Airports must be proactive

"When people arrive at airports, they shouldn't know what's going to happen to them," Aviation Security International editor Philip Baum said yesterday.

Speaking to delegates at the American Association of Airport Executives conference being held in Queenstown, Mr Baum said part of the problem with aviation security was "we don't understand what the problem is".

• NZ airline pilots concerned over screening

He referred to the failed Christmas Day terrorist attack on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Muslim Nigerian, attempted to set off plastic explosives sewn into his underwear as Northwest Airlines Flight 253 was on its final descent, 20 minutes before landing, with 289 people on board.

The plane made an emergency landing in Detroit without any fatalities.

"Aviation security is about preventing any unlawful attack on aviation," Mr Baum said.

"[Flight 253] was branded a systemic failure.

"The problem is that we had the opportunity to identify him.

"The problem was that we didn't understand the problem or at least we didn't recognise it.

"We knew that bombs in underwear was a problem and we knew about that for many years.

"We used the wrong method to screen passengers."

Of Abdulmutallab, he said "we should have known he was coming".

Included in the indicators were his ticket was bought in Ghana for a journey which began in Nigeria; he had been reported to authorities by his father; his visa had been issued in the United Kingdom, but the UK was not on his itinerary; and he had no luggage.

"He was scheduled for interview when he arrived in Detroit . . . he was a little bit late."

Mr Baum said the aviation industry had always been reactive and it needed to start looking ahead.

"We have only seen a change in the aviation community in aviation security if the United States has been involved.

"When these things happen there, things change."

Every day immigration and customs officials across the world were finding passengers doing something wrong, "after they get off an aircraft".

"Why on earth are we not doing it before people get on?"


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