28 MARCH 2016
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The terrible event at Brussels Zaventem last week is not the first time an airport has been attacked by terrorists. Here in the UK, though many will have forgotten, there was a bomb blast at Heathrow T2 back in 1984 when, fortunately, nobody was killed.
In June 2007, two suicide bombers rammed a jeep against a main entrance to Glasgow Airport, one of them being the only casualty of that event.
Sadly, there have been many similar occurrences over the years around the world, often with large numbers of casualties. Airport killings are nothing new, going back to 1972 when 26 people were murdered at what is now Ben Gurion Tel Aviv. In January 2011, 37 people lost their lives at Moscow's busiest airport, Domodedovo, and in June 2014 Karachi suffered, with 36 dead.
Going to an airport used to be a pleasure. Indeed, some more elderly West Londoners might remember dining out at London Airport Terminal 2. It was the place to go on a Saturday night.
Airport attacks are not unique. Western civilisation is being assaulted by extremists whose rationale is far from that of those they claim to represent. Islam is one of the three great Abrahamic religions.
Business Travel News’ COMMENT column represents the problem as it affects air travel. But it is true of all forms of public transport and gatherings.
The 11 September (9/11) attacks in 2001 really alerted the world to the dangers of fanatics getting into airports, and also on to aircraft. We now lock the cockpit door and visits, even by curious children, are not allowed.
Suddenly, terminals had to gear themselves up security-wise. But they were not ready for it. Security means taking up space, and that was not easy. New buildings could be designed around the problem, Heathrow’s T2 being a good example. Others had to compromise. At Gatwick North Terminal the bag drop-off is on one floor, it's upstairs to the plentiful security lines, and then dropping down again for the duty free and other facilities. Lifts and escalators are provided.
But the real difficulty is that the authorities are tackling only half the problem. With the exception of 9/11, all the attacks noted above were landside. Access to airside areas in terms of security has been tightened to a very great extent. Even for domestic travel, you now need picture ID, usually a passport, to reach the inner workings at most airports.
The good news is that the advance of the web means that for the most part the old check-in desks are now redundant, having been replaced by bag-drops. Stansted is a fine example of space being reallocated as a security area.
Non-Shenghen area passengers (which of course includes the UK and Ireland) need to go through passport control at Amsterdam Schiphol and there used to be full facilities at each boarding point and teams of security inspectors moving from flight to flight. This is still the case at Singapore (but for how long?) but AMS now does the inspection as you pass into the airside area. At Dubai, airside connecting passengers get the full security treatment.
Friends and relatives seeing people off have always presented a problem for airports, and not for security reasons. At some Indian airports, for example, only passengers with tickets are allowed in the building. The passenger ‘seeing-off’ ratio can be 10:1.
No doubt the ‘Right to Privacy’ brigade will be jumping up and down but in the 21st century every living soul that wants to travel, or needs access to an airport (or bus or train station), will have to go on a database, with eye recognition the possible solution to the delays that passport inspection would produce. Every person entering an airport, whether a passenger, friend/relative, taxi driver or representative, needs to be identified.
We have already noted how half the problem, airside, is being dealt with. It is the other shared difficulty, landside, that concerns us. Dealing with it will cause disruption and delays initially, but the security of airport access has to be tackled, and quickly. We don’t want any more incidents such as that at Zaventem.
All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 100 words maximum
John Burke, England
The Dutch are very worried about Schiphol where four-hour queues are likely. English visitors are even going from London to Hull by train for the P&O Ferry to Rotterdam to avoid trouble.
Tony Keane, Dublin Ireland
Not forgetting the two deaths in a Terminal Building in 'these islands' when Loyalist terrorists from Northern Ireland left bombs in two toilets in Dublin Airport killing an Aer Lingus loader who, on his way off duty heading for home, dropped into a toilet on the Arrivals floor. Another man died later of a heart attack.
Richard Phillips, Hampshire, UK
Now retired from air cabin crew, I raised my concerns regarding airport security 'non-airside' prior to the building of Terminal 5 at LHR with my MP. He duly passed on my concerns to the Transport Minister of the time. This occurred after the planning stage but before the completion of the terminal. I believe I failed to mention the acres of glass used in the construction. Another shocking atrocity WILL happen somewhere.