Geneva - The International Air Transport Association (IATA) reiterated that the security of passengers and employees is a top priority for the aviation industry. IATA urged the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to partner with industry to identify the most effective and efficient ways to address the evolving security challenge in light of the foiled terrorist plot to down a Detroit-bound aircraft.

In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano, IATA’s Director General and CEO Giovanni Bisignani appreciated the swift reaction of DHS to maintain the confidence of the flying public and airline employees.

Bisignani noted the need for short-term temporary and extra-ordinary security measures until the immediate threat has abated. But he cautioned Secretary Napolitano that long-term solutions must include improved technology and effective risk assessment techniques. “The air transport system cannot support 100% pat-down searches over the long term.” IATA is recommending a smaller percentage of intensive pat downs accompanied by technologies or proportionate screening procedures as a means to achieve near-term security requirements with reduced delays.

While security is a government responsibility, it is a shared priority with industry. Bisignani urged DHS to allow the current short-term measures to be urgently followed-up by a comprehensive DHS/industry review of security systems to address existing and evolving security threats.

The failed Detroit terror plot emphasized two key realities: the global nature of the threat and the need for effective cooperation and information sharing among and within intelligence organizations. “Effective security needs a system that is built on global harmonization, effective information exchange, industry/government cooperation, risk assessment and efficient technology. This is how we made flying the safest way to travel. We must take the same approach with security,” said Bisignani.

Numbers illustrate the scale of the challenge. In the 12 months to September 2009, air transport connected 2.2 billion passengers safely and securely. This includes 820 million international travelers of which 140 million were international travelers on US routes. Another component is the US domestic market which accounts for 620 million travelers. “We live on an interconnected planet. Effective security cannot be achieved with a silo-approach,” said Bisignani.

As governments, with industry, review security in the days and weeks ahead, Bisignani urged a long-term re-think of the security model. “Instead of looking for bad things—nail clippers and rogue bottles of shampoo—security systems need to focus on finding bad people. Adding new hardware to an old system will not deliver the results we need. It is time for governments to invest in a process built around a check point of the future that combines the best of screening technology with the best of intelligence gathering. Such a system would give screeners access to important passenger data to make effective risk assessments. The data is being collected. The technology exists. Industry is supportive. Now ICAO and governments must work together to make such a process a reality with global harmonization and data-sharing,” said Bisignani.

Each year airlines and their passengers invest US$5.9 billion in security measures.

Editor's Notes:

  • IATA (International Air Transport Association) represents some 230 airlines comprising 93% of scheduled international air traffic.