Uzbekistan takes stand against terrorism in the skies

By Maksim Yeniseyev


Tashkent residents last August during Uzbekistan's Aviation Day examine models of military vehicles that help protect the country's airspace. [Maksim Yeniseyev]

TASHKENT -- A recent emergency landing by an Egyptian airliner in Urgench reinforced for Uzbekistanis the urgency of aviation security.

On June 8, an EgyptAir plane made the emergency landing after the airline received a bomb threat about that flight.

Uzbekistan's airport authority and law enforcement professionally evacuated the jet and searched for the bomb, which turned out to be a hoax.

On June 14, Urgench International Airport received an unrelated international award for being "Best Airport in the CIS for 2015", which shows its long-standing record of quality service.

New regulations

Tight new regulations took effect June 6, which authorities hope will prevent similar situations from arising. They bar anybody who avoids a security screening from boarding a plane in Uzbekistan.

"Uzbekistan has 10 international airports," Shokhimardon Faizullayev of the State Inspection for Flight Safety Oversight told Caravanserai. "Many tourists fly to Uzbekistan, on average 2m people a year."

"Because of this, the security of airports and of flights is vital to the country's image," he said. "Throughout independent Uzbekistan's history [which began in 1991], not one terrorism-linked incident has occurred in aviation."

A true test of skill

On June 8, Urgench International Airport personnel and Uzbekistani law enforcement found their skills tested to the limit June 8.

"We received information on the morning of June 8 about the possibility of a bomb aboard an Airbus-330 owned by EgyptAir and flying from Cairo [to East Asia]," Iskander Jalilov of Tashkent, a spokesman for Uzbekistan Airways, told Caravanserai. "On board were 17 crew members and 118 passengers."

Security personnel evacuated the plane and searched the "aircraft, cargo and baggage for explosives", which were not there, Jalilov said.

Authorities were prepared for the worst, if it came to pass.

"We rendered all necessary medical and psychological assistance ... and arranged for hot meals," Jalilov said.

The plane took off at 6.30 pm and reached its destination, he said.

Less than a week later, Urgench's airport received the award for best airport in the CIS in 2015.

"The award ceremony ... took place at the airport June 14," Jalilov said. "A non-profit called 'Airport' that unites all CIS countries' airlines and airports issues the award."

"This is the fourth time that Urgench has won," he said. "The jury was primarily guided by high flight safety indicators."

Workers rebuilt the airport in 2014 and installed "modern inspection equipment", he said.

Passengers are impressed

Passengers using Uzbekistani airports are impressed by the security.

"When I was preparing for a trip to Uzbekistan, I read many negative reviews about [excessive] measures at the Tashkent airport that cause long lines," Dutch tourist Marius Van Enckevort, who visited Uzbekistan in June, told Caravanserai.

"Everything turned out to be simpler," he said. "Security officers try to work very quickly. They perform only selective inspections."

"I'm glad about these security measures," Tashkent resident Mikhail Arzumanyan told Caravanserai. "Nobody wants to die at the hands of crazy terrorists."

Travellers flying out of Tashkent pass through four metal detectors before boarding, he said.

Making terrorism more difficult

Regulations taking effect June 6 will make terrorism even more difficult to pull off.

Innovations include "the mandatory inspection of each and every aircraft, airport worker, passenger, crew member and official", Faizullayev said. "Anybody who passes through inspection may not have contact with someone who has not."

"Anybody who evades screening will be barred from boarding a plane," he said. "And he [or she] will be detained to determine why he [or she] evaded screening."

Authorities have stringent new rules about carrying out baggage and bodily searches if concern warrants them, he added.

At a Tashkent news conference in January, Uzbekistan Airways Director General Valeriy Tyan noted the industry-leading security measures that Uzbekistan employs.

"Tashkent International Airport and the surrounding grounds are equipped with a 'smart' video surveillance system," he said that day. "Profilers ... keep an eye out for suspicious individuals outside the terminal."

"Many companies now restrict access to their aircraft and transport their own mechanics [to their aircraft anywhere]," he said. "We've been doing it for 25 years."

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