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ACI NEWS Last modified on December 2, 2009

Making the right choices

ACI director general, Angela Gittens, reflects on the importance of evaluating and managing security risks.

The latest terrorist attempt to use aviation to strike out at national authorities has had a ripple effect right across the industry and on our passengers.

It is also inevitable that in the wake of an incident there will be political and media pressure on governments to be seen to be taking immediate corrective action.

Much emphasis has been placed on the potential of new technologies and equipment, yet it is heartening to see that many governments and aviation partners agree that effective intelligence gathering and analysis, as well as better co-ordination of intelligence agencies, are the core contributors to further reducing risks.

Hasty implementation of additional security requirements at airports can be counter-productive. We need to adopt a measured approach to determining the most appropriate response to what is perceived as a new risk.

Security threats, of course, are not new. The terrorist threat to international air travel first emerged in the late 1960s and is still present today, five decades later. Terrorist acts remain a statistically small risk but one which governments and the industry accord the highest priority.

The threat has also evolved over time, and the recent attempt underscores, again, the ingenuity of the terrorist. However, the attempt also points to the extreme measures that the terrorist is having to resort to, as the preventive security measures at airports make it more and more difficult to attack civil aviation. With 77 million aircraft movements and nearly five billion passengers travelling safely each year, the management of risk can be seen as effective.

But none of this should mask a critical component in our thinking. The responsibility for protecting air travel from attacks against the State rests with governments.

Countering the terrorist threat requires a comprehensive, multi-layered national security strategy, where the airport-based security measures are the last line of defence. Pre-emptive action based on intelligence gathering, analysis and appropriate communication channels remains the front line in countering this threat.

ACI advocates a risk management approach to aviation security and, in the wake of a terrorist incident or credible threat, this assessment should drive decision-making regarding any additional security measures.

Furthermore, ACI believes that in this assessment governments need to also consider the impact of these measures on the travelling public.

Clearly trying to blow up an aircraft with explosive substances hidden in underwear constitutes a serious incident and will yield its own lessons. Short-term initial emergency measures were deemed necessary, but now the medium and long-term choices that we make must be sustainable.

Without a doubt, we must continue to test and select new means to avoid or mitigate impact of incidents. Purely reactive responses run the high risk of increasing hassle factors for passengers and operational hurdles for airports and airlines, and of course increasing costs in equipment and staff training without proven results.

I am encouraged by the measured response taken by many governments to the latest terrorist incident. It is evidence that the risk management process is working. I am also encouraged by the level of consultation and co-ordination that has taken place between governments. Civil aviation is, after all, a global system, which requires a co-ordinated response internationally. It is in this way that inappropriate or ineffecutual responses to risk can be avoided.

What may not be apparent to many outside the industry is just how much work is being done, in conjunction with governments and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to enhance aviation security and to mitigate the negative impact that this security can have on the passenger experience and the efficiency of airport and airline operations.

ACI World and Regions pursue these avenues of constructive decision-making at the international and regional levels. Working together, we can use this incident to strengthen the collective industry resolve to continue our work with constancy of purpose and a renewed sense of urgency.

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