Wed, Nov 11, 2015 - Page 9 News List

Airport security must become less predictable

Reviews of personnel and procedures after the crash of a Russian airliner in Egypt provide impetus for global overhaul

By Mark Townsend and Peter Beaumont  /  The Observer, LONDON AND SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt

Illustration: Mountain People

The “security theater” comprised of routine checks and lax safety measures is not enough to discourage potential attackers from targeting airliners

A fundamental overhaul of global aviation security is required in the wake of the Russian passenger airplane crash, senior industry experts said on Saturday night, amid fears that flight safety is being compromised at many international airports.

The Observer has learned that Egyptian airport and security officials have launched an investigation into all staff at Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport who came into contact with the Russian airplane, which crashed 23 minutes after takeoff, killing all 224 people on board. The move has increased speculation that a bomb might have been smuggled on to the aircraft.

In the wake of the disaster, aviation experts said a new international framework was needed to prevent airport security weaknesses being exploited by terrorists. They said urgent changes were needed to upgrade security checks made on airport staff before they reached “airside,” as well as a thorough raising of the vetting and recruitment process of airport workers.

Matthew Finn, who last month chaired the international world aviation security conference in Dublin, said that the issue of workers such as baggage handlers reaching airside without being screened or subjected to adequate security checks had to be addressed following the apparent explosion that downed the Russian airplane.

“There needs to be an international response in terms of how everybody working in the aviation environment is vetted,” said Finn, managing director of independent aviation security consulting firm Augmentiq. “We need to ensure people who come into contact with aircraft in secure areas are the right people and that we are recruiting the right people for those jobs. There needs to be an international framework about how everyone working in the airport is screened and by whom.”

Global security expert Philip Baum, editor of Aviation Security International and chair of a session during the Dublin conference examining possible threats from airport “insiders,” said security needed to become both more unpredictable and thorough to confound future terrorism attempts.

The international approach was fundamentally flawed, because it was too focused on producing minimum standards even lax airports could comply with, Baum said.

“There would be much better security if you had no idea what type of screening process you were going to go through. One person went through advanced imaging technology, one was going to be swabbed, one was going to be frisked — from a terrorist’s point of view, that’s a nightmare, and why don’t we do the same with airport employees?” he said.

“Until we address those inherent failures we are always going to have something that on the surface looks good, where passengers can say: ‘Security was really good, because they took my bottle of water away,’ which is meaningless in 2015. We need to move away from security theater into security reality,” Baum said.

Officials in Sharm el-Sheikh have disclosed that they are checking the airport’s security camera footage for evidence of suspicious activity prior to the Metrojet flight on Oct. 31.

On Saturday last week, it also emerged that the examination of closed-circuit TV footage of baggage handling by British aviation experts the previous Wednesday revealed evidence of flaws in the screening process that led to the grounding of British flights.

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