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Security & Europe: Time to grasp the nettle


14 Dec 2015



These past months have seen air traffic keeping its growth trajectory throughout Europe, only dented by pilot strikes - most notably in France - and geopolitical tensions in Ukraine and Russia. 

With no end in sight to the migration crisis and both the Metrojet crash and Paris terrorist attacks sending shock waves throughout Europe, security is more than ever at the top of the agenda. Closely liaising with the EU institutions in charge of assessing any possible impact of these events on our industry, we were relieved that no additional security measures at airports were contemplated. Indeed, the numerous checks in place at Europe's airports are already fit for the threat as it stands. Given where the available detection technology stands for now, it would be difficult to see how screening could be further enhanced - unless we would decide to become intrusive to a point that passengers would simply no longer accept.

Of course, this does not mean that we should stand still and just go on with business as usual. Just like the rest of society, aviation faces a daunting challenge when it comes to security. The threat is much less "stable" than it used to. In fact, it is evolving all the time, in a state of constant flux. And unlike what we used to be confronted with, today's threat is fueled by unprecedented geopolitical instability on our doorsteps and our failure at socially integrating members of our own society.

This means that to win this fight, intelligence and data are going to be more important than ever. Just as everything gets digitised and big data is now driving the most successful business strategies, security also needs to pursue its own transformative change management process - where cooperation, integration and outreach should be more than just buzz words. There is little doubt that a lot of people are committed to that. Yet, progress is not fast enough.

I am appalled that 4 years from being initially proposed by the European Commission, the EU PNR (Passenger Name Record) proposal is still being blocked in the European Parliament. The Paris attacks of last January put this proposal back in the spotlight - but we are still waiting.

Many are now asking, how many more deaths do we need for it to be finally adopted? Looking specifically at airports, despite all the talk about moving towards risk-based security, not much is happening in practice. The security mindset remains much too focused on detection - and not enough on using intelligence and data. Yet, there are ways to make progress.

Looking across the Atlantic, the US has already shown the way with its PreCheckinitiative. PreCheck is a successful expedited security screening programme, which identifies passengers that are considered low risk based on information they provide on a voluntary basis. Eligible passenger become 'known travellers' and are able to use simplified and quicker screening lanes at airports. To date,PreCheck is available at more than 150 US airports and 1.5 million travelers have registered to be part of it. The results are not just happier passengers and lower security costs - crucially, PreCheck increases security efficiency. It allows resources to be redeployed where the threat is higher, rather than dispersing them through systematic and undifferentiated screening. Security checks become more focused, allowing for the use of new tools such as behavioural analysis and increased deterrence.

So, why are we not looking at developing a European PreCheck programme?

This is one of the questions the President of ACI EUROPE, Augustin de Romanet, asked EU Transport Commissioner Bulc when he met her last October. Naturally, doing this kind of thing between 28 different States is likely to be much more difficult than in the US - where only one jurisdiction is at stake. But this is precisely the kind of obstacle European citizens are no longer willing to accept to justify the status quo.