The future of aviation security
It is forecast that by 2030, passenger traffic through Australian
airports will double and be concentrated through relatively few airports.
Inbound arrivals, predominately from a variety of low cost carriers, will total
36.6 million people.
It is important that Australia consider the future of aviation security
to best ensure the continued safety of airline travellers and airport staff and
crews. A number of steps have already been taken to ensure that Australia's
aviation security environment proactively addresses risks and changing threat
The future security environment should acknowledge the work of previous
aviation security reviews and the key concerns of stakeholders, as raised in
this inquiry. As noted earlier in this report, the committee supports
regulatory changes that address serious threats to aviation safety, but
encourages changes that are evidence based and proportionate to the risks
Reforms to enhance security
In its deliberations, the committee considered what measures should be
taken to enhance Australia's aviation security environment and to better
protect the travelling public. In this, the committee acknowledges that not all
known vulnerabilities can be mitigated, as this would result in an unviable
sector. This means that a risk-based approach is most appropriate in addressing
security risks. To this end:
the Department is conducting comprehensive risk assessments
in collaboration with other agencies and industry to determine where current
aviation settings can be better tailored to high risks and resources can be
redirected from areas of very low or negligible risk. This move to a risk‑based,
proportionate security approach will ensure that in the future, as the aviation
sector grows and pressures on resources increase, effort is applied to areas of
highest risk, rather than being misdirected to very low risk areas.
The committee supports this approach and notes that it addresses the
concerns of various submitters, who did not support a 'one size fits all'
approach to aviation security regulation and action. It is also hoped that such
an approach will reduce costs for regional and rural airport operators.
The government announced, in February 2017, the creation of a new General
Aviation Advisory Group. This group reports directly to the Minister for
Infrastructure and Transport on concerns within the general aviation sector, to
encourage 'safe skies, industry growth, and less red tape'.
The group is also tasked with highlighting the concerns of regional and rural
airports, and the increased regulatory burden on small operators.
The committee recognises this initiative as an opportunity to inform discussion
and awareness of security vulnerabilities for smaller airports.
Security costs and implications for
regional and rural airports
The committee appreciates the significant costs associated with strong
security measures required in airports across the country. However, it was concerned
to hear evidence regarding the disproportionate impact on regional and rural
airports of implementing expensive security systems, which may not reflect the
threat levels at these airports.
As part of its submission, the AAA surveyed its members about security‑related
investment and received 20 responses. These responses showed the following:
between 2010 and 2015, these 20 airports across Australia
invested approximately $28,740,000 into the purchase of screening equipment,
such as x-ray machines, metal detectors and an explosive trace detection
building alterations to accommodate passenger and checked baggage
screening cost 17 airports approximately $19,775,000; and
over the next ten years it was expected that 17 airports would
need to invest in new security equipment at a combined investment cost of
Despite the relatively small sample of airports in this survey, AAA
argued that it showed significant investment was being made into airport
For this reason, the costs of enhanced security to all airline and airport
operators must be taken into consideration when developing security
regulations. For example, in 2013‑14 alone, Qantas spent '$260 million on
its security operations and development initiatives'.
The department acknowledged in its submission the diverse nature of the
aviation sector, and the cost sensitive nature of aviation security on regional
and remote airports, which in many instances have high passenger costs but low
demand. The department stated that the viability of regional airports could be threatened
by 'increases in operating costs and revenue reductions'.
AIPA raised concerns about the costs and considerable difficulties
involved in securing an airport perimeter and creating a 'land buffer' to
prevent entry into an airfield space. AIPA argued that 'the total distance of
the total airport land area boundary is staggering when translated into the
dollar cost of the high security barriers'.
As part of the Post Implementation Review (PIR) of VIC enhancements in
2014, the OTS considered the security risks to smaller, remote and regional
airports. These are generally classified as 'category 6' airports, where
smaller aircraft operate and there are no screening requirements. The PIR found
The current aviation risk context statement's risk weightings
confirm that category 6 and general aviation airports do not make inherently
attractive terrorist targets. The more likely risk events for these types of
airports would be the unlawful interference with smaller aircraft by acutely
The absence of screening at category 6 airports also
represents their lower risk profile, and while personnel are required to hold
ASICs, a passenger may take unscreened baggage onto any...aircraft.
However, the PIR also noted that:
Despite the desire to comply, without adequate funding to
support implementation in smaller or more remote locations (including for
staffing or equipment) or the ability for more widespread auditing activities,
it may be difficult for communities with little understanding of the
complexities of identity security to carry out required duties.
AIPA acknowledged statements by OTS about taking a risk‑based
approach to aviation security, which it was hopeful would see funding resources
allocated to those areas of most vulnerability.
The committee supports the allocation of funding for improved security to those
areas that most require it.
In 2015, the government announced a new training program to assist
regional airports to better manage their security processes:
Slated to begin in 2016, the new regional aviation security
awareness training package would be available to the 150-odd security
controlled airports in small, lower risk categories as well as the 48 airports
that have screened air services such as Bundaberg, Devonport, Geraldton and
Tamworth...The package would assist airports to understand the current risk
environment, assist then [sic] to plan responses to future threats and improve
general security awareness.
In announcing this program, the government also advised it was
considering the removal of passenger screening at some major capital city
airports, for passengers arriving from regional airports where they had already
been processed through security checks.
The committee supports the security training program, noting the
benefits of security training specified to regional and rural areas in line
with assessed levels of risk. However, it appeared to the committee that the
program had not commenced. Given the benefits of a targeted and risk-based
approach to aviation security, the committee encourages the government to
implement the program as announced, as soon as possible.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government implement the
regional aviation security awareness training package, in accordance with its
Melbourne Airport argued for adequate financial resourcing for various
border agencies, especially in light of increased international passenger
movements. Melbourne Airport argued that:
The Commonwealth Government collects significantly more
revenue from the Passenger Movement Charge than it spends on airport security
and border agency functions so there is scope for more funding resources to be
provided for border agency functions at airports.
Media reports indicate that the Tourism and Transport Forum (TTF) has
also called for more appropriate allocation of funding derived from the
Passenger Movement Charge, to help improve border facilitation services. The TTF
argues improvements can be made with more border security staff and better
border management technology, to reduce large queues for outgoing and incoming
Dr John Coyne, the head of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute's
Border Security Program, argued that arrival and departure halls are now the
most vulnerable areas for targeting of attacks on airports. Dr Coyne noted that
passenger terminals have 'few if any security measures before check-in or in
the crowds of family, friends...waiting in arrival halls'.
Dr Coyne called for an independent review of Australia's airport
security and consideration of 'revolutionary change' to the security of arrival
and departure halls:
The aim of security responses
need to focus on reducing the concentrations of people prior to security
checks. Similarly, in arrival halls the aim must be reducing the concentrations
of uncleared people and goods.
ASIO argued that the open and accessible nature of some airport spaces
make them attractive areas for low-capability attacks, with these areas
attracting concentrations of large crowds. ASIO noted that the death of an
outlaw motorcycle gang member outside Sydney Airport in 2009, while not related
to terrorism, showed that security incidents can occur in relatively open
The department advised the committee that it was working with airport
operators to invest in security measures at the front of terminals, which were
easily accessible to the public. These measures are not in the Act or the
Regulations, but have been introduced proactively to address risks and make the
front terminal areas more secure. Measures include better infrastructure
design, strengthened bollards at entrances and better vehicle traffic
The committee notes that Dr Coyne called for 'another independent review
of Australia's airport security'.
However, the evidence received during this inquiry indicated that numerous
reviews have been completed since Wheeler in 2005, and repeated amendments
subsequently made to the aviation security framework. The committee would
encourage further examination of passenger terminals, in light of the issues
raised, but does not see a need for an all-encompassing review of the whole
The committee agrees that the front terminal areas or airports present a
security risk, given the absence of security screening and clear passenger
movement channels. The committee commends the department on its proactive work
to address the security risks of passenger terminals, and supports the
continuation of this initiative with the full engagement of key stakeholders.
Current security measures
In an effort to prevent security breaches, the Australian Border Force
(ABF) maintains a permanent presence at Australia's major international
ABF engages in a number of security-related activities, including but not
aircraft searches, baggage monitoring, intelligence collection
and perimeter and airside patrols;
analysis of flights, passengers and crew prior to their arrival
addressing risks related to the movement of persons or goods of
national security concern; and
assisting the AFP and other agencies in 'conducting airside
inspection for criminality relating to people leaving secure areas of
A Counter-Terrorism Unit (CTU) now operates at all major international
Australian airports. These teams proactively intervene in suspicious
circumstances or intercept suspicious persons of national security interest in
areas controlled by Customs. Since implementation in August 2014, a number of
people have been intercepted by the unit.
Additionally, the Last Port of Call (LPOC) inspection program examines
in‑bound passenger movements from international airports flying direct to
Australia, to assess security risks and take any proactive remedial action that
may be appropriate.
The AFP has stated that the law enforcement focus has also shifted to
develop new ways of exchanging intelligence on airport security. While the
focus remains on counter terrorism and organised crime, the AFP is specifically
targeting trusted insiders and corruption under its organised crime strategy.
Following a meeting of the AFP in December 2016, it was agreed to
increase intelligence gathering at international and domestic airports, due to
concerns that organised crime groups were identifying or manipulating airport
employees considered 'soft targets' in an effort to 'infiltrate airport workers
in a bid to shift large amounts of illegally obtained cash, drugs and weapons'.
Measures to address security risks will include real time monitoring of
social media, and a trial of body cameras that could be linked in future to
facial recognition software. The AFP is also reportedly examining the New York
Police Department's Shield intelligence model, which accesses 'global industry,
law enforcement, intelligence agency intelligence and publicly-available
information to guide patrol modelling'.
A matter for future consideration is that of the AFP's powers and
improving its ability to address security risks at airports. For example, in
certain circumstances AFP officers do not have authority to request or demand
proof of identification documents from a person who uses false identity
information to travel on a flight, as they are departing an airport. The AFP
can only detect the offence after the event (or if another offence is
committed). The AFP argued that 'an effective preventative measure would be to
enable a form of identification to be produced with a boarding pass, prior to
any person boarding a flight'.
Since 2015, new SmartGates have been installed in Australia's
international airports, in an effort to provide improved security. SmartGates
use biometric technology to confirm the identity of passengers and reduce
manual intervention at arrival and departure gates. The SmartGates were
implemented as part of counter‑terrorism measures.
In its submission to the committee, the IBPP highlighted that it was
working towards a 'seamless, low-touch and high‑tech' departures process
at major international airports:
The eGate technology...operates with facial matching
algorithms, producing a higher quality match decision than a manual face to
passport check and reducing the opportunity for fraudulent documentation and/or
imposters to successfully process.
The government has since announced further updates to international
passenger processing, with the introduction of the Seamless Traveller project. The
new technology abolishes passenger cards, removes the need for manned desks and
the requirement for passengers to show passports. The program would see the removal
of SmartGates and progress to a 'contactless' system:
...passengers will be processed by biometric recognition of the
face, iris and/or fingerprints, matched to existing data. By 2020 the
government wants a system in place to process 90 per cent of travellers
automatically, with no human involvement.
Despite announcing these advancements, the government is yet to secure
the tender to provide the required technology, and it is unclear how the
technology will differ from SmartGates.
Some media commentary has raised concerns about the risks of collecting and
storing such large volumes of biometric data obtained by this process, and the
particular risks to personal information should data security breaches occur.
Some submitters to the inquiry urged caution in taking this route,
despite the benefits it may provide to travellers. In its submission to the
committee, the Law Council of Australia highlighted its concerns with any
further security reforms in the areas of biometric identification and the
collection and storage of personal identifiers:
The collection and use of biometric material in airport and
aviation security has the potential to impact on a large number of individuals,
including those who pose no risk to Australia's national security. The
collection and use of such material also has the potential to have significant
and potentially serious privacy implications, including implications for the
way sensitive personal information is stored, used and destroyed.
The National LGBTI Health Alliance also raised concerns over biometric
identification, noting that 'the use of gender in identification tests is
likely to have a disproportionate adverse impact on LGBTI populations'. It made
the point that any use of personal identifiers in biometrics should not
discriminate against or disproportionally target members of the LGBTI
The committee notes that any developments in the use of biometrics must
be complemented by adequate safeguards around the storage of that biometric
information. If this information should ever be accessed by those willing to do
harm, and 'repurposed' for their needs, then it may prove to have its own
The committee acknowledges the work of regulatory, security forces and
law enforcement agencies in keeping Australia free from a major
security-related incident at its airports. The regulatory conditions have been
subject to constant review and amendment, with changes that have no doubt
strengthened Australia's aviation security framework.
However, the committee urges caution against an excess of constant
reviews and reforms. The regulations should provide the best security outcomes,
but should not be amended so much as to become confusing, costly and not fit
for purpose. Reviews should be in response to changing risk and threat levels.
Over the course of this inquiry the committee was presented with serious
allegations and evidence of security risks and breaches at Australian airports.
Of particular concern was evidence, spanning a number of years, around
weaknesses in passenger screening processes, and abuse of the ASIC and VIC
The committee commends the steps that have been taken to address the
issues in these areas, but there remains significant scope for breaches of
security. Stringent background checking and improvements to the current ASIC
self-reporting regime would go some way to addressing these concerns, as would
increased oversight and centralisation of ASIC issuing processes.
While the media has an important role to play in bringing aviation
security concerns to the attention of the general public, submissions made
clear to the committee that the complexity of security regulation was not
always reflected in such reports. Comprehensive and timely industry reporting
to regulatory bodies of security incidents and emerging security risks would
allow for the development of intelligence-based and risk appropriate reforms to
the security framework.
The aviation sector and relevant government bodies continue to implement
new and improved ways of combating aviation security threats. While the cost of
such improvements and amendments should always be considered, particularly for
smaller operators, the committee supports endeavours that help better protect
the travelling public and airport employees.
Senator Glenn Sterle
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