Like most Australians, I expect our elected representatives and the attendant bureaucracies to work for the betterment of all Australians in their respective spheres.
Recently, I received a copy of Report 409;Developments in Aviation Security since June 2004. This review was conducted by a group of Federal politicians, about 20 in number. They reviewed security at most major airports and many regional airports. Clearly, Sydney airport is the airport most at risk of nefarious activity. The committee looked at what the various bureaucracies were doing to ameliorate the risk to aviation. Terrorism and Criminality was dissected in great detail.
However, it would appear that, whilst academics, policemen, CASA, DOTARS and groups of other committees were consulted, persons or modest organizations at the coal face did not get a look in. The activities of the pollies’ review committee could be likened to the mating of elephants. Initially, everything happened at high level, secondly a lot of dust and debris was stirred up and, finally, the gestation period takes about two years for any result to be delivered.
The committee did manage to expose shortcomings in respect of aviation security at regional airports but, I would venture, there are far more practical ways of either preparing for the inevitable terrorist event or getting some advance warning of a terrorist event than the politicians have suggested.
It would appear that another bureaucracy is to be developed called the Office of Transport Security. This august body was validly criticized by DOTARS, REX Aviation, RAAA, Shire of Roebourne and AAA. The thrust of the criticism was that this body had little or no experience in real time aviation. Is this not the problem with most aviation bureaucracies? The committee made a feel good recommendation to TRAIN the Office of Transport Security personnel to gain first hand knowledge of the industry participants. Note the word TRAIN…but in what?
The bottleneck of the ASIC got a good going over. This document epitomised the myopic view of bureaucratic thinking. How to regulate the issue of it? How to account for redundant ASICs? A regular report on this ASIC to parliament? Waiting period? Background checks? Meanwhile, the industry has to struggle on with officious police-like inspectors stopping anyone who failed to comply with the merest detail of the law. The essence of the criticisms was delay. Surely the result of letting a non aviation experienced bureaucracy control anything. Not one but six feel good recommendations emanated from the committee.
Cost imposts got a run. Various shires, cities and an academic discussed the inter-relationship and the costs of ASICs and pilots’ licences to general aviation. However, no recommendation on this issue was forthcoming. The obvious acceptance of a pilot’s licence with photo instead of a separate and surplus ASIC was not contemplated. After all, the Office of Transport Security would not have experienced aviators to see the merit of this. For public servants it is better to overkill on paper rather than be practical.
The screening and control of access and egress was considered over 28 pages. Again, various shires and cities commented adversely in relation to perimeter barriers and control systems. It is worth reproducing one comment to show the ridiculous extent of the bureaucratic effort. Dr Barry Dowty observed the anomalous situation at regional airports where fencing was upgraded without also implementing screening of passengers, likening it to, “building a fowl pen to keep out the fox but leaving the door open without a way of it being closed.” There were also some risible comments from shires in Western Australia as to the relevance of random demands of DOTARs officials. Enough of this.
What can be done on a practical level to reduce the likelihood of a terrorist attack at a major airport? It did not seem relevant to anyone on the committee that building fences is a two-edged sword. It seemed to be that the higher the cyclone fence the better, even if it was at Karratha in the remote northwest of Western Australia. I can remember when I was flying into airfields that had fences and randomly had to contend with horses, cattle, emus, kangaroos, pigs, hares and camels that had got through the fence and into the operational area. A fence keeps things out but also keeps things in. This fact seems to be lost on the Feds.
Whilst there exists the random chance that a terrorist would seek to blow up an airliner at Tennant Creek or perhaps Albury or a similar airport, the more likely scenario is that an aircraft will suffer an accident on the airfield. A town fire brigade needs to attend and also an ambulance to cart off the injured is needed. A secure fence without ease of access can mean the difference between life and death. But secure fencing is the go with the Office of Transport Security. Is it not more sensible for the local policeman in the town, the local shire foreman in the town and perhaps the local SES or ambulance chief to be able to easily access the airfield with keys to the fences? This would ensure that, should an accident occur, the airfield is opened up quickly.
The most obvious and glaring anomaly in all of the expressions and responses and legislation being considered by the committee was that no one body had defined exactly what it was that constituted ‘TERRORISM’. No body in authority stated that the law was designed to prevent persons taking over aircraft and flying them into buildings in down town areas. No one said the law was designed to prevent hijacking. No one focused on ensuring that explosives did not get onto aircraft. No one specified that the aim was to prevent nasty people getting onto aeroplanes. No body thought that the principal function of terrorism legislation was to stop a pilot flying from rural Australia to crash into Sydney airport. In short, the legislation has a scattergun approach. The result is that regional airports are preparing for a multitude of possible scenarios. Most of the hypothetical events have little or no chance of occurring in regional airports.
However, every bureaucracy and its dog is steadfastly issuing legal dogma that is almost impossible for regional airport authorities to understand and institute. For example, here is a comment from the RAAA: “a regional pilot who is going to do three or four runs out to …a regional port in Queensland is screened when he goes out in the morning. He comes back and he has to get out of the aeroplane, go back into the terminal and be re-screened before getting back into his aeroplane. He does that three or four times a day”
Is that not interfering with an aircrew member in the execution of their duties? Clearly the authorities do not have a focus on any terrorist function when this drivel was proclaimed. Mr Peter Kerwin, a captain in a regional airline for nearly 30 years, commented on the screening of aircrew: “Professional licenced crew are now treated as the enemy…We cannot be trusted with nail clippers but we can be let loose with a plane load of passengers.”
The authorities should define exactly what they are legislating against. A final example of the fuzzy thinking that prevails in the ‘TERRORISM’ genre. Recently, one Mohammed Haneef, was detained on some terrorist charge. The AFP and the CDPP did not focus on what was important. The head of each bureaucracy appeared on TV admitting the charge was unsustainable. They looked like two rabbits caught in a spotlight. They can take comfort that no observer had an AK47 rifle handy or they might have been put out of their misery. As for political tweedle dee and tweedle dum, Kevin Andrews and Philip Ruddock, neither seem to have a clue as to the havoc they have wrought on this innocent man. Haneef was silly enough to give his sim card to his second cousin when he left the UK. Don’t we all lend things to relatives? Haneef spent at least 10 days in jail for nothing. The best the pollies can come up with is, “it is better to be safe than sorry in terrorism matters”. Perhaps we should all be in jail if we give things away to our relatives.
Take the case of the suicide bomber. This is the ultimate act of terrorism. Yes! We should ward against this phenomenon. Might I approach prevention from the viewpoint of the terrorist? Anyone who is contemplating suicide telegraphs the fact before the event. There must be a welter of psychological material on this issue by many learned authors. I suggest that if more time was spent on putting all intending passengers through races leading up to security desks at airports, together with CCTV of those intending passengers being monitored out of sight by trained observers this would disclose an intending suicide bomber before he or she reaches the security desk. Suspects can then be subject to a closer examination.
Currently, the assessment of passengers is an exercise in satisfaction of an unthinking check list mentality, by a multitude of bored untrained security staff. If the metal machine is wound up, every one is suspect. If it is wound down, no one is suspect. It is a matter of the degree of sensitivity in the metal machine. Sydney has it wound up and Townsville has it wound down. If you were a terrorist hell bent on destruction, do it from Townsville. Incidently, Stansted in London, seems to employ the race system with CCTV to vet potential passengers in the way suggested. Paris, on the other hand, relies on bored gendarmes to decide one’s terror potential. Currently, we have a one-size-fits-all terrorist vetting regime. Perhaps we should focus on what exactly we are seeking to prevent.
Watch this space…