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Seaman: Security in our skies . . . fact or fiction?

If you travel the commercial airlines, you cannot help but notice the increased security features at air terminals around the world.  Outwardly, this shows an improved solution to what was previously perceived as an ineffective method of passenger screening. It visually makes an impressive deterrent to those who would inflict their ideology and views on others through acts of violence.


January 30, 2008
By Rob Seaman

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If you travel the commercial airlines, you cannot help but notice the increased security features at air terminals around the world.  Outwardly, this shows an improved solution to what was previously perceived as an ineffective method of passenger screening. It visually makes an impressive deterrent to those who would inflict their ideology and views on others through acts of violence.

Based upon recent personal commercial travel experiences, I have to question the effectiveness of the whole thing. Personally, the entire process is very much lacking. At best, it is hit-and-miss. While the outward appearance is that security is much better, the reality based upon reports from many within the aviation industry itself, is quite the opposite. Incompetence is one frequent obser-vation. Lack of consistency  in the application of regulations and protocols is another.

Case in point, I nearly caused a security scare recently on a trip. On the outbound leg, I arrived in time to undergo the security “process” – which included unloading each camera and lens from my kit, showing the inspector first how they worked, and then allowing them to ascertain they were in fact what I said they were. The “official” had no idea about my digital camera and was busily trying to open the back and see inside. Surely I was not the first person with a digital camera? It got the attention of not one or two, but three “professionals” before I was allowed to go on to my flight. As for the personal check – well, taking off all that allows retention of modesty (or scaring those around you) was not enough – I had to allow a waist check and full pat down. They were being thorough – or so it seemed.

On the return trip, the check-in seemed less intense. The scan of my person went fine – no strip down was required. However, once again the cameras came under scrutiny. I was getting prepared to unload everything and go through the show-and-tell when I was asked if I had a knife in the camera bag. “No” was my reply – “only camera equipment.” I was then shown an X-ray of the bag clearly revealing a knife in the side pouch. It turned out to be my Leatherman tool (I wondered where it had got to and had not seen it for a while). I must have looked sufficiently and genuinely surprised to see it there as the “professional” accepted my explanation and with removal of the “deadly” weapon, I was allowed to proceed. Here is the real kick: I had passed all the screening – which was much more intense and outwardly involved – earlier in the day. Yet, this was never caught. So had I really been out to do something on a flight, I would have been able to.

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Lots of folks have a similar story. I have heard how metal plates and screws in limbs from a surgical repair do and do not become an issue. It all depends on where you go and who is checking. While carrying a doctor’s letter for such things may be the answer, there are many occasions where the “professionals” either will not accept it, or cannot be bothered to read the letter. Not to mention the whole issue of trying to explain it – some simply do not get it.

As for the gels and liquids issue from recent months, as one well-travelled colleague suggested, putting these things in a clear bag, and then back in your luggage is ridiculous – unless of course the clear bag is some form of explosive-proof device. If we had the same sort of scanning technology as many European airports, this sort of thing would not be necessary. They scan everything – carry-on or checked – with a much better system. On this side of the world, some places do, and others do not.

And to make matters worse, as one friend who used to work with the US Transportation Security Administration told me – most of their new employees were working as fast-food clerks until the TSA hired them. They did not get any smarter, just more pay and the authority to make life miserable with a continuation of their poor service tactics. In recent news from the US, the TSA workers want training – which makes you question: what were they getting before?

There is the potential of new and enhanced security systems for the FBO and corporate aviation world. In Canada, we are already looking to self-improvement. What is concerning is that those outside the bizav purview, who could be making the decisions that affect us, might be the same folks who brought us the spastic commercial airport applications we now enjoy so much. This could be a very bad thing.

The answer is to make sure our voice is heard. The users and members of the business aviation market must play an active role in the development, application and overall process for any such change. If we stay uninvolved, the decisions will be made for us – and we may not like them. So, have an opinion! And be heard!�

ROB SEAMAN is a Wings writer and columnist.