All the requirements changed. And the conditions changed, too. For example, before that, there was an “open door” policy in regards to the cockpit: people could come inside the cockpit, look around, and see how the pilots flew the plane. That is no longer the case. The law requires that the cockpit door must be closed at all times.
What else has changed in your field?
In general, the authorities have become much more serious about aviation security. Before, it was more about preventative measures against criminal elements. Terrorism wasn’t considered as much of a threat to aviation before September 11. It was taken into account, of course, though it was considered something very far away, something which could never happen to us. September 11 proved that this was wrong. Terrorism can take place anywhere, at any time, if the necessary measures haven’t been taken in advance to guarantee proper security. These measures now include things like restrictions on liquids in carry-on baggage for passengers—this is a direct result of 9/11. The changes have been enormous.
Do you think that security is going to become tighter over time, or is it going to relax?
If we take into account the political situation today, and political statements in the realm of international security, then it looks like security measures are not going to be weakened. The world has not become a friendlier place, people have not become friendlier with one another. There are still threats. America has warned its citizens about visiting Europe and England and Paris, on account of threats from terrorist organizations. Just this week there was a threat to blow up the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame in Paris. This proves that we haven’t reached a level of mutual harmony. Though some things have changed, and the overall political situation stabilized somewhat when Obama came to power. But now it looks like there is an additional threat to European nations.
Do you feel that there is an extra burden of responsibility placed upon the shoulders of airlines to deal with matters that had previously been dealt with by other authorities?
Yes. Back in the Soviet period, airlines never answered for immigration matters. On one end there was a border guard who made sure all the documents were in order; and on the end there was another border guard who did the same thing. Aeroflot didn’t have any responsibilities in this matter. But now, border guards aren’t interested in whether you have an exit visa for the country to which you are traveling; that’s the airline’s sole responsibility.
What are some typical cases when this occurs?
For example, the airline is responsible if someone has two passports—one old and one new. The passenger’s old passport has a valid visa for traveling to the Schengen zone, through Latvia. But the old passport is full, so the passenger has a new passport. But the valid visa has not been transferred to the new passport. If the passenger travels through Latvia to the Schengen zone, then we are penalized. It seems strange, but that’s the way it is. That’s how the law is interpreted.
These cases seem to highlight the fact that airlines are much more than just typical companies.
Well, one could say that an airline simply transports people from point A to point B. So why should airlines be responsible for immigration problems on an international scale? That seems strange. But that’s how things have been arranged. The same holds true for security measures at airports—an airline must make sure that airports adhere to a specific set of security standards, as dictated by the law. The airline must conduct these inspections through a series of audits. Part of my job is to fly to all the airports and evaluate them from a safety perspective. The airlines are responsible—that has come about post-9/11, too. The airlines are responsible in the end. But that seems strange: why aren’t the individual countries responsible? The individual countries could make sure that everything is okay. Why should the airline be responsible? But that’s the way it is. Everything takes place in accordance with set procedures, as dictated to us by European institutions and international agreements. And if everything is in order, then we evaluate the situation to see that it is the same as elsewhere. If not, then we must perform extra measures. That’s one of my own direct responsibilities at the company—to evaluate a contracted party, whether it’s the Munich Airport or a small airport in Finland. They must conform to the same standards.
What are the central standards that you must evaluate at these airports?
Airplane security. We make sure that airplanes are secure from all sides—that unauthorized persons have absolutely no chance of entering airplanes at any moment. The same holds true for passengers and their checked baggage. We make sure there is no chance that any explosive or weapons can be brought into the aircraft. Access control: that is the central standard. We make sure that all persons are checked from a security perspective, and that the people who conduct these security checks and screenings are trained and know what to check and how, and use the correct equipment in secure areas. The same holds true for cargo, catering, the mail, and cleaning crews—everything and everyone must be checked, without exception. Because if, for instance, a member of the cleaning crew is not checked before entering the plane, he could cause a greater threat than a passenger.
What’s your favorite part about the job?
You must constantly be prepared for the unknown. Usually these aren’t anything pleasant, because my job is more or less connected with all sorts of troubles. Of course, I’d like for them to be as minimal as possible. But I must always be in “alert mode.” Mostly the job is very calm: I sit at a computer analyzing data and conducting procedures. But something could happen at any moment, and then I’d have to get up and run and make quick decisions. For instance, somebody will call from an international station and ask whether or not we should take a particular passenger, for immigration reasons. The situations are never equivocal, and there are very complex cases. I must make a decision very quickly. But it’s certainly always very interesting. Plus, we always have new destinations that I have to check out, and I get to see not only the airports but also the cities themselves. I’ve been to almost all of our destinations. And there’s certainly quite a lot of them. Otherwise, I have to visit each airport once every three years. I go on these trips about once or twice a month. And everyone I go I get to talk to different people—people with all sorts of different backgrounds.
What are the moments when you get to be creative in your job?
As you may know, laws are never complete unto themselves; they are very much incomplete and open to interpretation. That’s why they are often accompanied by lots of commentary. I’m the one who has to write these commentaries in our manuals and handbooks of procedures. They must be developed so that they are understandable to the relevant people who must carry them out. The creation of these procedures is therefore a creative process. It may look awful and dry on paper—it’s a written text that you must struggle to understand—but these procedures must be created. You must decide who will do them, when, and how. It’s a process of creation. The laws themselves are never complete; we must decide who must carry them out, what the situation is like at our company, and what are our traditions. And the specifics differ for each country, because no two places are the same.