In a week where there’s been a renewed focus on airport security, airline pilots have joined the growing list of experts pointing out flaws in Australia’s airport security.
Australian Airline Pilots’ Association president Murray Butt has questioned why his 5000 members are subjected to stricter screening for things like explosives residues than others with aircraft access, including baggage handlers, cleaners and catering staff.
The demand for action echoes calls by transport workers and federal police as airport security is tightened following an alleged foiled plot to bomb or gas a passenger plane out of Sydney.
Earlier this week, a counter-terrorism expert who has worked at the highest levels of government told The New Daily that airport employees were not trained to assess travellers who may be poised to commit a violent attack.
The Transport Workers Union also said high staff turnover means workers without security clearance are being granted access to high-risk areas.
National secretary Tony Sheldon said casual staff are allowed behind the scenes without adequate training. And the pilots agree.
“We believe it would enhance airport security if all airline staff who have access to aircraft, were screened to the same level as personnel entering through the terminal,” Captain Butt said.
“Pilots and cabin crew are routinely screened along with passengers but a lot of ground staff can access aircraft on the tarmac without the same level of scrutiny.
“It’s an inconsistency that needs to be rectified, particularly in light of the recently enhanced screening arrangements at Australian airports.”
Pilots are also unconvinced about private contractors doing security screening rather than a government agency.
The Australian Federal Police is investigating adding biometrics to security cards and cutting the number of issuers.
Captain Butt said these issues have been raised with the government in the past but there’s been little action.
“Now that the Federal Government has moved to centralise security agencies and our counter-terrorism response, it is time to establish a Federal Government agency to perform security screening rather than contractors,” he said.
“We don’t want to be complacent and we see this as a way to make our aviation industry safer.
“This is the time to start taking a pro-active approach to aviation security, rather than being reactive.”
Parliament to plug screening gap?
Senator Nick Xenophon, who spearheaded a recent inquiry into aviation security, will urge the government to plug the screening gap when Parliament returns next week.
“I have great respect for the work that ground crew at airports do but this loophole fails to pass the most cursory of pub tests,” he said.
Police fear organised crime figures are getting work at airports and ports and exploiting their security passes to influence the screening of cargo and passengers.
More than 60 organisations and companies can issue aviation and maritime security identification cards, with the AFP warning the more people who can dish them out, the more vulnerable they become.
There are 250,000 aviation and maritime security cards issued but the regulator responsible cannot say how many workers have ceased employment and not given their cards back.