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​Aviation Security; More Collaboration is the Only Way!

The aviation industry has proven its resilience and ability to overcome incidents that cause mass-disruptions to aviation, whether man-made such as 9/11, or force-majeure incidents such as the Volcanic Ash Cloud from Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland. This year has been no different.

On March 21st the United States Department of Homeland Security announced enhanced security measures to protect the industry against evolving threats, including a restriction of all over-sized portable electronic devices (PED) from the aircraft cabin. As a result, passengers had to place their large PED devices in their checked baggage. The restrictions were rolled out in ten airports of which nine had airlines flying to the United States. Shortly thereafter, the United Kingdom Department for Transport (DfT) followed the US and banned PEDs in aircraft cabins bound to the UK from certain locations throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

News of the PED Ban first reached the industry via an announcement made by an impacted Middle Eastern airline and within a few days formal announcements were made by the DHS and by airport impacted States.  Nine out of ten impacted airports were in the Middle East;  Queen Alia International Airport (AMM), Cairo International Airport (CAI), Ataturk International Airport (IST), King Abdul-Aziz International Airport (JED), King Khalid International Airport (RUH), Kuwait International Airport (KWI), Mohammed V Airport (CMN), Hamad International Airport (DOH), Dubai International Airport (DXB), and Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH).

According to the FAQ document published by the DHS Press Office on March 21st; “This security enhancement will be implemented through a Security Directive (SD)/Emergency Amendment (EA) process, which includes industry notification, to affected air carriers that will implement the requirements.” The document also stated; “Evaluated intelligence indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation and are aggressively pursuing innovative methods to undertake their attacks, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items”. Whilst the industry concedes to a government’s primary role in the defense of its country, information sharing and collaboration efforts would have been mutually beneficial to enhance security measures.

Shortly after the announcement, IATA and its Member airlines were quick to raise the industry’s concerns, and letters were addressed by IATA Director General to ICAO Council, DHS, and DfT, raising the following concerns:

  • The industry accepts the need to mitigate threats with additional measures. However, the industry wants to help ensure that those measures are effective, operationally efficient, and minimize the impact on passengers;
  • The need to continue to consult with the industry on the best way to achieve our mutual security goals;
  • The need to provide industry with lead time to comply with any expansion of the directive;
  • Coordination among governments on a multilateral basis is critical when addressing such security threats; 
  • The confusion caused by lack of advanced coordination and communication and by the industry not being part of determining what is implementable reduces the effectiveness of counter measures.
  • Most importantly, the PED Ban poses a significant safety risk of lithium batteries being shoved into checked-in baggage without proper packing by passengers at the check-in counters, while preferably the over-sized PED’s are to be carried as carry-on in the passenger cabin to allow real time spotting and dealing with any potential problem during the flight.  

On May 10th IATA facilitated and participated in a Security Summit in Washington-DC involving airlines, airports, and regulators to discuss the security threat and how to address it. One key result of the meeting was that industry partners agreed to compile a summary of lessons learned thus far, and propose a range of short-term measures for consideration by regulators and transport ministers, which also includes working with electronics manufacturers to seek tamper-evident solutions. On May 11th IATA briefed US Congressional homeland security staff on concerns regarding the impact an expansion of the directive would have on commercial air operations.

On June 5th during the IATA 73rd Annual General Meeting (AGM) a resolution was adopted reaffirming the airline industry’s commitment to safety and security. It also called for greater collaboration among all government and industry stakeholders to keep the aviation industry secure, with risk mitigation measures that maximize the protection of passengers and crew while minimizing disruption to passengers and the economy at large.

The need for improved collaboration between governments and the industry was further made evident by the independent announcement of a new list of enhanced security measures by the DHS on June 28th The official release stated; “The United States and the global aviation community face an adaptive and agile enemy. Terrorist groups continue to target passenger aircraft, and we have seen a “spider web” of threats to commercial aviation as terrorist pursue new attack methods.  Based on these concerns, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is working to raise the baseline of global aviation security to keep the traveling public safe, in coordination with our international partners.”

The new enhanced measures would impact 105 countries, approximately 280 airports, 180 airlines, and an average of 2,100 daily flights carrying an average of 325,000 passengers into the United States. These measures included enhanced screening of passengers and electronic devices, and also enhanced security standards for both aircrafts and airports.

The new measures were a significant improvement on the global PED ban, however they still lacked a risk-based approach and mutual recognition of State provided measures as outlined by ICAO Annex 17.  However the Middle Eastern aviation industry these new measures had a positive side; they provided a pathway towards lifting the initial PED Ban in the Middle East. And indeed; all of the nine Middle Eastern airports with PED Ban worked with the US authorities on compliance with the first phase deadline of 21 days, and managed to lift the ban in less than three weeks after the measures announcement. A positive outcome of the new measures was the closer collaboration between the Middle Eastern Airports which were previously under the PED Ban and the US authorities to ensure compliance on the implementation of the first phase requirements.

With many airlines raising concerns in meeting the second phase deadline of 120 days, on July 14th IATA Director General addressed a letter to the DHS and TSA, welcoming the decision not to expand the PED Ban, however still emphasizing the existing industry concerns, mainly: 

  • The lack of proactive collaboration and coordination with the industry prior to issuing the new emergency amendments and security directives! 
  • The new measures are inconsistent with the risk-based approach that has been fundamental for the industry. They also could jeopardize the long-term investments the industry had made and is still making in self-service solutions, which consequently negatively impacts passengers travel experience and preference that demand self-services.    
  • The need for allowing alternative measures (AP) where possible and a sufficient lead-time for airlines, as the deadline of phase two measures could be a real challenge for airlines potentially having to plan and implement significant change to their operations. In addition, the tight deadline doesn’t appreciate the lack of screening technology and resources availability to cater for the sudden surge in demand, which could compromise the quality of both the equipment and the training levels of those who operate it. The UN Resolution 2309/2016 urges States to assist in capacity development including knowledge and technology transfer.  DHS and TSA are urged to support impacted States in obtaining the required technologies and knowledge through US Government facilitation and/or donation.    
  • For Portable Electronic Device screening (PED); while the airlines will continue lobbying with authorities and airport operators to implement Explosive Trace Detection (ETD) where not implemented, there is a need to accept having Explosive Detection Systems (EDS), Explosive Detection Dogs (EDD), single/dual view X-Ray screening and physical inspections of PED’s for selectees, until the ETD is made available. 
  • With reference to ICAO Annex 17, 2.4.1; concerns with the legal validity and compellability of extraterritorial measures where requirements are placed on airlines!  The risks should be addressed between States on bilateral basis without displacing the responsibilities to the airlines. 

The two emergency amendments as announced in March and June this year have proved to be very important learning experience for all involved stakeholders in the aviation security supply-chain. The main take-away is the need to be more proactive in collaborating and sharing information as well as being innovative in implementing robust measures able to combat security threats in the industry.  

The most important lesson  is that aviation security is a “team effort” and no one party alone can keep up with or overcome the changing and evolving security challenges this industry faces, therefore input from across the different stakeholders continues to be invaluable in ensuring a sustainable and safe industry.. 

We must never lose sight of the fact that; air transportation still remains the safest and most secure means of transportation enjoyed by 3.8 billion travelers who flew safely onboard 40.4 million flights in 2016. 

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