Safety First

27 March 2008 (Last Updated March 27th, 2008 18:30)

Barry Mansfield talks to Craig Bradbrook of Airports Council International about keeping air travel safe.

Safety First

Barry Mansfield: How would you describe the significance of ACI's non-profit status and organisational structure to your role?

Craig Bradbrook: There are international standards for aviation security that are established in the annexe 17 to the convention on civil aviation, which is more commonly known as ICAO A17. This is in the International Civil Aviation's area of responsibility.

Governments or countries are contracting states to that convention. So, the responsibility for implementing those requirements and standards rests on the governments. Essentially, within the industry there are three pillars – firstly, the government and regulators; secondly, the airlines and thirdly, the airports.

BM: Does it make your job easier?

CB: To understand that you have to know that the last two – the industry associations – have observer status within the ICAO. So, whenever a proposal is made to change or introduce new requirements, the industry associations are consulted.

Our role in that aspect is to reflect the interests and concerns of the airports so that those are understood. At the end of the day we are all working to the same objective, which is to ensure that civil aviation can operate safely. To that end we do work very closely with ICAO and also with ARTA to identify practical ways of achieving the proposed objectives. That, in theory, is how it works and in general it works really well.

BM: ICAO has been urged to come to some conclusion on global aviation security standards, particularly with regards to onboard liquids, aerosols and gels (LAGS), since the 2006 London security scare. Is it possible to get there?

CB: The problem the LAGS issue highlighted is that the danger we are countering can change very quickly. We don't always have any opportunities to sit around the table and discuss the options. In the case of LAGS it was the UK government that foiled the plot.

The risk was primarily on flights out of the UK, so they had to take very urgent action to implement quite extreme measures, without having the opportunity to consult their international partners. That created a lot of problems, but in fairness the risk warranted it. I think the travelling public has accepted the need for measures to be taken and soon after they were implemented, within Europe they achieved harmonisation.

BM: We have seen the integration of the Asia-Pacific region within the ACI in November last year. How will this help to improve coordination and the exchange of ideas?

CB: In Asia Pacific we've seen a degree of harmonisation among the leading countries. But the problem has been largely flights from the rest of the world arriving in Europe and passengers then trying to transfer with their retail items in Europe.

"ACI's assessment believes the costs should still be borne by the government."

The EC is now empowered to enter or grant recognition to third countries for liquids, aerosols and gels that originate from those places or flights from those destinations. In theory, that provides further workaround to the problem. We've now got in place from the beginning of January 2008 a recognition agreement with Singapore, which is the first one. That's an indication of inter-regional harmonisation.

To achieve global harmonisation on security is still a strategic objective but one that will take many more years, I think, to meet.

BM: How do you see the role of technology in the security function, now and in the future?

CB: There are three things to bear in mind – the process itself, the people involved and then the systems or technology. You really need to work on all three. You need efficient processes; you need well-trained proficient staff and sufficient numbers; and you need to have the right technology, integrated with the processes and the people in a manner that achieves optimal effectiveness. That is the challenge; technology on its own is not the solution.

There are 92 contracting states. Many of those will never be able to afford the state-of-the-art systems that the more affluent countries and airports have been able to procure. So, in those countries we also need a low technology solution to aviation security. It comes down to achieving an optimum result from the process, people and systems available.

BM: Has there been much dialogue about the use of technology. If so, what has it centred around?

CB: We'll continue to focus on streamlining and making the measures more efficient. We see it as one of our primary objectives as an organisation – to promote the best practice among our members. We develop guidance material, working with other industry bodies, and we see a role for ourselves in helping technology suppliers that better fulfil the operational needs of airports.

In the past, there hasn't been enough dialogue between the developers and the end users. Developers tend to design and build equipment that they think meets those requirements but, invariably, when it is integrated into a live airport environment you quickly identify issues that have been overlooked.

BM: Is it fair to say that there has been a shift in responsibility over security from the airlines to governments on an international scale?

"The efficiency of security overall is open to question because some measures may not be achieving their objectives."

CB: I think in the post 9/11 era we've seen a shift in responsibility away from the airlines. Prior to the event, if you were to conduct a survey, you would have found there were quite a few airlines around the world implementing security screening of passengers. That's not the model today. It's now airports or government organisations implementing those measures. So ACI has taken a more important role in the debate. Our position is taken very seriously by ICAO and the regulators.

The approach taken over the last 30 years to aviation security is not sustainable. The approach has been a reactionary one. A threat has emerged and a set of countermeasures have been implemented. Something else happens the next year and another set is implemented. So, you see layer after layer of bureaucracy.

BM: Is the efficiency of security measures already in place suffering as a result?

CB: The efficiency of security overall is open to question because some of these measures may not be achieving their objectives. Something ICAO may be looking at is to see if there is room to move towards a more risk-based, or risk management style approach to security. Otherwise, we will continue to apply new measures on top of old measures.

One thing we're concerned about is the cost of this. Airports have responsibility for seeing these measures through, but we're not seeing governments move quickly to provide a means to fund these.

BM: So, funding is something your members have been raising as a concern?

CB: Due to the lack of quick action at the governmental level, we're finding that airports and passengers have to fund aviation security. We feel that it should be part of national security. If you look at railway stations and bus depots in the UK and elsewhere – are people travelling on trains and buses paying security charges? I don't think so!

We think that's an issue that needs to be addressed. There needs to be a more sustainable mechanism for funding security across the globe. Some of our members have already found ways around the funding issue but there are still many others who are struggling to get there.

BM: What about the trend towards airport privatisation and deregulation? How will this affect ACI's role, if at all?

Airport corporatisation and privatisation is a trend and it will increase over time. Previously, airports have been government or local government-run.

"We are seeing a growing recognition that aviation security is a specialist activity."

This doesn't really have a huge impact on security, because it needs to remain at the same high standard. Where it does have an impact is where the cost lies. ACI's assessment of the situation is that the costs should still be borne by government.

If you go back 30 years when we started implementing aviation security, you saw policemen doing the job; or rescue teams or firefighters. And there are still some places today where the security function is linked to those public services. For example, there are a number of airports where security is provided by auxiliary policemen.

I think we see a growing recognition that aviation security is a specialist activity and there is a move to establishing dedicated organisations for that, but that isn't to say that the auxiliary police route is not effective. It's just that some governments would like to divest of this responsibility and establish a different type of organisation.