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Tue 1 May 2007 12:00 AM

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Making the skies secure

As civil aviation grows at a frenetic pace, security concerns become more pressing. ATN reports from the Arab Aviation Security Conference in Jeddah.

The aviation world joined forces and called for a harmonised approach to tackling terrorism threats to civil aviation at the recent Second International Arab Aviation Security Conference in Jeddah.

Hosted under the patronage of Saudi Arabia's General Authority of Civil Aviation and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (IACO) the conference, staged from March 26 to 28, attracted aviation security experts from the Middle East, Africa, Europe and the US who gathered to discuss matters of aviation security through a series of presentations, panel discussions and Q&A sessions under the slogan ‘Working Together Against Civil Aviation Threats'.

Regional aviation authorities including the Arab Civil Aviation Commission (ACAC) and the Arab Air Carriers Commission (AACC) were joined by security advisors from aircraft manufacturers including Boeing and Raytheon and other international groups such as the US' Transport Security Administration (TRS) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

According to Peter Kirk, deputy director of Transec, the security branch of the UK's Department for Transport, industry consultation and international engagement as well as maintaining close links with international police forces and security agencies is imperative to fight the terrorism threats and developing "harmonised" policies that make air travel simple.

"Unless all agencies work together, one hand will always be tied behind our backs," he told delegates.

As a result of last year's alleged plot to carry liquid explosives on passenger aircraft in the UK, issues such as baggage screening, hold luggage allowances, air marshals and duty free goods were top of the agenda for discussion.

The attempted attack, which was foiled by UK intelligence on August 10, 2006, was the most serious threat to civil aviation since the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York, according to delegates.

Saudi Arabia's former IACO representative, Saaed Al-Ghamdi, said the problem of aviation security should be solved at an international level, with groups like ICAO playing a pivotal role in achieving a globally harmonised approach.

"Because this is a global aviation industry, the solutions must be global as well or else we will ultimately cause ourselves problems," he explained.

IACO guidelines recommend that all airlines impose the current EU regulations on the carriage of liquids in a clear one-litre bag in quantities of no more than 100ml, while IATA has encouraged the universal adoption of the present hand luggage size regulations for some time.

But baggage screening and passenger checking have caused havoc at UK airports since security measures were tightened, with queues stretching beyond acceptable levels, while the economic impact on these steps for airport duty free shops has yet to be quantified, explained Iain Jack, senior security advisor for IATA. He said the present situation at London's Heathrow Airport was "unacceptable" and called for a swift solution to the problem.

"We cannot have this system persisting - it is driving people away from air travel," he said.

"Personally I no longer travel from London to Paris or Brussels by air; I would rather take the Eurostar."

At present only liquids bought from duty free shops within the secure areas of airports after check-in may be carried on board, but authorities highlighted the vulnerability of the supply chain stocking the stores.

Experts are currently working on a tamper evident bag, which will be sealed when a passenger purchases their goods at duty free.

Regulations concerning the carriage of liquids for transit passengers stopping over in EU countries before continuing on their journey have also caused complications and hold-ups.

If the flight originates from a country that does not follow EU security rules, passengers transferring at an EU airport are not allowed to take additional bags or duty free purchases on their second flight, which has resulted in passengers having to abandon items such as alcohol and fragrances.

Other threats to civil aviation such as man portable air defence systems (MANPADS), and attacks on airports were also identified as matters of concern in "countries where there is civil disruption", according to Richard Stein, director, international affairs of the US' Transport Security Administration (TSA).

But the oldest and most persistent threat against civil aviation remains hijacking; "the godfather of terrorism in civil aviation", according to Stein.

"We need to develop new legislation and we need to be able to keep apace with changes occurring in the industry," he said.

Installing air marshals on all flights was cited as a measure that could limit this threat.

Delegates also highlighted the threat of Very Light Jets (VLJs) falling into the wrong hands and being used as "flying bombs".

Licenses for these aircraft are easier to obtain than larger jets and because they are small, they are nearly invisible to radar.

The Second International Arab Aviation Security Conference:

When:

March 26 to 28.

Where:

Jeddah Hilton, Saudi Arabia.

Who:

• International Civil Aviation Organisation (IACO).

• General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA).

• Arab Civil Aviation Commission (ACAC).

• Arab Air Carriers Commission (AACC).

• Transport Security Administration (TRS).

• International Air Transport Association (IATA).

• Various aircraft manufacturers including Boeing and Raytheon.

• Government bodies from KSA and UAE.

Goals:

to work towards the development of ‘harmonised' strategies to combat security threats to the civil aviation industry.

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