The conflict zone information repository created a year ago in the aftermath of the 2014 shoot-down of Malaysian Airlines MH17 over Ukraine has come under criticism by airlines for what the International Air Transport Association characterizes as its hurried and unconsidered implementation.
“It was implemented too quickly without really giving it the appropriate level of thought and consideration of what was actually required by industry,” said IATA senior vice president for airport, passenger and cargo security Nick Careen during a recent industry event. Careen called the initial version of the online repository, hosted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), “useless” because the information “was not timely and relevant.”
ICAO, IATA, and other industry organizations therefore have taken a step back. “We are now surveying the industry to understand where they are getting their information and from whom,” said Careen. “We’re going to identify every possible opportunity of what airlines and others are using for information and come up with a solution.”
The IATA official explained that although many member airlines already have access to a lot of the relevant information, it resides in too many places, making the process too complicated and convoluted for fast access. “Security information must be shared effectively among governments and with industry,” Careen acknowledged. “There may be sensitivities. But the potential to save innocent citizens must be the motivating factor.”
ICAO has set a June target for recommendations for revising the repository, in time for implementation by the end of 2017. Careen said the revised repository will focus not only on conflict zones, but also on overall threats to aviation security.
Another security issue that has moved to the forefront of aviation’s agenda in the wake of attacks in Brussels and Istanbul centers on protection of large groups of people gathered on the “landside” of airport terminals. “Passengers, staff and meet-and-greeters are exposed,” Careen cautioned. “We need a coordinated solution where local authorities use intelligence to keep terrorists far away from airports and secure the area from threats.”
“The industry can help by moving people through landside processes more efficiently,” he said. “Soft targets aren’t new. Our focus is on improving airport designs and perimeter management to reduce queuing.”
IATA proposes a “single token” concept using biometric data such as facial recognition. Passengers could substitute a passport with the reusable “token,” which would store a person’s identity of encrypted biometric and biographical data. A passenger would need authentication only once throughout his or her journey. “It’s not that difficult to implement; the technology already currently exists,” Careen concluded.
“A single token allows for a faster passenger process, which considerably reduces the potential impact of a terrorist attack on an airport’s public area,” Careen said.
Use of biometrics would also reduce the instances of passengers being prevented from flying because their names are identical to people on watch lists.
The airlines are pushing for a more risk-based approach to security, applying limited resources to areas where the risk is greatest. “We screen everybody today. We don’t need to,” said the IATA leader.