Home Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by TUI Travel (UKBA 03)

Following on from our conversation on Friday, please find attached and below some further information on TUI Travels views on the UK’s border control regime.

As mentioned TUI Travel is the largest tour operator in Europe, operating under a number of well known brands, including Thomson and First Choice in the UK. Thomson Airways is the group’s airline, the third largest in the UK.

Please find attached a letter to the Home Secretary from Chris Browne, Managing Director of Thomson Airways, which was sent at the end of February.1 This outlines TUI’s belief that the Smart Zone trials in 2011 should be reintroduced to help deliver an efficient border system, especially during the busy summer months and during the Olympics. We thought this would be useful to show to the Committee ahead of the evidence session tomorrow.

TUI firmly believe that it is imperative the Government moves to a more risk-based approach surrounding border security to help ensure that UK airports can manage the number passengers entering and leaving the country both efficiently and safely. For charter carriers such as Thomson Airways, where 95% of their passengers leaving the UK are EEA/EU nationals who are travelling on their holidays and then returning there is a lower risk of carrying passengers who wish to enter the country illegally or with intent to do harm.

As mentioned, I will be in contact to arrange a meeting with yourself and Eddie Redfern (Head of Regulatory Affairs, Aviation at TUI Travel) to help provide an update from a general perspective from the charter sector. Eddie was the main witness for the aviation industry at the Home affairs evidence session on e-borders in 2009 and also met with the Clerk to provide an update on a number of occasions. As you mentioned, there have been some staff changes within the committee and you thought it would be useful to provide a briefing.

TUI Travel

May 2012

Annex

Letter to the Home Secretary, from Chris Browne, Managing Director, Thomson Airways,
27 February 2012

Border Controls—John Vine Investigation Report—February 2012

I am writing to you to request a meeting to discuss the implications of the John Vine report and to see whether Smart Zones can continue to play a role in ensuring that we maintain a secure border whilst facilitating legitimate trade and travel.

Thomson Airways is the UK’s third largest airline operating a fleet of 64 Boeing and Airbus aircraft from 19 UK airports to destinations in Europe, North Africa, Indian Ocean, Caribbean and USA. We are part of the TUI Travel PLC group of companies flying holiday passengers on behalf of household name tour operators Thomson and First Choice, flying over 5 million passengers abroad each year.

Thomson Airways fully supports the UKBA business plan for the period 2011–15, in particular the aim “to make legitimate travel and trade easier while securing the border against dangerous goods and harmful people”. My colleagues are in regular contact, at a senior level, with both the UK Border Agency and the Office of Security and Counter Terrorism (OSCT). Thomson Airways was an early adopter of the e-Borders test-platform “semaphore” plus we are also compliant with e-Borders. Recently we have undertaken trials with OSCT and e-Borders on a manual authority to carry scheme. Additionally, until November of last year, we were taking part in the so called “Smart Zone” trials at a number of UK airports.

In meeting the requirements of the e-Borders project we have invested around £750k in technology and infrastructure with significant annual operating costs in the region of £100k. We see Smart Zones as an essential tool to deliver some of the benefits of e-Borders to UKBA, Airports and Airlines. Back in 2003 one of the original visions and deliverables for eBorders, supported by the Conservative Party in opposition, was the notion of “expedited clearance” for passengers and this was to be the industry benefit for our significant investment. Since then we have seen the introduction of 100% check of passengers via the watch list at ports, yet this check is also carried out as part of our submission to e-Borders prior to the flight arriving in the UK, thus a duplication of effort.

It is generally recognised that for our flights where well over 95% of passengers are EEA/EU nationals who departed the UK for their holiday and are returning there is a lower risk of carrying persons wishing to enter the country illegally or with intent to do harm. It was for this reason, that we took part in the Smart Zone Trials in 2011. We saw the benefit of the Smart Zones as:

1.The airline providing 100% accurate advanced passenger data.

2.The passenger data was checked and watch-list checked by UKBA before the passenger arrived at the UK port and the flight was thus eligible for a pre-cleared status.

3.Upon arrival at a UK port the flight was fast tracked through a discrete set of controls (either the domestic lane or Common Travel area lane) through a positive check of the passport photograph matching the person presenting it and thus being allowed entry without further checks.

4.This has the triple beneficial effect of reducing the pressure on the primary line at that airport, where UKBA manning levels have reduced; speeding up the arrivals process for those lower risk passengers in line with the original objectives of eBorders and finally preventing or significantly reducing negative reports about the efficiency of the airport or UKBA.

At Thomson Airways I see the re-introduction of the Smart Zone concept an essential tool to assist UKBA to deliver a robust and efficient border in order to manage the expected peaks during this summer and during the Olympics. This approach also has the dual benefit of meeting the Secretary of State for Transport’s goals of “better not bigger” in relation to managing aviation capacity.

Only this week officials from UKBA have been speaking with our senior managers in relation to the proposed Pre-departure Checking Scheme (PDCS) that will initially be managed as a manual system. You will be aware that a manual system has significant drawbacks and thus our clear preference will be to move forwards quickly to an automated system closely aligned with the US APIS Quick Query (AQQ) system. It is however disappointing to note that this process will only apply to carriage by air and no other modes of international transport.

I would be pleased to meet with you to discuss how we can look to the re-introduction of Smart Zones whilst meeting the challenges faced in maintaining a secure border yet ensuring we make legitimate trade and travel easier. I have copied this letter to the Immigration Minister and Secretary of State for Transport.

Chris Browne
Managing Director
Thomson Airways

February 2012

1 See attached annex.

Prepared 20th July 2012