Thursday 27 March 2014

Changi Airport steps up security measures

Stricter checks, monitoring among the actions taken
By Karamjit Kaur, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2014

CHANGI Airport has stepped up security checks since the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 more than two weeks ago.

The heightened security is a "precautionary measure", the Singapore Police Force and Immigration and Checkpoints Authority of Singapore (ICA) said yesterday.

Airport Police commander Sam Tee, who briefed reporters on the security procedures at Changi Airport, said that measures have been reviewed in the wake of MH370's disappearance.

On March 8, the Malaysia Airlines flight vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

The twin-aisle Boeing 777-200ER plane has yet to be found, but the authorities have confirmed that at least two Iranian passengers boarded the jet with stolen passports.

At Changi, the police have "enhanced some of the checks" and there is also a "stronger ground presence", Mr Tee said. For example, travellers' identities now come under closer scrutiny, he added, without elaborating.

Singapore is one of the few countries that check visitor passports against Interpol's database of lost or stolen travel documents.

If a passport is found to be one of more than 40 million on the global police agency's list, the immigration officer at the counter is automatically alerted and the traveller pulled aside for further checks.

The Straits Times understands that in the last two weeks, selected flights - based on risk assessment - have been subjected to tighter screening. This includes more thorough checks like pat downs for departing passengers.

Several airlines also said that a briefing was held recently to remind everyone to stay vigilant.

On top of the stepped-up measures, the Airport Police conducts daily security checks and monitors the premises using cameras that are installed airport-wide.

The airport's facade has been strengthened in recent years to protect the terminals from outside explosions.

At Changi, all departing bags originating in Singapore and bags transferred from one aircraft to another are put through a five-level screening system.

Mr Paul Yap, who was the head of aviation security at Changi Airport before leaving in 2006 to lead Temasek Polytechnic's aviation department, said risk management is key.

"At the end of the day, there is a cost to everything. You can have all the checks but you also need to look at the impact on Changi's efficiency, for example," he said.

To balance between passenger convenience and the need to ensure security, the Airport Police adopts a "whole-of-government" approach and works closely with relevant agencies, including Changi Airport Group and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, Mr Tee said. "Over-security or under-security is equally sinful and we should not go to the end of each spectrum," he said.

"Risk management is about making sure we have good information on what has happened, we have good intelligence and an understanding of some of the facilitation issues that we will face, and then we work together as a team," Mr Tee added.

The ultimate objective is to secure the airport "without causing severe inconvenience or disruptions to airport operations", he said.

With more stringent checks in the wake of MH370's disappearance, Mr Tee said: "The police and ICA are monitoring the security thrust situation closely. We appreciate the understanding and patience from travellers as we conduct the various security checks to ensure safe and secure travel."

Passport checks here tap Interpol database
S'pore is one of 70 nations that cross-check agency's stolen, lost passport data
By Hoe Pei Shan, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2014

SINGAPORE is one of about 70 member states of Interpol that conduct border checks by cross-checking against the global police agency's database of stolen and lost travel documents.

Most of Interpol's 190 member countries do not do so, however, and this has to be improved, an Interpol official told reporters here.

If more countries got onboard with integrated cross-checking of border information, it would be easier to avoid cases such as that of the two Iranians who illegally boarded Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, said Ms Julia Viedma, Interpol director of international partnerships and development unit.

"These kinds of events show the importance of enhancing border security… and the importance of having the technology accessible to all law-enforcement and all immigration officers to be able to cross-check all bio-data," she said at a press conference yesterday.

The database has information on more than 40 million passports in its logs - 167 countries have reported information on stolen or lost travel documents to it.

More than 800 million searches were run on the database last year, resulting in 67,000 positive hits.

"So 67,000 times in 2013, a passport that was not accredited as good, that maybe had been used in a fraudulent way, was detected in the world, thanks to this cross-checking of information," said Ms Viedma, who joined Interpol in 1998 after a decade in the Spanish National Police.

Having managed seven Interpol regional bureaus in Africa, Asia and America, Ms Viedma is well-positioned in her current role leading the transition support office that is setting up the Interpol Global Complex for Innovation in Singapore.

This is being built to complement Interpol's headquarters in Lyon, France, and to enhance its presence in Asia. Singapore was chosen in part because of its solid law enforcement infrastructure, said Ms Viedma.

"We get great support from the Singapore Government," she said, adding that the authorities are providing funds, technology, expertise and staff. These include Singapore Police Force officers, who will be in "all the different areas of expertise in the building".

For the complex, Interpol is also recruiting national police and law-enforcement officers from member states and hiring from the private sector, primarily in the area of cyber-security, the breaches of which are seen as a growing threat.

The Interpol complex will be at Napier Road and is expected to open in April next year. It will have about 300 staff focusing on cyber-security, capacity building and training, as well as operational and investigative support.

Singapore's cooperation with Interpol will be further strengthened through a new international summit on global security called Interpol World, said Ms Viedma.

The inaugural edition will be held at the Sands Expo & Convention Centre from April 14 to 16 next year, a day after the opening of the global complex.

Supported by Singapore's Ministry of Home Affairs, the event will connect governments and national security agencies with private security firms to explore technologies and solutions to address global security needs.

Ensuring safe skies for billions
Airports and airlines are beefing up security in the wake of the disappearance of MH370. But finding a balance between security and efficiency is not easy. Complacency is also a problem.
By Karamjit Kaur, The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2014

THE disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 three weeks ago has sparked discussion among aviation and security experts about the gaps that exist in airline security and what needs to be done about them.

On March 8, MH370 was en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 crew members and passengers on board when air traffic controllers lost contact with the Boeing 777-200ER jet about 50 minutes after take-off at 12.41am.

The authorities believe the plane's communication systems were deliberately shut down and the aircraft taken off its intended path. MH370 flew on for more than six hours after contact with air traffic control was broken.

The plane also continued to transmit electronic "pings" that were picked up by satellite provider Inmarsat. The last signal was captured at 8.11am on the same day it went missing.

By then, as we now know, the aircraft was somewhere over the vast Indian Ocean and almost out of fuel.

With no nearby landing site, the plane is presumed to have plunged into the water. A massive multinational hunt is now on for debris of the plane.

Investigations have revealed that at least two passengers on the ill-fated flight had boarded with stolen passports.

There is also speculation as to whether the captain and co-pilot, alone or in collaboration, deliberately diverted the plane with criminal intent.

Airport security

THE incident has prompted tighter security at many airports.

At Changi, there is closer scrutiny of passports. Selected flights - based on risk assessment - are subjected to tighter screening. This includes more thorough checks such as pat-downs for departing passengers.

Such measures will go some way to boost the airport's security, aviation security experts said.

But unless Singapore is prepared to follow the example of Israel, it is not possible to eliminate all risks, said Mr Paul Yap, who headed the aviation security team at Changi Airport before leaving in 2006 to teach at Temasek Polytechnic.

At Israeli airports, travellers turn up four hours before their flights in order to allow time for security and other checks. Families and friends are not allowed to send them off.

For the tiny Jewish state in an Arab world, security comes first. For travellers, however, the price is long queues and inconvenience.

For Changi Airport, which prides itself on its efficient operations, this is not a feasible option. "The key is to strike a balance between the need to ensure secure skies on the one hand and passenger facilitation on the other," Mr Yap said.

Airport Police commander Sam Tee said earlier this week: "Over-security or under-security is equally sinful, and we should not go to the end of each spectrum."

It boils down to risk management, he added.

To stay on top of the game, security agencies must work hand-in-hand with airport operators, airlines and other stakeholders to assess risks.

No single approach

THE International Air Transport Association (Iata) - the global voice of airlines - wants to see a tailored security approach based on actual risks. In its view, security cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. So, there is little value in putting all travellers through the same checks, which most countries now do.

Iata is pushing for a more intelligent system that makes better use of technology, such as biometrics, to identify travellers. Biometric passports, which are being rolled out by many countries to replace machine-readable documents, contain a computer chip typically embedded with the passport holder's thumbprint.

Harnessing such technology allows information to be gathered and shared instantly with security service providers.

Travellers can be separated into "known" and "unknown". For example, a country would classify as "known" a traveller whose fingerprint data is in its records.

Such travellers, deemed less risky, can and should be processed quicker. This would allow time and resources to be spent on others with a higher risk.

Passenger profiling, based on intelligence gathering and sharing, is part of this push.

Mr Philip Baum, managing director of Green Light, a London-based aviation security training and consultancy company, said: "We must become more intelligent about the way we make judgments about people based on the potential risk they might pose, instead of being concerned about whether or not they are carrying liquids, gels and aerosols."

Safety in the air

APART from advance passenger checks and screening on the ground for travellers, it is equally important to secure the plane on the ground and in the air.

From baggage handlers who load bags onto planes to engineers who check on fuel as well as other systems and electronics on board, airport staff must be thoroughly and regularly screened.

Such checks should be done every six months to a year, said air safety experts. There are no international standards, but airports typically screen their staff every six months to two years.

How thorough the checks are now varies from country to country. Global rules should be set and made mandatory.

In the case of MH370, ground staff who had contact with the plane before it left Kuala Lumpur are being questioned by the authorities.

After the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, airlines have beefed up cockpit security.

All doors are locked from the inside, and there is a camera so pilots can keep an eye on what goes on in the area just outside and around the cockpit door.

Only cabin crew are allowed into the cockpit to serve meals, or if there is an emergency.

To enter, they must press a call button. The pilots then scan the area outside before they unlock the door.

The question, though, is whether pilots adhere to the rules. Mr Baum said: "There is an incredible amount of complacency within the industry."

Airlines must enforce the rules strictly if they are to be effective, he said.

When cockpits are secured, the assumption is that the pilots are the good guys. But this may not always be true.

Financial woes and other stresses can push a pilot to use the plane to commit suicide.

Pilots, being human, may also become vulnerable to ideological and extremist views and actions. This suggests that measures must be in place to ensure mental health.

Recognising this, the International Civil Aviation Organisation, which oversees civil aviation, issued a circular about a year ago to remind member states to pay attention to this.

The action was taken after a review by the Aerospace Medical Association, which set up a working group on mental health issues.

Dr Philip Scarpa Jr, who led the group, said: "Improved detection and prevention of mental health conditions and life stresses can affect pilots and flight performance, and therefore aviation safety."

Pilot licensing guidelines are determined by a country's aviation regulator. Many regulators require cockpit crew to undergo a medical assessment every six months or yearly, depending on their age.

As part of the check-up, some regulators, including the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, put pilots through a psychiatric evaluation.

This is done through a questionnaire and an interview session. Pilots and the medical fraternity said such checks should be made compulsory and global standards set to guide countries.

Thirteen years after the 9/11 attacks in the US, the tragic end of Flight MH370 has once again put the spotlight on aviation security.

The mystery may never be solved, but lessons must be learnt to ensure safe skies for the billions who fly every year.

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