BA Chairman Argues for Improvements To “Topsy” Airport Security

The Chairman of British Airways, Sir Martin Broughton, has outlined ways of improving passenger and freight security at airports – and criticised current international practices. Sir Martin said: “There is absolutely no reason why security that is better can’t also be more customer-friendly. Making everybody suffer inconvenience in the name of uniformity doesn’t make any sense at all – and reduces the quality of security by dissipating resources.”

Giving the keynote Annual Aviation Lecture of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) in London to an audience of aviation and transport experts, Sir Martin argued that the current “topsy-like” system “reduces the quality of security for all”.  He carefully argued for the adoption of a series of measures that could deliver improved quality of security while paying much more attention to the needs of passengers and freight customers:

1. Adoption of a holistic approach instead of just adding burdensome rules “being super-imposed on the existing structure every time there is a new security incident.”

2. A risk-based approach to replace the current ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.  He argued that this should apply to passengers using the data that both airlines and governments possess to ‘fast-track’ lower risk customers, including frequent flyers, thereby allowing security resources to be focused more on higher risk customers, for instance, those on government watchlists. Sir Martin asked: “Is it sensible to run exactly the same security checks on pilots – each and every time they fly – as, for example, a Yemeni student?” He went on to dismiss criticism of profiling, saying that “such concerns are misplaced and completely miss the point.”

3. Adoption of security that operates in “unpredictable ways”.  Sir Martin argued that, for instance, different security lanes making different checks could be “constructive” as potential terrorists wouldn’t know which check would be done on them and would need to plan for every eventuality.  He said that: “deliberate unpredictability is not the same as bureaucratic inconsistency” but that this approach depended on more international agreement on “precise security requirements”.

4. Multilateral agreements on what constitutes a good security regime and mutual recognition of such regimes.  He said: “We need multi-lateral agreements that recognise the equivalent of other countries’ whole security regimes rather than trying to match each security measure piece by piece.”

5. Recognition that we have domestically-based terrorists as well as foreign-based terrorists and therefore require the same standards at home as we do for inbound traffic.

6. Encouragement of investment in technology that speeds up and improves the security process with stronger incentives to invest in items such as faster and more reliable body-scanning machines.

Criticising current arrangements, Sir Martin questioned why airport security in Britain needed to be so much more complex than that in the rest of Europe, saying: “The difference between the UK and the European baseline consists of 168 pages of UK regulation including 200 additional ‘More Stringent Measures’. Many of the differences are trivial – so why have them?”

He criticised Britain’s security authorities for not backing new screening machines that would have allowed laptops to stay in bags and highlighted US spot checks that had led to a BA board director and former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger being given “additional screening”.  He also criticised the “daft” US rules for airfreight, introduced with just six days’ notice, that require additional checks on US-bound goods that have already been flown.  He said new US rules applying to Britain mean that cargo will have to be re-screened, will require additional resources, could lead to increased risks of hygiene of some goods and theft of others.

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