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Sun 11 Sep 2011 07:31 AM

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Flight delayed?

Despite prohibitive security requirements, the airline industry has been more affected by other crises than the fallout from 9/11

Flight delayed?
Flight delayed?
Global airport aviation security costs are around $7.4bn annually, according to IATA estimates

Separate shoe scanners, minimising the amount of liquid aboard aircraft and several body and luggage scans at arrival and departure airports are the legacy of a host of security checks that have been introduced at airports across the world in the decade since 9/11.

It took just three years for the global aviation industry to recover the $22bn revenue drop that it saw in 2000-2001 but the security measures introduced in the ten years since are unlikely to ever be reversed.

“One of the most significant changes has been the intensity and frequency of mandatory and random checking. This ranges not just as passengers transiting through to airside parts of the airport terminal but also prior to embarkation,” says Saj Ahmad, an aviation analyst with FBE Aerospace.

“With airlines and airports working together to coordinate policies and enforce these, it is unlikely many of the imposed changes introduced since 9/11 will ever be withdrawn,” he adds.

Global airport aviation security costs are around $7.4bn annually — excluding the cost of airport passenger screening borne by airports or government bodies — according to International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates.

The vast expense prompted the airline industry body to call for greater government funding. “Given that the security threats facing commercial aviation are national challenges, funding the cost of meeting them should not be the responsibility of airlines but of national governments,” it noted on its recent report into the impact of 9/11 on the aviation industry.

The US Department of Homeland Security and its Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have invested a staggering $56.8bn on aviation security since its inception in 2002 and has an annual budget in 2012 of $8.1bn. GCC states, home to some of the fastest growing airlines, are set to spend $90bn on airport development by 2022, almost a third of which will be used for security upgrades.

It’s not just governments and airports that are bearing the cost of this increased security. UAE airports in July introduced a security tax of AED5 ($1.36) for all international departing passengers following similar measures at other airports around the world.

Security measures aside, the aviation industry has continued to expand despite a challenging decade in which it has struggled to maintain passenger loads amid the outbreak of SARS, the dotcom crash and most recently the global economic downturn. In 2011, global airline revenues are expected to total $598bn, nearly double the $307bn of 2001, according to IATA estimates. Airlines are flying one billion more passengers and carrying 16 million more tonnes of cargo than they did in 2001. Route expansion, bar a decision to shelve a direct route from Pakistan to the US, has also remained largely unaffected, say analysts.

“In the wake of 9/11, we have not seen any restrictive policies curtailing flight expansion. If anything, the US-EU Open Skies accord proves that joint deals still progress forward thanks in large part to a coordinated effort to synchronise security measures,” notes Ahmad.

That said, the additional security checks in the US has forced many passengers to opt for alternative, quicker, modes of transport such as the train, says airline analyst, Ernest Arvai, president and CEO of the Arvai Group.

“With travel time to the airport and being there one hour in advance for security, a one-hour flight now takes two and a half hours from check-in to baggage receipt. In the US, in particular, it is often a way for people to drive rather than fly in terms of total time,” he says.

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