Tuesday

26th May 2020

EU to discuss airport security next week

  • Brussels' Zaventem airport after the 22 March attack. Security assessments had not "provoked any particular headache" (Photo: Reuters)

The introduction of security checks at airport entrances will be discussed next week by a group of EU and national experts in the wake of the suicide bombing that killed 14 people and injured about 100 at Brussels' Zaventem airport on Tuesday (22 March).

A meeting of the so-called AVSEC committee, which handles aviation security, has been called for next Thursday (31 March) to discuss measures to reinforce security at the 800 European airports.

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  • Moscow airports could serve as a model for Europe (Photo: LuisJouJR)

The committe is composed of representatives from the member states air security agencies, the European aviation security agency and the European Commission.

"The commission wants to help determining whether security measures should be stepped up," a commission official said.

If experts say that new measures would not help move closer to a zero-level risk, the EU is unlikely to go ahead for fear of overreacting, the official said.

Speaking to press on Wednesday, the EU commissioner for migration, Dmitris Avramopoulos also said national authroties are wary of “panicking” the general public.

'Moscow-style answer'

The most spectacular measure would be to install security gates at the front entrances to departure and arrivals terminals.

The idea is based on what Russia has put in place at Moscow airports, where people's luggages are checked by detectors and where visitors are frisked by guards.

Security measures at Tel Aviv airport, in Israel, considered one of the safest airports in the world, could also be a model.

While a list of proposals is being drawn up ahead of the meeting, based on what national and EU experts are sending, the commission says there is "no pre-forged opinion".

Measures to be taken generally have to follow three principles: ensuring security, being proportionate to the threat and ensuring free transport.

"A Moscow-style answer is far from obvious," the commission official said. "We have to take care not to create hurdles while not responding to the real threat".

Before deciding to introduce security checks, experts will have to assess whether and how they can apply to all airports, which have different levels of risk, sizes, architecture, number of entrances and types of passengers.

"Probably you have a situation where each airport is unique," making a general security plan difficult to implement, the official noted.

Other factors also have to be taken into account, such as competitiveness between airports - with airports more exposed to threat or less suited for checks being disadvantaged compared to others.

Zaventem airport was under high security after threats on Brussels in November had triggered a level-three security alert. Armed and unifromed soldiers were on patrol inside and outside the terminal.

According to the commission official, Zaventem "was not provoking any particular headache" as regular assessments of European airports security had not identify problems there.

The debate on airport security is quite similar to the debate triggered after a failed attack on a Thalys train last August, when security checks of people at stations prior to boarding international trains were discussed.

So far only the Gare du Nord in Paris has installed security portals on platforms.

While the second attack on Tuesday took place in a metro station, Maelbeek, introducing checks in Europe's metro systems is not under consideration.

The number of users as well as the number of entries to monitor would be too high and too costly.

"Airports are already a secure environment … With the metro, the question of the cost is completely different," the commission official said.

Metro and train security will be nevertheless discussed on 11 April at another meeting, the LandSec committee, which is the land transport equivalent of the AvSec committee.

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