Background

Petty crime and violent acts such as shootings and stabbings at and near airports are not uncommon in the US, posing security risks that have the potential to negatively impact transiting passengers, personnel and/or flight crews. Corrupt airport staff with airside access involved in cargo and luggage thefts in addition to drug trafficking activities are also of serious concern from an aviation security perspective, as such security breaches highlight gaps that could be exploited by extremist groups for more nefarious reasons.

Osprey:Explore graph showing levels of crime, corruption and aviation security activity in the US between 1 January 2019 and 31 July 2022
Osprey:Explore graph showing levels of crime, corruption and aviation security activity in the US between 1 January 2019 and 31 July 2022

Osprey Flight Solutions has collected data and issued numerous alerts on significant incidents that have affected travellers and aviation operators in the first half of 2022 to support the aviation industry and mitigate the potential impacts from criminal activity near airports in the US.

Criminal Acts & Corruption

United States Aviation Safety Crime Pie Charts
Osprey:Explore charts showing proportions of crime, corruption and aviation security incidents at the top 10 busiest airports in the US in terms of passenger flow between 1 January 2019 and 31 July 2022

Petty Thefts & Assaults

Criminals operating at/near airports in the US have employed various methods to steal travellers’ property. In the first half of 2022, Osprey issued four alerts highlighting thefts affecting passengers, including one in July highlighting ‘smash-and-grab’ incidents targeting the vehicles of travellers at a Starbucks coffee shop near Metropolitan Oakland International Airport (KOAK/OAK). Three other alerts reported frequent car thefts and vehicle break-ins at airport parking lots, including at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport (KMKE/MKE), Denver International Airport (KDEN/DEN) and Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (KCLE/CLE), in addition to vehicle catalytic converter thefts at Portland (KPDX/PDX) and Sacramento (KSMF/SMF).

Osprey has also highlighted thefts that have directly impacted aviation operations. Between 22 January and 10 February, thieves stole navigation gear and radios from an aircraft at Warrenton Fauquier Airport (KHWY); a further three such thefts occurred at Charleston Executive Airport (KJZI).

Additionally, Osprey issued two alerts regarding assaults of airport staff, including an employee of Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (KDTW/DTW) inside the airport’s ‘Big Blue Deck’ car park. Also, in March, an individual allegedly tampered with a power supply at Bismarck Municipal Airport (KBIS/BIS) before assaulting a police officer with an unspecified weapon.

Corruption

In the first half of 2022, Osprey published four alerts highlighting the participation of corrupt airport staff in cases of theft and other illicit activities such as drug trafficking. For example, in June, police detained two employees of a cargo-handling company based at Miami International Airport (KMIA/MIA) for the theft of electronics from a cargo shipment in May. In another case in March, federal investigators uncovered cocaine and heroin shipments hidden in the secure electronics bays of several aircraft arriving in the New York area. Drug cartels are believed to pay insiders based at originating airports to load drugs onto the aircraft and others at destination airports to retrieve them. Two other drug-smuggling incidents involving corrupt airport staff with airside access occurred in March at Los Angeles (KLAX/LAX) and Newark Liberty (KEWR/EWR).

Shootings & Other Violent Crime

Other, more violent types of crime, including shootings and stabbings, have occurred across US airports, posing a direct threat to life to bystanders. Meanwhile, other crimes, such as carjackings and kidnappings, have also raised concerns regarding the safety and security of aviation workers and travellers. From January to July, Osprey issued five alerts reporting shootings at Dallas Love Field (KDAL/DAL), Miami, San Francisco (KSFO/SFO), Greenville-Spartanburg (KGSP/GSP) and Nashville (KBNA/BNA) airports, some of which resulted in disruption to airport operations. In July, a woman entered the landside departure area at Dallas Love Field and fired several shots from a handgun into the ceiling, prompting the evacuation of the terminal and causing flight disruption. In January, a shooting occurred in a cargo area outside Miami Airport involving four individuals, all of whom worked for a freight-forwarding company that handles airline cargo at a property near the terminal.

Osprey also issued three alerts highlighting stabbing incidents that have affected aviation workers and passengers this year at San Francisco Airport and Boston Logan International Airport (KBOS/BOS).

Osprey has also recorded several carjacking incidents at San Francisco Airport, Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (KBWI/BWI) and Luis Munoz Marin International Airport (TJSJ/SJU) in Puerto Rico. During a rare incident in March, a young man assaulted and attempted to kidnap a tourist inside the terminal at Orlando International Airport (KMCO/MCO).

Outlook

Violent incidents near airports involving armed assailants, active shooters, or suspected active shooters, are regularly reported in the US, and occasionally target aviation workers. Such activity has the potential to negatively impact transiting flight crews, passengers and airport personnel.

Although records of such incidents throughout the pandemic (2020/2021) did not surpass 2019 levels, and it is unlikely that 2022 figures will reach pre-pandemic levels, the continued frequency with which these security threats have occurred since January underscores the importance for pre-flight personnel security awareness training for aircrew and the need to have protocols in place in the event of a crisis. Osprey will continue to monitor levels of crime impacting aviation across the US and provide up-to-date, detailed information and advice via our alerts.

About the author

Mathilde Tisserand Aviation Security Analyst

Mathilde is an Aviation Security Analyst. She has a particular interest in crime perpetrated at aviation facilities and corruption among employees, especially in Latin America. Prior to joining Osprey, Mathilde was a geopolitical intelligence analyst for a strategic intelligence and advisory firm where she specialised in identifying security, financial, regulatory, political and cyber risks to businesses in the Americas and Sub-Saharan Africa. She also worked for a global travel security consultancy company identifying risks to business travellers.

Mathilde holds a master’s degree in Security, Intelligence, and Risk Management from Sciences Po Lille, France. During her final internship as part of her studies, she worked for a geopolitical consultancy where she developed one of the first case studies examining security threats facing a specific airline.

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