Global standards urged in search for safer air travel


Top class passengers on Finnair now dissect their crayfish with a newly-invented wooden knife.

Millions of travellers in China now shuffle in bare feet or socks through security checks before boarding planes.

In Britain, a hidden world of sado-masochist equipment such as handcuffs has been uncovered in the hand luggage of the most respectable looking of travellers.

September 11 changed airline travel forever, both for the aviation industry and passengers, turning journeys into a expensive security obstacle course.

One year after the tragedy a survey of 31 key countries by international news agency Reuters found that while much still needed to be done there has been little let-up in the determination of airlines, airports, and governments to head off a new attack.

The cost to air travel has been enormous with some airlines going bankrupt and nearly all seeing dramatic drops in profit because of fear of flying or the cost of extra security.

Inconvenience to passengers, from long check-in queues to lengthy walks to terminals to the confiscation of the most personal of hand-luggage, has been equally dramatic.

Since September 11, one to two hours has been added to the time passengers used to arrive at airports and everyone gives pockets an extra pat before going through the x-ray machines.

If there is another thing learned from the suicide plane attacks on the United States by the Al Qaeda network, it is that domestic flights are as vulnerable as international journeys.

Most countries now insist on photo identification for domestic as well as international travel. Both domestic and international luggage is now screened with airports aiming for 100 per cent checks rather than random ones of the past.

The search for safe travel is not over.

Peter Harbison, managing director of the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation in Sydney, said new safeguards, such as the biometric scanning of fingerprints or the retinas of the eye to match passengers and their boarding cards as well as their luggage were being looked at.

"Most major airports are looking at this now under pressure from each other and also from the airline industry," he said.

Aviation experts give at least passing grades to many new measures but warn there can never be a 100 per cent safety.

They also want global standards rather than what they see as the present patchy and piecemeal implementation of them.

Herb Myer, technical director of the International Federation of Airline Pilots Association (IFALPA), says the greatest advance has been awareness among the public and aviation industry of the need to be more security minded.

"You can reinforce cockpit doors, arm pilots, have sky marshals, screen everyone and everything but in the end how can you stop a strong man who doesn't care about his life and doesn't need anything except his hands to kill?" he asked.