Airport Security - Out of Control?!

Since the introduction of new security rules for Europe's aviation, pilots are experiencing a wide range of highly unsatisfactory situations. They mostly result from inconsistent measures, unharmonised implementation of the new rules, inadequate infrastructure and a lack of consultation of stakeholders. Pilots, who as commanders of the aircraft, are an essential part of the aviation security chain, are often seen and treated as part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.

Pilots who flew to Zurich at the end of February, beginning of March will know that Zurich Airport introduced a hand-search of the pilots when they were returning to the aircraft after performing their external inspections.

These hand-searches were seen as irrational and inadequate as they only covered a limited period of time, being applied neither before nor afterwards. They were intrusive because they were sometimes performed by agents of a different gender to that of the person being checked. And they occasioned frustration and opposition because there was a lack of prior information. It was also only the pilots who were checked, and not for example the ramp agents.

Crews from several different countries complained to ECA about this. We were in close contact with our Swiss member association, AEROPERS/Swiss ALPA. Through them the situation was eventually resolved and should now be back to normal. ECA also sent a letter to the Zurich Airport Authorities, highlighting the inconsistency of these checks. We also strongly recommended that if in the future there are plans to impose other security measures, it is advisable to consult with the other stakeholders before doing so. Such consultation is particularly useful with the pilots, who are responsible for security once they are on board the aircraft they are operating.

In Norway, the frustration over new security measures got big headlines in the media mid March. A verbal conflict between a regional airline Captain and an airport security guard escalated, ending with the flight being cancelled and the airport closed for "security reasons".

The next day another regional airline Captain quit work altogether due to what he saw as "continuous and illogical security harassment of pilots".

In reaction, the Norwegian CAA has created a working group consisting of representatives from airlines, pilots, airport staff and security personnel to try to resolve a situation which - in the view of the pilots - is a result of an introduction of a security system without first studying its consequences. In normal circumstances, pilots have a very good relationship with security personnel. What they do have objections to are illogical rules the security personnel have to enforce, and sometimes doing so with particular zeal.

A recent independent survey of 600 British pilots showed that 57% of pilots were dissatisfied with airport security practices; 60% of pilots were unhappy with their treatment by security problems and 29% said that the process of going through security had affected their subsequent ability to operate. These results are echoed by a similar survey among Spanish pilots. They are typical of the experience of most pilots whose daily work life is getting more and more frustrating.

ECA urges all those who experience "unfortunate" episodes in the security checks, or see areas where there is a clear lack of logic in the security regime, to report this to their authorities and their associations. Such reports should clearly identify the time of such an occurrence, date, place and the names. These examples will be very useful in our discussions with the EU authorities.

ECA is also finalising a position paper on the role of the pilot in security. After coordination of all available material, and when we have both concrete examples and suggestions in place, there will be an approach to the authorities on these issues.

Odd Haugsbak, ECA Director - Security Representative