Baggage-handling upgrade

The next generation of baggage-handling machines will be introduced at New Zealand airports, including Queenstown, in 2012-13, as a result of the science and technology agreement signed with the United States in January.

However, "significant improvement" in technology was needed before body-scanning devices were considered for use at national airports.

The comments were made by New Zealand Aviation Security Service general manager Mark Everitt, of Wellington, at the 2010 International Airport Security Conference, in Queenstown on Wednesday and to the Queenstown Times yesterday.

Mr Everitt said baggage-handling equipment installed at national airports in 2006 was nearing the end of its mechanical life expectancy, after processing 11 million items.

"Leading edge" replacement machines would feature improved imaging and detection of suspicious items in luggage.

Mr Everitt acknowledged the vulnerability of South Pacific countries in terms of aviation security, the result of a lack of funding, resources and, in some cases, political stability.

He noted those countries were increasingly popular tourism destinations.

However, the $3 million interagency Pacific Security Fund, a New Zealand initiative set up in 2002 after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, was addressing those issues, he said.

Mr Everitt said the fund's security training centre in Auckland had earned a reputation for excellence and South Pacific airport security was a match for Asian airports.

Mr Everitt said he had been bombarded by media as to the possibility of introducing body scanners at New Zealand airports, after the thwarted attempt by a Nigerian man to ignite an explosive device aboard a transatlantic Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day.

Mr Everitt said the incident had all the hallmarks of a security issue, including that the man had bought a one-way ticket with cash.

"I still believe the most effective outcome for aviation security is a balance of human factors and technology," he said.

Customer-focused security officers who were "friendly but firm" and trained in behavioural analysis best fitted New Zealanders' expectations of minimal intrusion, he said.

At the conference, Morpho Detection Inc strategic initiative director Yotam Margalit presented a "multi-row data acquisition system", which was inspired by healthcare technology.

The new scanner spun the X-ray source and receiving array around the conveyor belt to provide high-resolution information on the density of items in baggage.

The machine could scan 500 bags per hour.

Devices which used radio frequencies to identify "BIBs" - bombs in bodies - were presented by Mr Margalit.

The first system was expected to be delivered to Israel by the end of March.

Totally Tourism managing director and Destination Queenstown chairman Mark Quickfall said, as a tourism operator, it had not been too difficult to adapt to the increasing levels of security at Queenstown Airport since the 1980s when it was almost negligible.

Mr Quickfall said the greatest challenge was keeping passengers safe from themselves in remote landing sites, such as during heli-skiing operations.

Some clients who paid $1000 for a trip might resist being told what to do, while language and cultural attitudes were other factors to deal with in risk management, he said.

Mr Quickfall noted operators used sites with a varied range of security, from Queenstown Airport to remote landing strips with none at all.

Although about 500,000 people visited Milford Sound a year and 20,000 to 30,000 flew in and out, security was limited.

Joint arrangements were encouraged to pay for improving facilities.

About 70 security experts and aviation industry representatives attended the two-day conference, which was hosted by Queenstown Airport at the Millennium Hotel.


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