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Airlines prepare for new UK border control initiative

Airlines operating to and from the UK will soon be tasked with collecting comprehensive data from every passenger entering or leaving the country under a new government programme called e-Borders, which is expected to cost carriers £450 million ($669.2 million) in the first 10 years.

E-Borders is an initiative from the UK Home Office designed to identify any passengers that could pose a threat to homeland security before they enter the country. However, airlines are concerned about costly changes they will have to make to their reservation and departure control systems to comply with the programme, and also about a lack of information received from the government to prepare for it.

"Implementation has been a total disaster from an airline point of view," says one airline executive who prefers to remain anonymous. "E-Borders should have gone live on 2 October but we weren't even told until 24 October that it was delayed. The promises on when we would get the information were not met. The Home Office keeps putting an unrealistic timescale on us, yet they're reluctant to give the industry timely responses to our questions."

Some airlines will have to make significant changes to their systems and processes to enable them to collect the required data from passengers and forward it to the government, according to Peter Dunkin, associate director of PKF, a consultancy that has been advising airlines on preparation for e-Borders. "The cost to airlines will depend on the type of systems they have.

T5
 © Rex Features
The UK Government's e-Borders security programme could lead to airlines having to delay flights

"For those with less sophisticated departure control systems, it will be more difficult," says Dunkin. "The Home Office wants to use different types of technology, rather than the tried and tested methods that airlines already have. Airlines want the Home Office to have a better understanding of how their processes work."

The £650 million contract for running the e-Borders programme was awarded in November 2007 to Trusted Borders, a consortium led by Raytheon Systems. After its initial delay, the programme is now scheduled to start being rolled out at the end of February. It is understood that a handful of airlines have been nominated to take part in the programme in the initial roll-out phase on flights to countries with which the UK already has the necessary agreements in place.

Charter and leisure carriers are expecting to have the most difficult time preparing for e-Borders because tour operators do not currently collect the information that will be required by the government, and the data needs to be provided by the passenger between the time of booking and the time of travel. This means systems will have to be changed to allow data to be collected before check-in.

"For UK charter carriers, e-Borders represents a £13 million a year cost to the industry against a £2,000 a year saving in not giving out boarding cards," says Eddie Redfern, head of regulatory affairs at TUI Travel. "If airlines capture the data at check-in it will take longer, but most agree the airport process will have to be improved and this is why they're looking to move to upstream capture."

The type of information required from passengers will include "personal information - date and place of birth, addresses, the kind of things that would allow passengers to be checked against a watch list", says Ian Jackson, managing director of aviation security consultancy Airlock Aviation and former head of security at British Airways.

Trusted Borders did not return calls seeking comment, but in a statement on its website it says the information "will be passed in the form of an 'alert' to the ­relevant border control agency, which will determine the appropriate intervention". It adds: "We have already exceeded the 30 million targets and captured data on 36.5 million passenger movements. This has resulted in over 16,000 alerts to border agencies leading to over 1,300 arrests for crime, including murder, rape, assault and significant counter-terrorism interventions."

But Jackson describes e-Borders as "a sledgehammer to crack a nut", adding: "It will place huge dependency on technology and a breakdown of that technology could lead to airlines having to delay flights." He also outlines legal concerns in certain countries: "One factor that's been brushed over is that in some parts of the world, asking for some of the personal information that's required is illegal. The burden for carrying it out is placed entirely on the industry and there is no direct benefit to airlines of doing these checks."

Adds Dunkin: "E-Borders requirements represent enormous cost and burden for airlines, which already face the toughest trading conditions in the history of aviation."

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