Airport security concerns mount in wake of UK Brexit decision

Recent terrorist attacks on the landside areas of Brussels Zaventem and Istanbul Ataturk airports highlight the need for increased cross-border intelligence sharing, to pre-empt such events and prevent the perpetrators from carrying out their crimes in the first place.

But there are concerns in Europe that the UK’s decision to leave the European Union could hamper efforts to improve information-sharing across the continent at a time when it has arguably never been more important for countries to work together on security issues.

Airports Council International (ACI) Europe director general Olivier Jankovec tells RGN that Brexit happened “just at the time when we need to promote more intelligence-sharing across Europe”, describing the UK as “among the best in Europe for intelligence and counter-terrorism” services, and a “very important actor” in the drive to improve the culture of data-sharing.

kontron newest“Intelligence services are not in the culture of sharing data. This is not happening on a Europe-wide scale in the way that it should – it requires a change of culture,” says Jankovec. “How is this going to happen if we lose the dynamism of the EU? If the UK is getting out, how are we going to ensure that we remain connected to the UK on these issues?”

Airports already have the most stringent security procedures of any mode of transport, but recent events have shown that a determined terrorist will simply shift the target and take aim before entering the secured areas. The bomb attack on Brussels Zaventem airport in March which, combined with a simultaneous attack on a metro station, left more than 30 people dead, occurred in the check-in zone of the terminal.

Istanbul Ataturk airport has a double layer of security screening, with scanning machines at the entrance to the international terminal as well as after check-in. However, terrorists in June carried out a gun and bomb attack near the entrance to the terminal that killed more than 40 people.

“The way we’re seeing the security threat evolving is where the target is not just aviation per say but soft targets, or large gatherings, including the landside areas of airports. If we want to continue with our normal daily lives it’s clear that we cannot transform every public space into Fort Knox,” says Jankovec. “The only solution is to work on intelligence to identify and stop the terrorist before he comes to the airport.”

Along with the vital question of whether the UK will still have access to the EU single aviation market after exiting the trading bloc, the ACI Europe chief believes that security and intelligence-sharing are “the other very important questions to be answered on Brexit”.

“The [European] Commission realizes the need to move to a risk-based security system by making better use of intelligence. Recent events show that this is clearly the way to go, but the Commission is not giving concrete proposals on how to do it,” he says.

In terms of how to use shared intelligence to further improve European airport security in the future, Jankovec looks across the Atlantic to the US Transport Security Administration’s TSA PreCheck expedited screening program.

“PreCheck works very well – why can’t we start doing something similar in Europe?” he asks, although he acknowledges that the implementation of such a program in Europe would be “more complex because it involves sharing data”.

Like many business and trade association bosses across Europe, and indeed around the world, Jankovec remains baffled by the UK’s decision to leave the EU and is seeking answers to the many questions surrounding how the departure will play out and what its implications could be.

The timing of Brexit is also puzzling to many, with Jankovec noting: “We’re facing a series of challenges, such as climate change and terrorism, where we need Europe to stand together.”