Airport security: more checks on the way?

Airport focus editor gary masonAirport Focus Editor Gary Mason on this month’s news

The recent operation to repatriate stranded passengers at Sharm el-Sheikh International airport to the UK was described by one BBC commentator last week as the most chaotic mass evacuation of British citizens since Dunkirk in the Second World War.

That may be overstretching the point but the footage of air travellers – many of whom had been holed up for days at the airport waiting for planes to take off – arriving back to UK airports with their luggage still in Egypt, is the worst possible advert for the aviation industry.

While it must be remembered that the emergency was triggered by what appears to have been a fatal terrorist attack on a Russian commercial airline taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh in which more than 200 Russian citizens lost their lives, there is a real danger that this tragedy will lead to yet more indiscriminate security protocols being added to the airport landscape.

What desperately needs to happen is the reverse, in effect a completely different approach to airport security and immigration processes. This “third way” should be underpinned by the fact that 99.9 per cent of people who travel by air are not dangerous or seeking illegal entry and just want to get from A to B as quickly and pleasantly as possible.

This will require the promotion and adoption of mass pre-registered traveller schemes. It will also require a political will to standardise the requirements for advance passenger information.

On the first front the news is good. More and more people are willing to sign up to systems, including supplying the authorities with their biometric information, which allow airports and immigration authorities to quickly recognise them as extremely low risk travellers, throughout the airport process.

But these schemes need far greater promotion. Tony Tyler of IATA recently pointed out that while known-traveler programs have proliferated with respect to border controls there are few examples of their application to airport screening processes. “The US “Pre-Check” known-traveler program was the pioneer and now has a three-year history covering nearly one in five passengers at US airports.

He also highlighted the challenge that airlines face when government requirements don’t comply with global standards for API that have been agreed by governments through ICAO and the World Customs Organization or with ICAO guidelines for PNR information. He cited an imminent EU directive on PNR information as an example of the complex approach to data collection where instead of a single coordinated European approach with information shared across the EU member states, airlines face up to 28 unique regimes.

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