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Tue 2 Nov 2010 04:54 PM

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Airlines can’t bear extra security burden alone - IATA chief

Cost of security upgrades another burden for struggling aviation industry, says Giovanni Bisignani

Airlines can’t bear extra security burden alone - IATA chief
AVIATION BOSS: Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s director general and CEO
Airlines can’t bear extra security burden alone - IATA chief
IATA DATA: The July statistic was a little lower than the 18 percent recorded in June. (Getty Images)

Airlines shouldn’t be made to bear the full burden of extra security measures as governments respond to the discovery of bombs in air-cargo shipments last week, the International Air Transport Association said.

Responsibility for security must be spread across the entire supply chain, beginning with the manufacturer, and airport screening shouldn’t be seen as a first line of defense, IATA chief executive officer Giovanni Bisignani said on Tuesday.

“Effective solutions are not developed unilaterally or in haste,” Bisignani said in Frankfurt. “If there are any longer-term adjustments required we must do so with all the facts in hand, with measures targeted to meet specific risks.”

Passenger airlines only now returning to profit after the recession shattered demand for travel would be impacted by stricter security rules because about 40 percent of air cargo is transported as “belly freight” on ordinary aircraft. One of the devices found last week en route from Yemen to Chicago was reportedly carried on two scheduled Qatar Airways services.

“It’s another large fly in the ointment for the aviation industry,” John Strickland, an aviation analyst and director of JLS Consulting Ltd. “Cargo is important for airlines, especially for long-haul flights, so they can’t just stop flying it.”

The Bloomberg Asia Pacific Airlines Index dropped 1.9 percent on Tuesday. The Bloomberg EMEA Airlines Index was up 1.5 percent after declining 0.7 percent Tuesday.

Bisignani said on Tuesday that while there is “room for improvement,” the aviation industry is now much more secure than at the time of the September 11, 2001, hijackings in the US.

Airlines carried 26 million metric tons of freight last year, equivalent to 35 percent of the total value of goods traded internationally, Bisignani said, with the volume forecast to increase almost 50 percent to 38 million tons by 2014.

The bombs found last week seem to be the work of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemeni branch of the terrorist organization that took credit for the September 11 attacks, John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, said on October 31. The US has sent a team of experts to Yemen to help bolster the country’s package-screening operation.

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US and UK officials have said they suspect the bombs were designed to explode on the airplanes. One of the two intercepted packages was set to be detonated by a mobile phone and the other by a timer, said a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.

Germany and the UK have restricted package deliveries from Yemen, with Britain prohibiting some printer cartridges from going on flights.

The authorities avoided a human and economic disaster, said Representative Jane Harman, chairwoman of the US House subcommittee on homeland security and intelligence.

“If we had one or two Lockerbie-style explosions, it would certainly have chilled some air travel for a period,” Harman, a California Democrat, said in an interview. The 1988 destruction of a Pan Am plane over Lockerbie, Scotland, killed 270 people.

John Pistole, administrator of the US Transportation Security Administration, extended for another week a temporary halt on all cargo coming out of Yemen to the US, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told MSNBC on Monday.

Representative Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who was co-author of a law requiring the screening of all cargo on passenger planes, said he’ll introduce a similar measure for all packages on cargo planes.

Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker on Tuesday told reporters in Hanoi that another airline may have carried the package found in Dubai, citing a FedEx. document. Original information was “immature and not properly researched,” he said.

In Asia, South Korea has tightened security checks on cargo originating from Yemen and other countries considered to be dangerous, said Sohn Moon Gap, a customs official. Japan told airlines to follow US regulations and block any U.S.-bound freight from Yemen, said Mitsugu Sato, an official in the Civil Aviation Bureau at the nation’s transport ministry.

Hong Kong’s Customs and Excise Department and the Singapore Police Force didn’t immediately respond to questions from Bloomberg News.

Authorities are focusing on Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, the Al Qaeda bomb-maker behind plots to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day and to kill the prince spearheading Saudi Arabia’s anti-terrorism effort, said a US official, who asked not to be named because the investigation isn’t complete.

Investigators have to presume other devices may still be out there, Brennan told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on October 31.

The tip about the bombs on the two cargo planes came from Jabr al-Faifi, a former Al Qaeda member, the BBC reported on Monday, citing UK officials.

Yemeni sources told the al-Masdar news website on Monday that they doubted al-Faifi was the tipster because he had turned himself in two weeks ago and wasn’t in a position to know the specifics of the bomb plot.

Al-Faifi was released from the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and transferred to Saudi Arabia in 2006, said Mark Ballesteros, a Defense Department spokesman.

Yemeni security forces on October 31 released a woman, Hanan Al Samawi, who was arrested with her mother on suspicion of attempting to send two parcel bombs.

Al-Qaeda’s organization in Yemen has stepped up violence since June, killing dozens of security personnel in a series of raids in southern cities. The impoverished Arabian Peninsula nation is also battling separatists in the north.

In August, the International Monetary Fund approved a three-year, $370m loan for Yemen aimed at cutting the deficit and reducing poverty.

Money “could help a lot in reducing the number of Yemenis and foreigners who are enticed there for terror training and to pick up these bombs,” Harman said.

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