10/05/2010

Conflicting statements on security from terrorist actions

At the same time that we are hearing about a heightened level of alert against terrorist actions, we are being told that airport security restrictions may be relaxed. Explanation!


At this moment, there appears to be a serious perceived threat of terrorist action in Europe. However, the International Civil Aviation Office has very recently announced that new equipment capable of detecting explosives in water bottles, makeup kits or toothpaste tubes, for example, would be installed at most airport security checkpoints by 2012, thus allowing a relaxation of the current ban on liquids. This was discussed last Wednesday, 29 September, in the radio programme "On en parle", with an invited guest from OFAC, Mireille Fleury.

According to Ms Fleury, this announcement is somewhat premature because the equipment is not yet in place. She also commented on the differences between airports within Switzerland (at Basel we have to remove belts, but not at Geneva!) by referring to different situations and noting that there are both visible and invisible security checks. However, her remarks were seen as being rather vague.

A question to a well-known aviation specialist, Pierre Condom, elicited the response that the current measures are useless and unjustifiable. He made the comment that there do not seem to be any controls on the high speed trains, which carry as many passengers as large commercial passenger aircraft. He made the obvious comment that there are so many people passing through, or working inside, airports that real professional terrorists would probably have no difficulty in getting explosives onto aircraft: regrettably, especially in view of the number of outsourced work inside airports (often including the people doing the security checks), I have to agree with him. Thus, in reality, we have to live with the threat of terrorist action.

Ms Fleury was not quite so pessimistic, but agreed that the situation is far from ideal. She did, however, give an answer to the observation by a listener that on an easyJet flight from Geneva to Lisbon, the security announcements were made only in English, although the passengers were almost all French or Purtuguese speakers. Regrettably, her answer was rather vague: she appeared to say that it was difficult to meet all the languages of all the passengers, that the announcements ought, in principle, to be easily understood by the passengers (umm!) and that the visual explanation (the security card in the pocket behind the seat in front of you) should be in pictures.

I find this lack of authority difficult to understand and accept. If I travel on the train around Switzerland, the prerecorded announcements are generally made in multiple languages, always starting with that of the region in which the train is currently passing through. Coming back to Geneva on an Intercity train, I always hear French, then German, then English announcements. I find it hard to believe that there cannot be similar prerecorded announcements on airline flights. I can even recall BA flights between the UK and Geneva where the pilot would manage a limited communication in a rather accented French!

Let us hope that there are not too many blind non-anglophone passengers on easyJet flights!

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