Aviation security began in the Republic of Maldives in 1966 with Airport Guards supervising the movement of people at Hulhule Airport. Though not formalized, the objective of employing the Airport Guards was to ensure the safety of air travelers, the airfield and aircraft operations.
The Airport Guards were required to check permits, air tickets and passports of visitors and passengers who came to Hulhule to be sure that they did not include undesirable elements. Airport Guards would hoist a red flag close to the airfield several hours before an aircraft was due to land in order to alert airport personnel and inhabitants of Hulhule of the arrival of the aircraft.
This was 1966, several years before the threats to civil aviation had reached their peak and these arrangements were considered at that time to be appropriate security measures because there were no scheduled flights to Hulhule Airport, the number of passengers were minimal and there was no obligation to follow international aviation security conventions.
The airport on the island of Hulhule remained unaffected by terrorism as it was too insignificant to attract the attention of international terrorist groups, however as passenger numbers increased at Hulhule Airport due to introduction of tourism, the aviation security which was provided by the limited resources available locally and which was boosted by the technical assistance offered to the Republic of Maldives by the international community, was deemed to be inadequate.
The 1970s saw many efforts by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to introduce and improve worldwide aviation security. Many affected nations introduced random searching of passengers and cabin baggage and then finally in 1973, airlines introduced 100% searching of passengers and their cabin baggage for international flights. In 1974, Annex 17 specifying the Standards and Recommended Practices of Aviation Security to be adopted by members of ICAO was added to the Convention on International Civil Aviation. As a result, the number of acts of violence attempted and committed against civil aviation dropped, but the threat of terrorism had started to spread throughout the world and was here to stay.
In the latter half of the 1977 several airlines started operations at Hulhule airport which caused tourist arrivals to significantly increase and which led to travelers and airline operators becoming concerned about the security of air travel in the Republic of Maldives. As a result, international security organisations sent emissaries to review the security practices in the Republic of Maldives eventually forcing it to become part of the international security community and comply with international standards.
In 1978 ICAO introduced for all its members, 100% screening of passengers and their cabin bags if passengers were to travelling on international flights. This led to the realization that security at Hulhule airport provided by the Airport Guards was inadequate against the potential threat of terrorism.
Aviation security screening was launched at Hulhule airport in March 1978, by the then Minister of Transport, Honorable Uz Maumoon Abdul Qayyoom. Initial security training was given by ICAO Aviation Security Specialists and in addition, supervisors received training on how to teach aviation security at the ICAO Civil Aviation Security Training Centre in Manila and at Clark Air Force Base on Luzon Island.
Initially, security checks were carried out manually at the terminals airside lounge which was maintained as a sterile area, however when in the late 1970s a new, larger airport, Male International Airport (MIA), was constructed on the island of Hulhule to accommodate the Boeing 737s operated by Maldives International Airlines and Air Lanka, all this changed.
MIA was equipped with state-of-the-art aviation security equipment (Rapidex X-ray machines, walk-through metal detectors, hand-held metal detectors and PD-3 explosive vapour detectors) and finally the Airport Office was able to meet and surpass the screening standards that were required by ICAO. This meant that Aviation Security Officers were able to cope with the rapid increase of passengers. It is interesting to note that at a time when screening of hold baggage was not a ICAO requirement, MIA was carrying out a 100% hold baggage screening for every flight by examining baggage for explosives with the PD-3 vapour detectors. MIA exceeded the existing international standards of passenger and baggage screening however the standards to be met in terms of airport and perimeter protection did not receive the same attention.
Since opening MIA, the pressure to expand airport operations has been on going, and as a result maintaining security at high levels has become an essential part of the airports operation. More staff was employed and the existing x-ray machines were progressively upgraded to Heinemann systems. However, given the high turnover of staff in almost all agencies at the airport including the airport operator, maintaining general security awareness at a high level has proved to be a challenge. To this day, general security awareness remains to be maximised in a planned fashion.
The Maldives Airports Authority, later to become the Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL), ensured that the latest security technology was purchased and maintained for the screening of passengers and their luggage while other agencies such as the National Security Services were responsible to see that the necessary law enforcement support was provided to protect travellers, airport personnel, aircraft and airport facilities.
At first aviation security only existed at MIA, but as more airports were built and commissioned, within the Republic of Maldives, MACL was required to extend security services to other airports such as Gan, Kadhdhoo, Hanimaadhoo, and Kaadedhdhoo. This was achieved by security officers from MIA being temporarily assigned to those airports. This situation continued for about five years until the Regional Airports Section of the Ministry of Transport employed security personnel of its own. MACL still continues to provide security training and technical assistance to regional airports through Airport Security Services Section.
Aviation security in the Maldives improved significantly from 1995, mostly as a result of the development of the tourism industry and the impact of new threats to civil aviation worldwide. The most significant of all these important developments was the Governments decision to legally empower aviation security under the umbrella of the ministry responsible for national security. This decision was implemented in 2010 when the Ministry of Defence took over the operational command of the aviation security functions throughout the country. MACL and the Government jointly financed the provision of these security services.