Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 880 - 899)



Mr Jones

  880. I think most of question four has been answered already but I have a couple of points I want to pick up on heightened security measures. As a frequent traveller from a regional airport to London, I was aware of the heightened security that took place just after 11 September because I was on a flight on 12 September. You make reference to the note you gave us in terms of random search of hold baggage on flights to the United States of America or Canada. In the United States now they appoint people out of the line randomly as well for hand baggage checks. Are you confident enough that the measures that you have in place are robust enough? Should they apply not just to flights to the United States and Canada but instigated at regional airports because the threat to the United States of America and Canada is also from regional airports where potential terrorists might think security measures are not as tight as Heathrow or other international airports. There are two other points. One is on the system of checking passengers against Police and Immigration suspect lists. There is no system in the United Kingdom at the moment, certainly if you are travelling on an internal flight, for checking your identity. People can get on a plane and no one will know. At least in the United States, even if you travel internally you have to produce some kind of photo ID or identification. Has any thought been given to that? Finally, in terms of the locking of cockpit doors, I know some measures have already been taken by some airlines in strengthening cockpit doors, but I note this week that the United States has a deadline toward the end of this year for insisting on airlines having taken measures. That is also having to apply to charter airlines travelling into the United States. Clearly there is a lot of resistance because of the cost of some of that work being carried out. Where are we at in terms of insisting that all airlines and not just those travelling on the regular international loop flights to Canada and the United States but also charter flights (because the bulk of the population travel on charter flights) have those measures taken on cockpit doors?
  (Mr Devlin) The first question is about additional searching measures for flights to the United States and Canada. Obviously, as I said, we are in the risk management business and we direct our efforts and our security measures where the threat is perceived to be greatest. It is not practicable to have the highest level of security for every flight, domestic and international. We also have to keep the industry running. So we make a judgment and we judge that there is a particular concern about threats to the United States and Canada, and therefore there is additional secondary searching for example for those flights. The other aspect we were concerned about was that there are some airports, and this would include regional airports, where arriving and departing passengers mix because of the configuration of the airport. We would prefer, and we have been pursuing this for several years really, a system where departing passengers are segregated from arriving passengers so there is no danger of the people who have been screened and security-checked receiving something from an incoming passenger who might not have been screened to the same standard. So airport terminals which did not have that segregation also had additional security measures applied again on this risk management principle. This is where we felt the risk was, so we applied the measures there.

  881. What additional measures were they?
  (Mr Devlin) Additional searching; secondary searching.

  882. That is not taking place in Newcastle, I will tell you now, which has exactly that problem with incoming and outgoing passengers.
  (Mr Devlin) I do not know the specifics.

  883. I am telling you, because I travel there every week, and it is not happening.
  (Mr Devlin) A number of airports have been able to introduce segregation which can be a major issue. If you have to rebuild a terminal, it is a major issue, but there are other ways of achieving the same sort of segregation, by putting up barriers between the two and regulating that, and that has been done at a number of airports. I do not know the specific situation at Newcastle but we will look at that. On the checking of passengers and identification for internal flights, yes, you are right, there is not a requirement for any particular form of identification for passengers on internal flights. Obviously, passengers on international flights have to show a passport but we cannot make a passport a requirement for internal flights because lots of people do not have passports. The same would apply to driving licences, not everyone has a driving licence so we could not make that a requirement because you would be denying a lot of people the right to fly. So in the absence of any national identity card scheme there is no document that we can require. What we focus on is the requirement on the airline to check that the person who checks in is also the person who boards the plane.

  884. How do you do that?
  (Mr Devlin) There are various ways of doing that. Sometimes the airlines do require documentation.

  Mr Jones: I am interested you say that. I know at Gatwick you can do that because when you check in they take a photograph of you and they check it later on and check it is the same person. But let us go back to Newcastle—

  Chairman: You really resent being chucked off as a director, don't you!

  Rachel Squire: I have decided I am never using Newcastle again!

  885. I think it is important because this type of security has to be at all levels of airports, not just major ones but also regional ones. I can go to the British Airways desk and get a ticket from check-in, give it to you and you could go through. There are no checks at all in terms of when you go through security to check who you are. The only security check is whether you have a boarding pass for a valid flight. So I could pass it to you and you could travel in my name and no one would be any the wiser.
  (Mr Devlin) There should be a check—

  886. Well, there is not.
  (Mr Devlin) It is done in different ways by different airlines. It is the responsibility of the airline to check that the people who check in are the people who board.

  887. How would you do that though?
  (Mr Devlin) Some airlines require documentation. As you have said, at Gatwick and Bristol they use CCTV. Again, I would come back to the point that everyone is screened, everyone who is entering a restricted zone has been searched and security screened. The third point was about cockpit doors. The situation there is that the ICAO has made it a requirement, or is making it a requirement from November 2003, that all aircraft will be fitted with modified cockpit doors. This is what we refer to as Phase 2 cockpit doors. It is a fundamental modification; a refitting. It involves a lot of work in refitting aircraft with lockable cockpit doors. With immediate effect from 11 September the Civil Aviation Authority required the locking of cockpit doors on civil aircraft in the UK and it also made it possible for civil aviation aircraft to have modifications to their cockpit doors which reinforced them against attack, so they are locked and reinforced in most cases. We will be certainly complying with that ICAO requirement for the introduction of fully modified cockpit doors and we will have to put to ministers a decision on when that is introduced and exactly what the threshold is. So that is on-going work. There is obviously technical work going on on what the modifications to the cockpit doors will be because there are major safety issues about locking and securing cockpit doors to do with pressurisation and communications between the cockpit and the crew. These issues have all got to be worked out and a technical solution introduced. It is not something which can just be achieved with the wave of a wand.

Patrick Mercer

  888. Two very brief questions. You have introduced new measures since 11 September. Is the threat from international terrorism in your judgment currently higher than the historic threat from Irish terrorism? As briefly as you can please.
  (Mr Devlin) It depends what you are speaking about. I do not think I would like to go into detail because it is not my province to go into details about the threat. Nevertheless, I think I can answer your question by saying that we receive threat information from the security service and that gives us the threat from international terrorism in the UK and it gives us the threat to UK interests overseas, so to UK airlines operating overseas. The threat varies; it is different in different countries. So I cannot just say in a blanket answer, yes, the threat from international terrorism is higher, because it depends which threat you are talking about; there are a whole range of threats. The threat from Irish terrorism is there and is at the level it is at, and it is not something that has changed very much.

  889. It would be fair to say as well, would it not, that traditionally Irish terrorists have not concentrated on airports or the airport industry. I know there are exceptions to that but it has not been their favoured style of attack, has it?
  (Mr Devlin) There have been attacks at Belfast Airport and at Heathrow but, generally speaking, that is correct, whereas international terrorists have very much got a track record of attacking aircraft.

  890. Could you briefly describe the system of receiving intelligence reports from the security service?
  (Mr Devlin) The reports we receive from the security service are generally tied in with the national security committees. It is not necessarily a question I can answer quickly. We have national security committees for aviation, for maritime, for railways and for the Channel Tunnel. They meet twice a year. At each of those meetings we review the threat and we receive in advance of each meeting from the security service a statement of the threat to that mode of transport and the threat in other countries. If there are any changes in the threat outside of that, the security service will notify us, so we have a general statement of the threats—

  891. And then flash messages as they come up?
  (Mr Devlin)—and then adjustments as necessary.

  892. Thank you. You have made these changes and you have stated that these changes are an overall change to the baseline of security at airports. Clearly after 11 September there was a much higher state of security which in many ways made airports impossible to administer. Therefore, for good and understandable reasons, that was reduced. How do you balance the commercial needs of the industry against the security needs?
  (Mr Devlin) The measures that were introduced immediately on 11 September were not only impossible for the airlines to meet, in some ways they were internally inconsistent and impractical because they were not designed to be introduced across board, they were a reaction in a very short space of time to get something in place very quickly. Over the course of the following day I had a meeting with the aviation industry. I had about 20 representatives of the aviation industry—airlines, airports and others—to tell us where the choke points were, what was not working, what was not implementable. We took account of that in drafting the direction that we put out on 18 September. All airlines and airports would say that security and safety are prime amongst their objectives and obviously it is our prime objective. We do not compromise security but we have to be realistic and we have to recognise that it is an industry that has to be kept operating. We take account of their views but sometimes they do not agree with us. I often have meetings with chief executives of airlines or airports where they are coming to me complaining about the measures that we are putting in place. If we are getting that from one side and people from the other side saying they are not stringent enough, maybe we are getting the balance roughly right.

Jim Knight

  893. We have probably discussed the screening and training of baggage handling staff sufficiently so I will not rehearse that or how you deal with learning the lessons of things like the Heathrow incident because we have also covered that. We have stressed significantly the physical security measures you have taken in terms of screening and so on, but I am also concerned about IT security. Clearly, if the IT at airports is not secure then the ability for people to obtain passes to breach security is obviously significant. How are you monitoring IT? Government does not have a superb record on IT. How are you monitoring the effectiveness of that and particularly the security, for all of those reasons?
  (Mr Devlin) I would have to say that IT security at airports is not something that we regulate. We have left it largely to the airports themselves to take their own security measures.

  894. Why have you not regulated it?
  (Mr Devlin) I do not think it is an issue that has arisen before.

  895. It has been pointed out to us that IT security in airports in this country is not good enough. I would just put it to you that you should be looking at it. If people can breach the security of IT systems in airports then the potential for them to be able to generate passes and gain access to personnel seems to be there.
  (Mr Elbourne) IT generally is not an area we have looked at. We are looking at the security of pass issuing systems following the robberies. That is being tightened up. The management of the pass system has been tightened up already at Heathrow and that is being rolled out to other airports. We are looking specifically at the issue of IT in pass issuing.

  896. Do you think there may be other information in IT systems in airports that would be of value to people who do not have our best wishes at heart?
  (Mr Elbourne) It is entirely possible. It was an issue that before 11 September was on the agenda. "Cyber terrorism" is the catchphrase for it. It is one of the issues since 11 September that has fallen down the list of priorities.

  897. So would it be fair to say that you have become particularly keen on physical security and that if there is a gap that cyber terrorism has fallen down the gaps?
  (Mr Devlin) IT systems at airports have some impact on security and I think, yes, you are right to draw attention to that. That is something we are looking at in the sense of the pass system and maybe we should be looking at it more. Where I would have more concern—and this is something that is being looked an internationally—is the IT security of aviation systems more generally for aircraft and air navigation systems. That is something that is being looked at internationally. It is not something that Transec has any expertise on but there are others who have expertise who are looking at that issue.

  898. You would look at what other countries do in that area and if there are lessons to be learned, you would learn them?
  (Mr Devlin) Yes, we would look at international standards. This issue has been raised in ICAO.

  899. Finally, the press reports into robberies and all the issues around passes were all post 11 September. Is that an indicator to you that perhaps the industry has not looked seriously enough at the implications of 11 September?
  (Mr Devlin) I would not like to generalise, but certainly in those instances, yes, it would appear that there were practices that were not as tight as they should have been. As it happens, we already had a working party looking at the whole pass issue issue and it was working towards recommendations on the tightening up of the management of passes and the control of people's movements within restricted zones so that passes would be more sophisticated. You would not just get one pass which allowed you into a restricted zone. You might get a pass to allow you into a compartment of a restricted zone. That work was already going on. It perhaps went on hold briefly but it is now having to accelerate. It went on hold briefly because we were focused on bringing out new directions but it is now having to accelerate because there are issues there that we need to address urgently and they are being addressed.
  (Mr Elbourne) In relation to the two robberies police enquiries are continuing. We do not yet know how the perpetrators got into the RZ so there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

  Chairman: Invariably whenever there is a major heist the major suspect or the person who ends up in jail is an employee of the organisation that has been attacked. In the famous incident at Heathrow 25 years ago an employee was part of the robbery. It is very sad for people who are honest because they will be the first people to be investigated. James Cran?

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