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Securing 2010 from the skies

by Martin Pollack
on 18 Mar 2008
City of Cape Town
City of Cape Town

An unknown plane is flying in the direction of Green Point Stadium. It has gone off its flight path and is not responding to the control tower. The semi-final of the 2010 FIFA World Cup is under way at the stadium, which is packed with spectators and important dignitaries. Its a potential security nightmare.

But it could happen - which is why the South African Police Service, the South African National Defence Force and other government agencies such as the Civil Aviation Authority and Air Traffic and Navigation Services are already planning for every possible security scenario over the month-long tournament, and other major events, such as the Confederation Cup just over a year away.

Part of this planning culminated in Operation Green Point a joint exercise held between 13 and 19 March 2008 between these organisations, during which various scenarios were simulated and members of the security forces enacted parts of their emergency contingency plans.

The exercise was designed to sharpen the skills of the security forces in working together to neutralise any form of aerial threat, given the security importance of the airspace above the Green Point stadium during the FIFA World Cup. It also proved to be a major training opportunity.

An area of 50 nautical miles (just under 100km) around Cape Town International Airport was identified, and during the exercise, any perceived threat in the air (apart from normal aviation traffic) was identified, intercepted, and interrogated if necessary.

"We proclaimed a temporary restricted airspace, and then managed that airspace. The more we can do now and interact now, the better it will be in 2010," said Brigadier General Anton Kriegler. "It's a learning curve for all of us, and we need to train a lot of people."

The exercise was designed to test how the safety procedures work, by flying combat air patrols. Two teams participated, with the one team having no contact with the other, and therefore no idea of what the other was doing.

"We played all the different scenarios from Greenpeace activists to hijackers to terrorists, to fully run through each of these."

The highlight of the exercise was the simulated hijacking of a plane and hostage-taking of its passengers, and its intrusion into restricted air space. Air Force Cheetah pilots intercepted the aircraft and forced it to land at Ysterplaat Air Force Base, where it was escorted to a safe holding area and SAPS hostage negotiators persuaded the "hijackers" to surrender to the Special Task Force.

On the weekend of 15 to 16 March, Operation Green Point included vetting flight plans. A total of 651 flights were vetted, of which 247 were normal scheduled flights. Kriegler noted that Sunday is the most popular day for recreational and sport flying.

A smaller exercise was carried out in Polokwane last year, and there will be more exercises in Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein in July and Nelspruit in November. The Gauteng exercise will depend on the 2009 election date.

"We are doing this so we can be professional and safe, and have a secure area around Green Point Stadium in 2010," Kriegler concluded.

Despite some complaints of noise, police spokesperson Director Sally de Beer thanked members of the public for their support and co-operation including reporting suspicious aircraft movement during the exercise.

"Operation Green Point is an essential exercise to allow our security forces to merge their expertise to ensure that each and every South African can be proud of their country and their security forces during any major event, but particularly during the 2010 FIFA World Cup," she said.

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