Airline travel safety worries persist





By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent, in London

Financial Times, 5 July 2004

The measures introduced at airports since the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US have not greatly reduced anxiety felt by UK business travellers, a poll commissioned by a leading UK security technology company has revealed.

A range of concerns emerged from the poll, which was carried out by Mori on behalf of Qinetiq, the security company. The company is urging airport authorities to exploit advances in security technology to diminish reliance on people, who are seen as a weak link within airport security systems.

While most of the 310 foreign travellers interviewed said they felt airports were taking security issues seriously, the results revealed there was a growing readiness to accept the inconvenience caused by security measures.

However, only about half of those asked were convinced that the screening of baggage and of passengers who might be carrying concealed objects was adequate.

Security companies believe that the heightened state of security is only likely to be sustainable over a long period if technology becomes more widely used. Some analysts argue that it is too much to expect security officers to retain 100 per cent vigilance, particularly if terrorist attacks diminish.

The poll found that 46 per cent of interviewees did not think airports were using the most up-to-date technology.

“People do want a trade-off between safety and inconvenience,” said Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, Qinetiq’s chairman, adding: “There is reliance on systems that are not 100 per cent effective” – specifically detectors that can pick up metal but not other potentially dangerous weapons.

She argued that the shift away from a mix of human and technological security measures, towards a far greater reliance on technology, was the way to improve security while diminishing inconvenience to passengers.

“You need to try to move to technology that can operate without human intervention,” said Dame Pauline, a former senior diplomat who was head of the British joint intelligence committee that assesses intelligence material on terrorism and other security threats.

“So far the technology is producing the evidence that the human then responds to. What you have to move to is to the technology taking the action.”

This strategy is at odds with many of the measures introduced in the US since the terrorist attacks.

Since the attacks, US airports have recruited an additional 45,000 people to check passengers. The introduction of “sky marshals” on aircraft has been criticised for detracting from the absolute need to ensure that dangerous passengers are identified before they board rather than after they have passed through airport security checks.

“Identity security is the base of the other aspects of security,” Dame Pauline said. She added that the introduction of a national identity card system by the UK government would be an important element in improving airline passenger security.


© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.