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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 Airport Guards was to ensure the safety of air travelers, the airfield and aircraft operations.

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 aircraft.

It was 1966, several years before the threat to civil aviation had reached its peak. 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 requirements.

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 the introduction of tourism, aviation security services which were provided by the limited resources available locally and boosted by the technical assistance offered to the Republic of Maldives by the international community, were 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 started to introduce 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 to civil aviation had started spreading throughout the world.

In the later half of the 1977 several airlines started operations at Hulhule airport which caused tourist arrivals to significantly increase and which led to travellers and airline operators becoming concerned with the security of air travel in the Republic of Maldives. As a result, international security organisations sent representatives to review aviation security practices in the Republic of Maldives, eventually necessitating Maldives to become part of the international aviation security community and complying with international standards.

In 1978, the 100% screening of passengers and their cabin bags became mandatory if passengers were to travel 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 early 1978. 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 in the Philippines.

Initially, security checks were carried out manually at the terminal’s airside lounge which was maintained as a sterile area. However when in 1981, a new, larger airport by the name of Male International Airport, was constructed on the island of Hulhule to accommodate wide bodied aircraft, 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 Male International Airport was able to meet screening standards 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 an ICAO requirement, MIA was carrying out 100% hold baggage screening for every flight by examining baggage by x-ray and PD-3 vapour detectors for explosives.

Since the opening of MIA, the pressure to expand airport operations has been on going, and as a result, maintaining security at higher levels has become an essential requirement. More security officers were 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 presented significant challenges. To this day, general aviation 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 acquired and maintained for the screening of passengers and their baggage while other agencies such as the National Security Service, 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 country, MACL was required to extend aviation 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 continued 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 adverse impact of new threats to civil aviation worldwide. The most significant of all these developments was the Government’s decision to legally empower aviation security under the umbrella of the Ministry of Defence and National Security. This decision was implemented in 2010 when the ministry was conferred the operational command of aviation security functions at airports in the country. MACL and the Government jointly financed the provision of these security services until Aviation Security Command was established on January 1, 2013. Since then, the provision of aviation security services at airports are being financed by the government.