IATA, US, EU talk airline security

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Governments rather than airlines should pay for measures to step up security in the wake of last month’s failed attempt to blow up a jet flying from Amsterdam to Detroit. That according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) after a meeting between it and US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano who was in Europe late last week to talk airline security.

“Security is a government responsibility; it will be the governments who pay the bill,” IATA director general Giovanni Bisignani told reporters in Geneva at the weekend after meeting with US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. “The bill that the airlines paid last year is $5.9 billion. In an industry that is losing a lot of money, this is a big issue.”

IATA represents 230 carriers, responsible for 93% of international airline traffic. It estimated in December that the global industry may post combined losses this year of US$5.6 billion as oil prices rise while carriers compete for passengers with lower fares. The industry lost about US$9 billion last year and around US$8 billion in 2008.

The Bloomberg news service reports President Barack Obama’s administration is pressing the European Union to follow the US lead in again ramping up security, particularly concerning the use of body scanners that reveal hidden items but also invade privacy and pose possible health risks. Britain and the Netherlands have installed the scanners, and France and Italy have agreed to try them out, while Germany and Spain have expressed reservations.

The US may raise fees to finance safety measures, Bloomberg adds. Even before the Christmas Day bombing attempt, the Homeland Security Department proposed increasing a $2.50-a-passenger security charge by $1 annually for three years, starting in fiscal 2012. Airline industry groups opposed the move, and Congress didn’t act on it. The fee hasn’t risen since it was enacted in 2001.
US-EU talks

Napolitano kicked off her European trip in Toledo, Spain, where she met with EU security chiefs yesterday. They agreed to step up efforts to draft a common strategy to boost security, in the first high-level trans-Atlantic gathering on the subject since the bungled bombing of the Northwest Airlines flight.
“We reached a consensus yesterday on a way forward to strengthen the international aviation system,” Napolitano said today. “The international aviation system is global in nature, and a traveler who gains access to it at one point can potentially have access throughout the whole system. We must move as an international community of responsible nations.”

Initiatives discussed included sharing passenger data, using body scanners and putting plainclothes officers known as sky marshals on European flights. EU ministers have agreed in principle to share data more broadly. While the EU’s governments have shared passenger name records — which include name, address, telephone number and credit-card details — with the US since 2007, they don’t share them with security authorities in other EU nations.

Bisignani talks straight

Napolitano met Bisignani at IATA’s headquarters in Geneva. The meeting, according to an IATA news release, included the Secretary General of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) as well as top executives from 25 airlines and participants from the US Government.

Bisignani commended “the fresh approach” of the Obama administration to pro-actively engage industry. “We applaud Secretary Napolitano’s commitment to engage industry and find workable and effective solutions. A single meeting cannot solve all the security challenges we face but it is a major step in the right direction. We had a lot to teach each other and today is the start of a regular high-level dialogue on this critical issue. This cooperation should become a model for other countries to adopt,” Bisignani said. IATA and DHS agreed to hold a follow-up meeting in the coming weeks.

During the meeting, IATA and its member airlines made several recommendations including:

Institutionalising government/industry cooperation: This would allow security policies to be written with the benefit of airline operational expertise. IATA encouraged ICAO to create a template for such cooperation to be implemented globally.

Implementation: Recognize that prescriptive, one-size-fits-all regulations with numerical targets will not secure a complex global industry. Governments must work with industry to define practical implementation measures for their security targets.

Passenger data collection: Make passenger data collection and sharing more efficient: IATA urged DHS to break down internal silos to create a single data collection and sharing program that could serve as a model for implementation by other governments.

Harmonisation across borders: Governments must talk to each other to ensure that one country’s requirements do not conflict with another country’s laws.

Next generation checkpoint: Along with optimizing the capabilities of current screening technology, we must begin to look at future checkpoints that combine technology and intelligence. “We need a checkpoint system that focuses on finding bad people, not just bad objects,” said Bisignani.
IATA concerns

The IATA-Napolitano meeting follows an open letter from Bisignani to her earlier this month in which he called on the DHS and its Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to partner with the airline industry “to identify effective and efficient ways to address evolving security challenges” in light of the foiled Christmas terrorist attack.

Bisignani noted the need for short-term temporary and extra-ordinary security measures until the immediate threat has abated. But he cautioned Napolitano that long-term solutions must include improved technology and effective risk assessment techniques. “The air transport system cannot support 100% pat-down searches over the long term.”

Bisignani urged a long-term re-think of the security model. “Instead of looking for bad things—nail clippers and rogue bottles of shampoo—security systems need to focus on finding bad people. Adding new hardware to an old system will not deliver the results we need. It is time for governments to invest in a process built around a check point of the future that combines the best of screening technology with the best of intelligence gathering. Such a system would give screeners access to important passenger data to make effective risk assessments. The data is being collected. The technology exists. Industry is supportive. Now ICAO and governments must work together to make such a process a reality with global harmonisation and data-sharing,” said Bisignani.

In October IATA Senior Vice President Safety Operations & Infrastructure Günther Matschnigg told a global aviation security conference in Cape Town that fear, not data, was driving decision making in airline and airport security. “Competent regulators are redoing the security screening performed by other competent regulators,” he said of what he described as needless duplication and waste.
“We are spending billions of dollars to protect ourselves from improbable threats,” Matschnigg added at the IATA-organised event. “Complex and duplicative regulations provide only the illusion of security.”

He told an audience of government regulators and airline officials that all security processes, “both existing and planned, need to be judged in terms of their added value, proportionality, common sense, and cost-effectiveness.
“Even small changes and differences to regulation can cause great costs for industry. For example, adding just one additional item to a passenger data message can cost an airline $50 thousand in development, testing, and programming – and that does not include data transmission.”

Kurt Larsen, the director general of civil aviation in Denmark added that last year already 35% of airline operational costs were security related. He said that before adding further layers of security “we should ask if it is really necessary.” Larsen, also speaking at the IATA aviation security conference in October, further urged a review of existing procedures, saying many were no longer useful and many requirements were no longer valid.

He said many of the post September 11, 2001 measures mandated by the US were “driven by political imperatives to convince a frightened populace air travel was still safe. There was no wider threat assessment.” He noted with some mirth that tennis racquets have now been removed from the list of prohibited carry-on articles board aircraft.

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Pic: A TSA checkpoint at a US airport.