25 Dec Terrorist Attack: Are Emergency Security Responses Efficient?

The recent security incident on Christmas day 2009 onboard flight NW 253 renewed discussions on the burden of security measures at airports and the use of body scanners. Two weeks after the incident, The European Commission and its Member States met with industry to discuss the extra security measures and possible ways forward. These measures included 100% passengers and hand luggage hand search.

The conclusions of these discussions highlighted the adverse effects of setting up a secondary security check which basically transfers the focus from the first security measures to the second ones. In concrete terms a significant number of personnel employed to check all passengers were taken away from their duty to check solely passengers flying to the US. Such a policy reduces the general level of security in an airport instead of re-enforcing it.

There is a threat that such extra measures could also be applied to crew members. Pilots are part of the security chain and ECA is working to ensure that crucial difference means that resources are targeted on unknown passengers, rather than on security checked crew members.

The December incident also re-launched discussions on the use of full body scanners. In 2008 the European Commission had proposed a draft regulation that was rejected by the European Parliament due to the related privacy issues.

The ECA Security Working Group members are looking at the pros and cons of introducing body scanners as a possible tool for screening passengers but also at alternative machines. Important parameters such as the impact of X-rays, the privacy of screened passengers and crews, scanner efficiency and their harmfulness are taken into account and analysed. X-ray based scanners are considered safe by the manufacturer as the radiations are below the limit authorised. But this does not consider flying crew and frequent flyers who are repeatedly exposed to security checks and during flights to cosmic rays which are more potent at high altitude.

ECA is keen to work together with the European Commission and its Member States to rethink the security systems at European Airports and to permanently improve them to ensure that they remain safe, secure and affordable. Nevertheless ECA calls for the authorities not to only look at the available technologies but also to their effects on the final users' health and particularly on flight crews and frequent flyers.