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Security in the spotlight

Aviation security, both in the air and on the ground, is a landscape changing rapidly due to a growing variety of threats including terrorism and cybercrime.

Because of this, the industry and those that work within it must continue to work to try and stay one step ahead. But, delegates at the European Regions Airline Association (ERA)’s regional airline conference were told, in some aspects it would almost be better to rip it all up and start again.

In a panel session discussing whether aviation security is the industry’s number one challenge faced today, Matthew Finn of security consultancy AUGMENTIQ focused on how prepared delegates and their businesses were for unexpected security threats. With 29 regional airlines represented amongst the record number of attendees this year (nearly 240), it’s a big issue.

Finn highlighted the industry’s “reactive culture” that has evolved over the last 40 or 50 years in response to incidents. “This characterises our response as an industry, because we’re always fighting last year’s war,” he said.

When it comes to aviation security, it’s not great. Let’s be really honest about that. If we didn’t have aviation security today, would we really design what currently exists? Or would we design something different and better? My belief is that we would design something different and better. The system we have in place today has just been patched together year after year, event after event, layered on, bolted on. It’s not holistic, it doesn’t incorporate the best of our assets, the best of our talents, and it certainly doesn’t do all the things you would expect it to do.

Matthew Finn, Managing Director, AUGMENTIQ

Finn went on to advocate that if the industry had the opportunity to start with a blank sheet of paper it would design something “much different and much better” than what it has today.

Rather than just equipment, however, he continued by stressing that culture was the single most important thing in an organisation, as it is where security thinking starts. “Security is rarely a board level issue. It’s often put to one side or they will talk about finances or targets or corporate mergers and acquisitions but they are not talking about security. And yet – if we’re honest – if there is a compromise of security, the business might be over and you might not have another opportunity to rethink.”

Another speaker, David Trembaczowski-Ryder, head of aviation security at ACI Europe, looked at airport security priorities in light of last year’s terrorist attacks on Brussels and Istanbul Ataturk airports. Trembaczowski-Ryder said the industry must stay one step ahead, rather than being mostly reactive as it is now. “Instead of always reacting to the last known threat, airports, with manufacturers and regulators, are looking to be more proactive and introduce future proof technology and processes that counter current known threats and as yet unknown threats,” he said.

Trembaczowski-Ryder went onto highlight the security considerations for smaller regional airports, especially related to EDS (Explosive Detection Systems) for hold baggage, and the potential – due to impending EU legislation – to have to upgrade their EDS Standard 2 machines by 2020 or possibly 2022 with Standard 3 machines.

“But with an EDS Standard 3 machine costing more than €1 million each, we estimate for the whole of Europe (some 500 airports) it would cost €10–15 billion to upgrade to EDS Standard 3 for whole baggage screening. That’s a nonsense for small airports, which shouldn’t have to do that. They should keep their EDS Standard 2 machines.”

ACI is pushing with industry partners to get the legislation changed so that the smaller regional airports don’t have to upgrade to the new kit.

Tim Grant of MedAir highlighted amongst many things the simple importance of local knowledge for individuals working in the aviation industry – the ability to do things like notice when something is different or out of the ordinary. “This is only possible when you know what the ordinary looks like,” he said.

The Day One proceedings had been kicked off earlier by Boet Kreiken, president of the ERA and MD of KLM Cityhopper. He highlighted Europe’s current turbulent times including the Brexit process and the UK’s triggering of Article 50, as well as various upcoming elections within several key European countries.

He reminded delegates: “To run an airline is not cheap, so we’d better fill it up with the right sectors, the right markets, the right frequencies and destinations. Using new distribution techniques and policies, and of course using the most efficient aircraft, engines and systems around. We have to be very vigilant in this difficult game of capacity and supply.”

Mark Thomas, LARA editor – ERA Regional Airline Conference, Copenhagen, Denmark.

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