Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1300 - 1319)




  1300. In the session we had with TRANSEC one of our colleagues who is not here, Mr Hancock, narrated a tale involving your former company, Mr Jack, which before our very eyes let 30 pieces of luggage be checked in by one person. It did happen to be a representative of the President of Malawi but we were greatly irritated that we, in the line alongside, had to verify and carry our own baggage whereas, apparently because he was a VIP, one person was able to verify and accept responsibility for an enormous number of items of baggage. Mr Hancock had a rather cursory response. It was in Washington, where the standards operating there are a matter of some debate. The fact it was a British national airline which was rather complicit in this inadequate set of arrangements caused us some concern, especially as we were rather paranoid about getting on any aircraft at that time. So seeing what we thought was a clear violation was somewhat embarrassing and led to an exchange of correspondence. One further question before we move away on to measures since 11 September. I know the United States had a black list of airports where it told its airlines not to go to. Do we have the same in the UK or does anybody else have a black list and what kind of pressure can be brought against those countries who operate security at international airports that fall short of all of the acronyms that you mentioned earlier?
  (Mr Jack) One of my roles was to ensure the level of security at any airport from which British Airways operated. I had a team of inspectors who audited those airports on a regular, risk-related basis and so, as I said earlier, it was not so much what measures were required by the host state; it was the measures that were required by British Airways and we monitor the performance of those. In terms of black listing airports, if any airport failed to come up to the standards that my airline required it was my responsibility to say that. I certainly have on occasion recommended that we cease to operate from certain airports unless major improvements were made. In black listing airports internationally, and I think you mentioned the United States, I do not know if I confused the issue by mentioning the clearance issue after 11 September. That was something that the US FAA themselves imposed. They wanted to audit the security at all the airports in the United States to assure themselves that they were sufficient to allow operations to re-start. One of the first to be cleared was Philadelphia for us to operate to, I imagine because Philadelphia is a rather less complicated airport than some of the others like, say, Atlanta or Washington or New York.
  (Mr Hutcheson) There are other measures we can take on arrival if you have concerns about the security at the departing airport. You can park the aircraft remotely and coach people into the terminals so that they have no opportunity to mix with departing passengers. There are two European states to my knowledge who operate black lists and who search passengers on arrival. There is the ultimate, that you can ban flights from those states. These are all options that are available to TRANSEC should they wish to implement them, but so far they have chosen not to.

Mr Cran

  1301. From the passengers'—the customer's—point of view is there transparency in relation to the information about airports' standard of security in various other countries? Can I as a customer get that from anybody?
  (Mr Hutcheson) I would doubt it very much because I have found it very difficult as a security professional in the industry to obtain that information. In many ways the only way you can assess a country's security is to go there and audit it for yourself, and the Government do do that. They operate on the threat as advised by the Security Service. If it is sufficiently high then clearly not flying there is the advice. The Government will attend those countries, carry out an audit as to what security the host state provides, and then will lay down a programme that UK carriers must comply with before they can operate out of that state. The only transparency I would say is if you actually fly on a domestic UK carrier you can be assured that the Government have actually been and inspected to say that the overall security was to their satisfaction.

  1302. But of course we do not always do that, do we?
  (Mr Hutcheson) No.

  1303. And so therefore the customer, the passenger, is the one individual in all of this that, if you will excuse the phrase, is flying blind. I speak for myself alone, of course, but I would like to see transparency in relation to what you have been talking about. I fly to Beijing tomorrow. I would like to be able to go to somebody like you or whoever and say, "Tell me what the security arrangements are in Beijing", or wherever. I think that is quite an omission from this whole scenario. Do you agree?
  (Mr Hutcheson) I would not disagree because your safety is paramount to you and you should be able to exercise a choice.

  1304. Absolutely, so if we all agree that there should be transparency for the customer here, and I have seldom seen an industry where transparency is less available to the customer, who in your view, if one were to go down that route, is best placed to do it, to provide information to the customer?
  (Mr Hutcheson) ICAO are commencing that piece of work, but the first thing you have to do is audit against a programme. You could say for transparency that every country had to publish, its international aviation security programme and that would be a start. But then you would want to know what was the compliance level with that security programme, and to do that you need to have qualified auditors who will independently audit states. In Europe we are fairly advanced. At the European Civil Aviation Conference there is an audit team that could come and audit UK airports. I have got nothing to hide. I welcome that. To arrange it on a global basis, however, is something for the Government to raise and perhaps not for the industry. The only thing that a carrier can do is to say, "I am not satisfied with the security at your airports. I am not going to fly there", but it would not help you in determining whether the other carriers that fly there are satisfied with the security. It is a glaring omission and I cannot offer you solutions this afternoon.

  1305. You are telling me that it is a glaring omission and you are telling me that the provision of transparency is light years away for the customer?
  (Mr Jack) I think I need to intervene here.

  1306. Just so that I can get your response.
  (Mr Hutcheson) That would be my view, yes.


  1307. Mr Jack, I recall going to the FAA three or four years ago and being shown a document in the general accounting office listing all the duff airports, many of the small city airports, and their failures. This manual, which was publicly available, had it been available to any potential terrorists (as it probably was), would have indicated clearly to them the vulnerabilities of aviation security and airport security in particular in the United States. When I said, "This of course is not published, is it?", I was told, "Yes, it is". I am sure it would not have been published in the UK. I think pressure needs to be put on the industry and on Government to give people a clear indication where the airports and airlines are where security falls below or well below what should be seen as the minimum standards, and at the moment there is very little of it.
  (Mr Jack) I think you would have to address that to your Department of Transport. They provide us with their assessment of threat globally and, as I have explained already, my responsibility in British Airways was to ensure compliance with the standards laid down by the British Government to operate from individual countries and if I felt that any international station was not up to those standards then I would recommend that the airline eased to operate from there.

  1308. Did they take your advice?
  (Mr Jack) Yes. There is a whole raft of confidence issues that the passenger has to accept. I do not go to the bus driver and ask him about the standard of maintenance of his bus or the train driver about the track safety. These are all issues that you rely on the company to ensure. Remember also that companies receive operating certificates and airlines are issued with operating certificates by the Government. That covers a raft of issues—engineering, safety and security. If an airline has an operating certificate then that is the assurance that the Government gives to the passenger that it is safe to fly with that airline.
  (Mr Hutcheson) Going back to the example you give of the United States, they publish notices in airports of destinations that they advise not to fly to. I think this may be linked to the Freedom of Information Act in the United States which does not operate in the UK so, although I say it is light years away, there is information available at this moment in time. It is held in Government within restricted documents and that might be the starting point.

Mr Cran

  1309. Do you have a view on why it is not made public here, apart from perhaps privacy issues?
  (Mr Hutcheson) I suspect the view is that the Department believe that they put in sufficient measures to make UK carriers safe, and also there is no inbound threat to UK airports. I would think that if the level of security was unsatisfactory and created a significant threat to a UK airport then they would ban flights from that airport in the same way that, if you move into another arena of maintenance and safety, the airlines who do not maintain their aircraft to satisfactory standards are not allowed to fly into UK airports.

  1310. Are the two of you agreeing with the proposition or disagreeing with the proposition that there should be more transparency and availability of this information for the customer?
  (Mr Jack) I am disagreeing. It exists through—

  1311. You trust the company?
  (Mr Jack) You trust the company, you trust the certification by Government.

  1312. My goodness, that is exactly what I would not do as a customer, and there are plenty of precedents why I would not do that. Can I be clear on your view, Mr Hutcheson?
  (Mr Hutcheson) I disagree with Mr Jack. I think that if you are going to undertake a journey you have a right to be reassured about your safety and whatever we can do to give that reassurance, it is our responsibility to do it.

  1313. You are damn right.
  (Mr Jack) I think I have given you that, have I not, by describing the processes that our airline applies?

  Mr Cran: No. What you have given me is that you have asked me to put complete faith in the regulatory system and in all companies that fly aircraft. I just think there are too many incidents around that say that is not enough. If you want to drive standards up internationally in all of those states who are not doing what British Airways are doing we need the information and then I think the customer will act in the way that customers do act. That is the way to drive up standards in my view. Chairman, that is my little homily for the day.

Jim Knight

  1314. I want to move on to measures taken since 11 September. We will come on to talking about measures to prevent suicide bombers of the likes of Richard Reed getting on to aeroplanes. I want to focus more on the views on security in our aircraft themselves. First of all, I would be interested in your general comments on the views on security in aircraft themselves and how that has changed since September 11, and in particular I would start with views on reinforcement and locking of cockpit doors and whether that is practical and effective.
  (Mr Jack) The answer is yes, it is both practical and effective. The need to secure the doors was immediately recognised and my airline installed what are called phase one doors which are reinforced. I cannot remember the date upon which they were introduced but it was as quickly as was practically possible after 11 September. There is going to be a subsequent upgrade to armoured cockpit doors and the only reason that this has not been done immediately is that the requirement to produce a specification and manufacture doors to this grade is quite a complicated process and I know that it will be completed by the end of this year.

  1315. That is British Airways?
  (Mr Jack) No. This is being done to a global standard. I have to say that the US FAA are setting the pace here because they are mandating the fitting of both the phase one reinforced door and the phase two armoured door for all inbound flights to the United States.

  1316. Would that be standard practice about flights coming in and out of the UK?
  (Mr Hutcheson) The deadline is November 2003 for the phase two doors for all international airlines. The UK and, as Ian has already said, the Americans are actually expediting their programmes to finish way ahead of that deadline. We are almost back into the same territory as to other States moving at a pace that is driven by their own governments.

  1317. I understand that. What about arming flight crew with lethal or non-lethal weapons?
  (Mr Jack) Can I read from my script?

  1318. Certainly.
  (Mr Jack) This is the Global Aviation Security Action Group: "We believe that acts of unlawful interference should be prevented on the ground. However, where the state mandates the use of armed in-flight security personnel they should be provided by the state which must have responsibility for funding, selection, training and tasking of such personnel. The selection qualifications, training and control of in-flight security personnel must be of the highest standard." I attended a meeting of the European Civil Aviation Conference Security Working Group in March and the majority of states said that they believed the presence of weapons on board an aircraft to be a risk to the security and safety of their aircraft.

  1319. Measures that have been taken include, for example, not allowing metal cutlery, and yet you speak to anyone who works in a prison and they tell you that a prisoner can very rapidly fashion something pretty unpleasant out of plastic cutlery. Do you not think that there is a need to ensure that flight crew are able to tackle what is thrown at them and that perhaps some form of weaponry, be it lethal or otherwise, is an important part of that?
  (Mr Hutcheson) There is a training programme being worked up by the Department of Transport and they have taken advice from external consultants and behavioural scientists and it will be introduced into the industry to give training to flight crew to deal with potential hijacks and incidents in the air. Another point on sky marshals, I think it is a very serious issue because if states are encouraged to have sky marshals I think there are potential safety problems in the air. My background is in the police service and firearms can go off accidentally. In the air, if they are not trained properly, it could be catastrophic. The second thing is that if we put huge effort into securing the air side part of an airport and every state that is flying in is flying with firearms for sky marshals you do not know who is training whom, then you are almost diluting your own security by allowing weapons to come in. It is quite a difficult thing to manage. I think it is not as simple an issue as some people may think it is.

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