Harmony in security standards is still some way off despite pressure from IATA
Progress in aviation security this year is not guaranteed, according to the International Air Transport Association. IATA has told the authorities in no uncertain terms what it believes is lacking, and enumerates the security changes it would like to see, but the airline organisation does not exude optimism over whether it expects compliance with its requests.
IATA’s main complaint is that, despite the International Civil Aviation Organisation having updated its standards and recommended practices (SARPS) dramatically since the events of 11 September 2001 – and its adoption of a universal security audit programme – there is still no mutual recognition of standards, even by countries that take security seriously and achieve harmony in other aviation fields. It cites the USA and the European Union as examples – neither recognises hold baggage screening carried out in the other, with the result that much needless rescreening is carried out.
Part of the basis for this lack of faith is the fact that states vary massively in how seriously they take security and how much money and resources they invest in it, so harmonisation does not exist, despite ICAO, according to IATA’s senior vice-president safety, operations and infrastructure Gunther Matschnigg. This has the potential to devalue effective security measures taken in major hubs, which are forced to require transit baggage rescreening if they cannot trust the airport of origin. Matschnigg also cites a lack of agreement on security screening equipment certification standards. He says IATA is committed to work with the European Commission and the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to create such standards and to win mutual acceptance of certification. The current state of affairs, Matschnigg says, lowers security standards and makes the process needlessly inefficient.
The head of a well-established London Heathrow-based international safety consultancy (who asked not to be named) agrees IATA’s concerns are valid, but says airside security is improving in some respects, one of which is the thorough background screening of airside workers – not only new staff, but long-time employees. Again, this is true only of countries and airports that take their security obligations seriously, he says.
The consultant says there is much promising new equipment now on the market, in terms of personnel, baggage and freight-scanning reliability. For the latter, computer-aided tomography scanning is one such advance, he says, but the universal complaint is that none of the equipment available now or in the future can conduct effective scanning fast enough to cope efficiently with the flow of people and goods today, let alone in the future, yet it remains expensive. Paying big bucks for slow service goes against the grain, he says, adding that no-one will take up expensive equipment unless governments mandate it.
An ongoing concern is the threat from man-portable air defence missile systems (Manpads). Despite the continuing development of onboard Manpads countermeasures, again airlines are unlikely to adopt them when they are ready unless they are mandated. At present the most effective countermeasure is a police or military survey of potentially successful launch sites in the vicinity of airports, together with vigilance and the rapid use of quality intelligence.
DAVID LEARMOUNT / OPERATIONS & SAFETY EDITOR