Airports will move away from subjecting all passengers to the same level of scrutiny as ‘trusted traveller’ programmes expand, but the industry cannot expect security to relax.
The head of the US Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano told the World Travel and Tourism Council summit in Las Vegas: “Aviation remains a target. Material taken from Bin Laden’s house in Pakistan confirms that.”
Napolitano added: “We are moving away from one size fits all in security. Trusted traveller programmes are where we are focused. But it is more difficult than you imagine. You need to recognise it only takes one plane to go down.”
She described an attempted attack on a Northwest Airlines flight in 2009 which she said illustrated the complexity of the problem. “The attempt was made by a Nigerian man, educated in Britain, with terrorist contacts in Yemen, with a ticket purchased in Ghana, who boarded a flight in Nigeria, changed flights in Amsterdam and was over Canadian airspace when he tried to blow up the aircraft of a US airline.”
Napolitano told the WTTC summit: “We need to make the system less problematic by reducing the need for passengers to take off their shoes.” When this provoked applause, she said: “We are not there yet. Shoes pose a technological problem. Do us a favour – wear slip-ons.”
She responded to a suggestion that people flew less because of the level of security by saying: “The public will take fewer flights if they feel it is not safe.” Napolitano noted an assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) last October had agreed “a global system of standards”.
She said her department was in talks with authorities in Canada, Mexico, the Netherlands and other countries on expanding the ‘Global Entry’ system developed in the US, which will have one million passengers registered by next month.
Other programmes would tackle areas such as reducing the time taken to process passengers without checked baggage and giving priority to transfer passengers with limited time to reach a connecting flight.
The Department of Homeland Security had dropped its former colour-coded warning system, she said: “Now we only raise the warning level when we have specific intelligence. We did not raise the level after the recent raid on Pakistan. We have become much more mature.”
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