Euro airports and FBOs also heighten security

 - October 8, 2007, 10:17 AM
In Europe, reaction to September 11 included shock, outrage, empathy and resolve. Terrorism and the threat of violence have been staples of the European consciousness for decades. Whether it’s the Irish Republican Army in the UK or radical Islamic militants in Germany, Europeans have had to be far more conscious than Americans of the terror threat.

That said, European FBOs and airport service providers have experienced their own tightening of security since the events of late last summer.

Brian Humphries, chairman of the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA), is in the process of drafting a security code of conduct for the organization. The process is made more complex than American efforts in that there are disparate legal structures among the EBAA member countries, and the structure of airport authorities in Europe is that much more varied than it is in the U.S. Still, there are models on which to base a plan of action.

At Farnborough Airport outside London, local police have worked in concert with the national department of transportation and the aviation safety division to ratchet up security in response to changes in the “national security state.” Airport director Graham Wood told AIN, “We’ve seen no additional restrictions to operations, but security measures have been increased. For instance, we now have a permanent police presence. We will have a dramatically increased security presence at next month’s Farnborough Air Show, though for the first time business aviation operations will be permitted at certain times while the show is in progress.”

The increased police presence at Farnborough consists of so-called “special branch” officers, who are armed, unlike most British police personnel. Observers have said Farnborough is being used more and more for arriving heads of state, a premise that would explain the increased security measures. Wood admitted only to having hosted such celebrities as Diana Ross, who he said has had her share of problems at Heathrow. The former lead singer for The Supremes was arrested at the large London airport for resisting a security check a few years ago.

Wood said Farnborough traffic was down last year by 4.5 percent after several years of sustained growth, but he blames that decline partially on the fact that the airport underwent runway repairs that limited operations on several weekends.

Part of the difficulty in establishing standards for FBO security in Europe is that many executive aircraft handling agents do not have dedicated areas on airports, meaning passengers must pass through regular airline terminals. In such cases, business aircraft passengers are subject to all the security requirements faced by regular airline passengers, including baggage screening. EBAA fears that such standards could be imposed on all non-airline airports as well, severely limiting the flexibility of private and charter aviation throughout the continent.

Some FBOs have taken a lead in incorporating security measures. At the Rotterdam Jet Centre, bulletproof glass was installed on the airside windows. In Paris, PrivatAir’s Le Bourget facility is undergoing a facelift, but plans may be delayed as the company awaits word from the airport authority on what security measures may be required. General manager Richard Webb told AIN, “We need to know if they want screening devices in the passenger area or somewhere off to the side. Also, will they require baggage screening in a remote location, such as a hangar?”

Though waiting for the word to come down from the Le Bourget airport authority is frustrating, Webb prefers to see the silver lining: “When they do decide, we’ll be the first to be in compliance. For others, they may have to make expensive changes to their floor plans, while we can incorporate the changes in the refurbishment that is already under way.”

Webb noted that security at Le Bourget became noticeably tighter after September 11. There has been a highly increased police presence on the ramps and tarmac. Gate security has been increased dramatically. There is now only one gate through which vehicles may pass, whereas before airport staff could use several gates with remote openers.

“There was a strong potential for someone sneaking in behind one of the staff private cars,” he said. He also noted that two people are always on duty at each entry gate, whereas there used to be only one. And the customs service barriers are in place far more regularly than they were before September 11, Webb said.

“I formed a handling committee of many of the airport tenants here,” he said, “and we’ve tried to be proactive in highlighting security issues. My message was that we need to formulate our own solutions rather than waiting for them to be thrust upon us.” For its part, the charter division of PrivatAir has adopted many airline-type restrictions on what may be carried aboard. Toy or replica guns, cutlery, razor blades and knives of any length are forbidden. Also, the PrivatAir chief of security now reviews each flight and has the authority to cancel it based on the route, destination or passenger list. The company has turned away a number of lucrative charter flights because adequate background checks could not be completed in the time before the flight was scheduled to leave.

While some such restrictions are onerous and counterproductive from a business standpoint, observers point out that Europeans are far more accustomed than Americans to being inconvenienced by upgraded security measures. There is less of a culture of personal freedom in Europe than in the U.S., so even high-level executives are less resistant to impositions on their travel flexibility. With the wide disparity among who controls security at what airport in what country, the matrix of authority is as complex as it is diverse. EBAA’s efforts to arrive at a common set of standards could be an uphill battle.