Many Indo-Pacific airports increase security

Many Indo-Pacific airports increase security

Tom Abke

A foiled plot by violent extremists to smuggle explosives through Australia’s Sydney Airport onto an Emirates Airlines flight in July 2017 alerted officials to the threat of attacks involving airports in the Indo-Pacific region. It also served as a grim reminder of the deadly attacks on airports in Brussels and Istanbul in 2016 that killed 17 and 45 people, respectively.

At a time when more people are traveling by air in the Indo-Pacific than ever before, the threat of violent attacks and other criminal acts at airports has mobilized aviation officials, local law enforcement and airport personnel to enhance security protocols and technology. Regional and international organizations concerned with aviation and airport security have held meetings in recent months to raise awareness of the related issues to advance these efforts toward solutions.

“I would say that airport security is already quite effective, as the number of attacks are relatively low,” Dr. Mark G. Stewart at Australia’s University of Newcastle told FORUM. “They’ve mostly occurred in the landside zone of an airport, such as check-in or baggage collection areas, which is not secured. These are public places and, like other places of mass gatherings, are vulnerable and difficult to secure.”

Stewart is director of Newcastle’s Centre for Infrastructure Performance and Reliability and co-author of the book, Are We Safe Enough: Measuring and Assessing Aviation Security.

Australia has increased screening of hand and checked luggage at all its airports since the July 2017 incident. (Pictured: Passengers await security checks at Australia’s Sydney Airport in July 2017 after the thwarted attack). In October, Darren Chester, then minister of infrastructure and transport, announced random searches on airport workers, together with their vehicles and belongings for explosive trace detection testing and other screening. Other measures include stronger access controls and additional security awareness training for aviation workers, reported the ministry.

A raft of security issues were addressed at the 21st Regional Aviation Security Committee meeting of the Asia-Pacific wing of Airports Council International in Bangkok in early November 2017. These included “enhancement of security culture, capacity building, threats on hidden explosive devices in personal electronic items” and others addressed in the latest Global Aviation Security Plan of the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

India and Indonesia upgraded security at their airports in the past year. In March 2017, Jakarta’s Transportation Ministry ordered increased patrols by heavily armed police officers and more intensive checks on people entering terminals, parking lots, cargo areas and access roads. India’s Civil Aviation Ministry in early February 2018 stated its commitment to ICAO’s goals to achieve consistent improvements in “safety, security and environment.” Specific upgrades include a new automated tray retrieval system being tested at Delhi and Bengaluru airports that quickly separates questionable luggage items for physical inspection.

Local media reports from around the region tell of similar measures taken up at airports across Indo-Pacific.

“Most airport and airline security measures are universal across the world,” said Stewart. “One of the most effective is good intelligence. Airport security is the last line of defense, so much better for police and security services to foil an attack in its early stages.”

Stewart explained that delays at security checks caused by increased passenger traffic could be reduced by making passenger screening more efficient, with the aid of better intelligence on passenger backgrounds.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Precheck “is a nice example of risk-based screening,” he said, “where ‘low risk’ passengers have expedited screening. This saves TSA U.S. $100 million per year and increases passenger throughputs.”

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.