In the International Civil Aviation Organisation's eyes, states are responsible for airport and airline security. In the USA today, many industry, public and congressional voices are calling for a literal interpretation of this ICAO diktat, meaning they would like to see front-line security services provided by federal employees.

Europe, long familiar with domestic terrorism, interprets ICAO's Annex 17 - the document which lays down the international standards and recommended practices for aviation security provision - as meaning that states are responsible for standards but need not necessarily be the providers. Since the Lockerbie tragedy, Europe has developed a mature security system, with the state as regulator and overseer, and airports and airlines employing security staff either directly or through contractors.

ICAO makes it clear that each state has a duty to accept the international dimension in designing its "national aviation security programme". This includes sharing intelligence affecting air transport security; 11 September has underlined the need for better intelligence and increased intelligence sharing.

ICAO's definition of the international dimension is that member states must provide security, on request, for foreign airlines or flights with specific needs, and co-ordinate their security arrangements with those of other states.

Good security measures at one airport are undermined if others that feed traffic into it are insecure. Similarly, an airport having excellent passenger security screening but poor ramp security or cargo checks weakens the efforts made in the passenger terminals.

In its pursuit of "security without borders", the International Air Transport Association has set up a Global Aviation Security Action Group (GASAG) including security experts from the Geneva, Switzerland-based Airports Council International (ACI), Airbus, Boeing, the International Federation of Airline Pilots Associations, and IATA itself, with the intention of providing a ready source of expertise to aid security task forces, including the Rapid Response Teams newly set up by the the US Department of Transportation and the FAA. The recent ICAO assembly resolved to arrange, before year-end, a "high level ministerial meeting" on aviation security. ICAO also undertook to arrange a Universal Security Oversight Audit Programme. The latter would be intended to do for security what the highly successful ICAO Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme is doing to raise national safety oversight standards worldwide.

ACI-Europe (ACI-E) is working with the 38-nation policy harmonisation group the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) to review today's security systems in the light of the new threat. ECAC has set up three task forces to study what more can be done to improve various aspects of safety including:

aircraft design and flight procedures to improve the integrity of the aircraft in flight, which includes examination of cockpit access, the use of in-flight security personnel, systems to ensure the continuation of air-ground communication in a crisis; methods of screening passengers and baggage; drafting standards for national security quality-control programmes;

ACI-E itself has been promoting what it refers to as its "one-stop security" (OSS) concept - which is as much about efficiency as security- for use within the entire ECAC region. This would involve a group of airports adopting audited security standards and procedures. Passengers, baggage or freight entering the system via any one of the OSS group could transfer at any of the other participant airports without additional checks, having been kept in secure airport areas from the entry airport onward. Passengers or freight from non-OSS airports would be subject to checks. The system's implementation would affect passenger handling and "influence terminal design," says ACI-E.

Source: Flight International