European aviation security enhancement on hold again

The much hoped for lifting of liquid restrictions at European Union (EU) airports was dealt another blow in mid July, when the European Commission (EC) quietly announced further delay in implementing legislation requiring airports to install suitable liquid screening equipment by second quarter 2013. The announcement came as a bolt out of the blue to hardware manufacturers who had been assured up to the wire that no further delay to its implementation would be acceptable and has prompted many to mothball further development of liquid screening technology pending a clearer picture of a route to market for their product becoming available.Operational riskThe EC said it had “adopted its assessment on the screening of liquids, aerosols and gels (LAGs) at EU airports”, in which it had concluded that a lifting of restrictions as currently envisaged in EU law “could present a considerable operational risk mainly due to the scale of the change.” Whilst it recommended that passengers should be able to carry on board all screened duty free LAGs by latest eighteen months time, it merely restated that the EC continued to work in close cooperation with European and International partners, to bring about a phased introduction of solutions to achieve the final objective of screening all LAGs at the earliest possible date.  Liquid, aerosol and gel restrictions were imposed on passengers following the discovery of the transatlantic airliner bomb plot in 2006. EU legislators passed regulation down in 2008, requiring that all airports have reliable detection equipment installed to enable a lifting of the restrictions by 2013. This latest announcement was broadly welcomed by an aviation industry largely set against deployment of current generation LAGs screening solutions on operational impact and cost grounds. “The Airport Operators Association (AOA) lobbied for the liquids ban not to be lifted next year and so we applaud the decision taken by the European Commission to take a more realistic and progressive approach. We do want to see progress being made and the ban eventually lifted, but only when the technology has matured, and a seamless, rather than a more confused, security process can be assured. At all times the security of passengers needs to take priority over arbitrary deadlines set by politicians. “We are glad that the concerns of the AOA and our European trade association, Airports Council International (ACI) Europe, have been listened to. We look forward to continue working constructively with the European Commission and other stakeholders, ensuring any changes on Liquids, Aerosols & Gels make things better for passengers, better for security and can be practically implemented by airports,” said chief executive Darren Caplan. Days earlier the European Commission’s Directorate General for Mobility and Transport and the United States’ Transportation Security Administration (TSA), together with the main European and American aviation stakeholders, apparently signed a joint statement, confirming their intention to cooperate towards the screening of liquids aerosols and gels (LAGs) at EU/US airports. Based on a roadmap, the sides said they intend to find a comprehensive risk-based security solution which will facilitate the lifting of the restrictions to LAGs as soon as practical, while maintaining security and facilitating passengers and trade in international civil aviation.ControversialThe statement may yet prove controversial since numerous of the vendors in this particular sphere of detection – who form a part of the stakeholder group – say they weren’t informed of any meeting leading to the signing of the joint statement and only became aware once it had been made public.  Current thinking in some circles is that this may be a ruse to disguise further US government interference on the issue of LAGs screening in Europe. There is prior history in so much as the US effectively stymied an earlier easing of liquid restrictions for transit only passengers, threatening to unilaterally introduce tougher screening restrictions for European originating air traffic, if the plan was to go ahead. US authorities insist on a much more restrictive aviation security regime for inbound flights and this may be the ultimate reason behind a further delay in deploying equipment enabling the lifting of LAGs restrictions for all passengers. Whether commercial or political pressure is behind this latest about turn by the European Commission (EC), the delay in deploying current generation European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) approved solutions to the LAGs conundrum, restricts further research and development in this field and leaves passengers dangerously exposed to those who wish to inflict harm. Whilst effectively turning its back on security issues, there’s no let up in the pressure it is bringing to bear to boost air traffic management efficiency under the Single European Sky initiative. It is currently sending letters to transport ministers across the region, pressing them to cut costs and boost traffic flows, which could help save the airline industry upward of $4.5 billion. The focus on an airline driven agenda of airspace capacity enhancement, delay reduction and cost cutting is reminiscent of the situation in the USA prior to September 11. In that instance a skewed Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) agenda driven by an all-powerful airline lobby group, effectively neutered meaningful aviation security enhancement to such an extent that the aviation system was left wide open to attack. It’s worth reminding that the failure to address security deficiencies prior to that event had far reaching national and global consequences from which the airline industry barely recovered.About the authorChris Yates is principal of Yates Consulting
 

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