Aviation Security: A Fortress with Open Doors

Our legislator craves for our airports to be impregnable fortresses. Yet, due to the hesitations of certain stakeholders, there are no common standards regarding crew identity (ID) cards, which allow access all the way into the fortress. All the barriers and controls in place could fail if crew ID cards are not verifiable and secure. ECA is calling for the establishment of a common crew ID card with biometrics, based on ICAO standards, which would be recognised all over Europe.

Today, there are no clear rules in Europe on how to identify crew members accessing their aircraft. The most commonly used document, the company ID card, has mostly no official value, but is de facto recognised by security officials. However, the widespread availability of high quality printing equipment threatens the authenticity of non-secure crew ID cards. The lack of common standards makes it very difficult for security officials to recognise the card's authenticity.

Different airports and Member States have taken their own measures to respond to this concern and issued their own ID cards. This obliges some crew members to carry as many as 5 different cards to be able to carry out their work! Checks and procedures differ from one airport to the other. This unnecessarily complicates and prolongs the crew's duties and creates confusion. Airlines have to design different ID cards for each of their bases, especially when operating from bases in different Member States.

An example of individual measures is the decision taken at some UK airports to require security officials to check every pilot and cabin crew's ID cards against a sample to be provided by their operator beforehand. How long does this take? How many samples can be realistically handled? Does this really protect against fake cards?

To ensure a reliable identification of crews, some Airports and Authorities are investing in new ID technologies. Most of them include biometrics. The problem is that their new systems work only for the crews based at their airports ignoring the fact that crews necessarily fly to different airports.

Cost is often invoked as a barrier for the development of common crew ID cards. The fact is that biometric will soon replace old "simple" cards anyway. Airports and Member States' new investments in biometrics represent a unique opportunity to achieve common interoperable systems all over Europe. However, this will only be possible if the new EU Security legislation sets common standards as a matter of urgency. The cost of not setting such standards now will surely exceed the investments needed in the future to harmonise divergent technologies that were developed in a chaotic, uncoordinated way.

The technology is available. ICAO has set the standards that could be recognised not only at EU level, but in a global perspective. All the necessary research has already been carried out when developing the standards for travelling documents and EU passports. What stops the EU and its Member States to apply this knowledge to create a lean, efficient and secure crew ID card system in Europe?

If millions are spent in ensuring the security of airplanes, it seems logic to invest in the document deemed to identify in a positive and harmonized way the persons that are going to take command of the aircrafts.