On the occasion of the meeting of the International Committee of Flight Safety Agents, held in Palma de Mallorca in October 2022, the Spanish Guardia Civil presented the “Unidad Nacional de Escoltas de Seguridad en Vuelo” (UNESEV), which stands for “National In-Flight Security Escort Unit”.
“The Guardia Civil's National In-Flight Security Escort Unit is the culmination of a demanding training process that has allowed us, for the first time in Spain, to provide in-flight security services on Spanish aircraft, both on domestic and international routes,” said Lieutenant General Pablo Salas, Deputy Operational Director of the Guardia Civil.
In common parlance they are known as air marshals. They come into action when scanners and detectors at the airport fail, when someone manages to smuggle in weapons or explosives, or when advanced passenger information systems fail to detect the presence of terrorists or other evil-doers. They do not wear uniforms and sit on the plane like any other passenger. They do not intervene in every quarrel. Their job is to detect anomalous behaviour and deal with passengers who are ready for severe conflict. Most importantly, they must take control of the situation themselves, because at 30,000 feet they cannot expect reinforcements.
To be accepted into this unit, the agents had to complete a course at the Guardia Civil's Special Training Centre in Logroño, which included self-defence and shooting in tube-shaped environments. They also underwent demanding training in operational tactics, as well as knowledge of the aviation environment - especially security elements - behavioural analysis, negotiation and first aid. A proficient level of English is required. The training also involves the use of flight simulators so that the agents can fly and even land the aircraft under the guidance of air traffic control.
The UNESEV was first deployed during the NATO Summit in June 2022 on the Madrid-Berlin route. It is said that the unit's personnel have since had twenty missions, including transcontinental flights. Of course, not every Spanish airline flight will have an air marshal on board in the future. "Troops are assigned to flights that are considered 'hot' according to a risk assessment," said Lieutenant General Pablo Salas. In any case, the passengers would only notice if the worst happened.