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Business executives rely on commercial and private aircraft for safe and efficient transportation to international locations. But getting there is only half the challenge, due to a growing set of aviation risks.  A relatively new cause of worry in business travel is kidnap, ransom and extortion (KRE) demands -- involving pilots. ​When a pilot goes missing or is detained, the aircraft he or she is responsible for operating cannot take off. That can be an enormous disruption to an organization’s travel plans. And because business travel is frequently conducted on a tight schedule, delays can prove costly.​Consider some examples from just the past few years:

  • A group of 26 civilian helicopter pilots working for a leasing company were arrested and detained by Ethiopian authorities for entering a sovereign state without permission. The pilots had been mistakenly informed that they had permission to land and refuel en route to Kenya. Once the error was discovered, Ethiopia released the pilots after holding them for nearly three weeks and allowed them to continue on their journey.

  • A Honduran pilot was kidnapped in Costa Rica by a group seeking to force him to fly cocaine out of the country.

  • Lebanese militants kidnapped two Turkish Airlines pilots and held them for more than two months, in an effort to bargain for the release of other captives. The pilots were released after negotiations involving three different kidnapped groups.

  • The pilots of a private jet were wrongfully detained in Latin America after escorting a drunken passenger from the plane. The passenger turned out to be a relative of a local government official. The pilots were released shortly after the incident.

  • Pilots of a private plane were approached after landing in Central America with an offer of protection in exchange for money.

  • “Express” kidnappings are a more frequent type of incident involving lesser monetary demands. These entail snatching and taking victims to an automated teller machine and release after holding them overnight.

To mitigate the risks and expenses of kidnap, ransom and extortion, XL Catlin has introduced an optional coverage endorsement for its general aviation program.

In other cases, pilots reportedly have been detained for having expired passports or issues with other travel documents. Inability to return as planned to their home countries can be a real risk for pilots. This is especially true in industrial aid, the private aviation segment that serves business executives. Industrial aid pilots can and do transport travelers to places without the force of the U.S. government behind them. Doing so can make them more vulnerable to abduction and extortion attempts.​To mitigate the risks and expenses of kidnap, ransom and extortion, XL Catlin has introduced an optional coverage endorsement for its general aviation program. This endorsement provides up to $1 million of coverage and responds around the clock whenever there is a kidnapping, demand or detention. XL Catlin has partnered with S-RM, a global risk consultancy, to provide response services worldwide.​Although the pilots in the abovementioned cases survived the incidents, unfortunately not all kidnappings end well. Travelers, whether pilots or passengers, should take precautions to reduce the risk of kidnapping. These include:


  • Avoid attracting attention. This is more difficult for uniformed pilots on duty, but in general, it’s advisable to avoid public places as much as possible when off duty.

  • Avoid routine. Fixed schedules and routines are easier for abductors to observe. Vary means of transportation and routes, and limit disclosure of itineraries.

  • Stay alert. Increase awareness during times when routines are inevitable.

  • Plan ahead. Assess security issues ahead of time for meeting locations and keep emergency numbers accessible.

  • Communicate. Let trusted colleagues know your schedule, who and where you’re meeting and when you expect to return.

  • Think about personal security. Lock doors and confirm the identity of people or drivers who are scheduled to meet you.

Abductions are frightening and dangerous. Security training and financial protection are important tools to mitigate KRE risks. For aircraft owners and operators, such tools could spare disruption to their flight plan.


About the Authors

Denise Balan is senior vice president and head of XL Catlin's Kidnap, Ransom & Extortion practice in North America. Eric Donofrio is North America regional manager for XL Catlin’s aviation insurance business.