"Intelligent security through co-operation." That was the slogan adopted for the International Air Transport Association's AVSEC World conference, and it "couldn't be more timely", according to the head of the US Transport Security Administration (TSA).

In his keynote address, John Pistole said that the "critical need for global interdependence in aviation security" was highlighted by the discovery of explosives on a UPS jet and at a FedEx Express facility in Dubai.

"With decisive action and exceptional collaboration, we - and I am talking about the collective we - were able to identify this threat and disrupt it before it did any harm," said Pistole, who thanked the Saudi, British, Emirati and Yemeni governments. "Aviation security is a shared responsibility," he stressed.

The TSA administrator - sworn in during July, after a 26-year FBI career - believes "a delicate balance" must be struck in cargo security, as "the flow of global commerce is key to economic recovery".

The USA has "dozens of qualified technologies for use in air cargo screening" and is working with industry to develop more, says Pistole. But in a wide-ranging discussion of aviation security, he cautioned: "Technology is only useful if it is reliable, and it is only reliable if it we all work together to implement the best technology at airports around the world. One weak link could render all our collective efforts ineffective."

In any case, technology is only part of the story. "Accurate and timely intelligence is the best tool we have in our fight against terrorism. Our enemies are observant, patient, stealthy and ruthless. They constantly evolve their methods and tools, and it's our job to stay ahead of them."

The TSA has sent a team to Yemen to "work with their cargo screening personnel" and offer "expertise and guidance as they take steps to improve security", confirms Pistole, who himself travelled to the Arab nation immediately after his visit to AVSEC World.

IATA director general Giovanni Bisignani used his own conference address to praise US homeland security secretary Janet Napolitano for pursuing a more collaborative approach than was typical of previous US administrations, whose leitmotif he characterises as: "We decide, you implement."

In January, Napolitano attended an emergency security summit convened by IATA. This followed December's foiled attempt to bomb a Delta Air Lines aircraft. In the course of that episode, "critical information was not used intelligently" and "airport processes did not work" in the face of a terrorist methodology which "was new for us", says Bisignani.

Source: Flight International