Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1320 - 1339)



  1320. I accept that. In that case, given what I have said, plastic knives, glass bottles on aeroplanes, a range of items, I have been on aeroplanes since September 11 where you are checked for scissors one side of a security barrier and then Boots are selling them on the other side.
  (Mr Hutcheson) Hopefully not any more.

  1321. Do you think we should extend the range of items that are not permitted on aircraft?
  (Mr Hutcheson) It is an extremely difficult subject. It has already been extended significantly post September 11. For me it is more about educating people who are travelling as to the items that should not be carried. We are taking sack loads of what most people see as innocent items at airports. We have printed cards, over 100,000 of them, and have distributed them through the travel industry to try and say to people,"Leave these things at home. Do not bring them to the airport", but the culture is that when you fly, wherever you go on holiday or business you need certain things and people just cannot break the habit. If you extend it you make it more difficult to implement, more difficult to police, and it is already extremely difficult to do that. I also believe that innocent, ordinary members of the public will even try and smuggle things through security because they feel it is something that they need and that the laws are inadequate. The laws are inadequate because there is no offence to attempt to take any of these things into a restricted area. We have had to resort to byelaws. We have put up a notice to say that it is an offence to take prohibited items into the area and it is only once you have done so you have completed the offence of failing to comply with the notice. It is very difficult to police. I think we need to have a very common sense approach to this.

  1322. You would advocate more use of profiling of passengers and so on?
  (Mr Hutcheson) Yes.

  1323. Again, it will be subject to the variability of how sophisticated that is according to where people get on the plane. Even in the States recently I met someone who, simply because she had a single ticket, was stopped five times and made to take her shoes off and go through this when trying to get on a plane. Why a hijacker would not buy a return ticket I do not know.
  (Mr Hutcheson) He probably would.

  1324. That was some pretty basic profiling going on.
  (Mr Hutcheson) I say I prefer it. I do not underestimate how difficult it is to achieve but I do think, given where we are and where we might have to go to, we should be putting time and energy into developing a profiling system that works. That again involves some behavioural scientists. You will eventually bring aviation to a standstill if you have to have a range of measures that you apply to every single passenger which has been up until now, and still is, the UK philosophy. There is a sense within TRANSEC that we need to look at a whole series of issues around profiling which guarantee that when Iain Jack checks in at Heathrow it is actually Iain Jack who is standing there, not someone else, not somebody using a forged passport. Linked into that comes some form of profile. As I say, I do not underestimate how difficult that is but dialogue is starting and I do think it is somewhere that we will have to go.

  1325. We are now straying into the area of stopping people getting on aircraft. When Mr Devlin came along from Transec I asked him about IT security and if we are going to go down profiling then that becomes much more important. It was a sort of, "Oh, well, —", almost as if he had not thought of it. Are you doing anything about securing your IT?
  (Mr Hutcheson) Yes, we are. We have an IT security policy. We are vigorously taking steps to protect our information technology.

  1326. Have you had any instance where it has been breached in the last six months?
  (Mr Hutcheson) No. Our fire walls have been very successful. To be fair to Ian Devlin, Richard Doney, who is Head of TRANSEC technical team, is aware of the issues around information technology security.
  (Mr Jack) Before 11 September the projection of passenger growth was that there would be a doubling by 2010. There is no way that the existing terminal facility at airports round the world could expand adequately to cope with that. Now we have the 11 September and the after-effects but passenger growth of course is growing again, as it did after the Gulf War. We have to find some way of accommodating security and also facilitating passenger movement. Air travel is a key element in the world economy. The airlines are looking at some way in which a trusted passenger programme could be established. Why should I have to go through all the rigorous security checks that someone who may be unknown has to go through? We will need to find some way of alleviating the restriction of passenger flow that these increased security measures are going to impose by having a way of exempting some passengers from this process. We are already doing this on an inbound basis but for immigration. You may know that at Heathrow terminals 3 and 4 there is a process by which passengers who are registered can pass through immigration by having their iris checked.

  1327. We have a paper on that.
  (Mr Jack) I saw it happening yesterday when I flew in from San Francisco and it seems to be very effective.

  1328. Speaking to Qinetiq, the people we know and love, they have new technology with which they are developing body heat sensors so you can tell if someone is under stress, various things that you can use as people go down the corridor. Are you investing in that sort of technology with people like Qinetiq?
  (Mr Hutcheson) Yes. We have a very close affinity to Qinetiq through the Department of Transport but, as I said earlier, the Department must approve any technology for use in the airport. We work very closely with them to carry out feasibility tests. We work with Qinetiq on new technology for screening people and also for finding metal. We are well plugged into Qinetiq.

Mr Roy

  1329. Can I just take you back to something the Chairman was talking about? I am unlucky enough that I have to fly down here every single week and I genuinely do think that the companies seem to be paying lip service to security on board, ie, "We need to do something. We do not really know what to do so let us show we are thinking about it." In my constituency the most serious assaults are carried out with broken glass and bottles and it has been like that for many years. I cannot for the life of me understand why I have a plastic knife and fork and spoon with a nice big tall glass and as many bottles as I want to take on the tray. What is the point?
  (Mr Jack) I could list a range of other items that you could use for offensive purposes on board an aircraft that you have not mentioned.

  1330. But these are actually given to me on a tray.
  (Mr Jack) I know they are. There will be other things in your possession that you could use for offensive purposes as well.

  1331. What is the rationale that says, "Give them a plastic spoon and a plastic knife and fork, but give them a tall glass and a couple of bottles that they can easily assault and hold to ransom one of the stewards with"?
  (Mr Hutcheson) We have had a very healthy debate with the Department of Transport about these issues that you are articulating and I would agree that there is no common sense to it. I think that you either have enough faith in the security systems that we have in place and allow life to carry on normally within the cabin or you almost do not get anything at all and you are just left to sit there as if you are on a low cost airline.

  1332. I still get a glass; I am still drinking out of it.
  (Mr Hutcheson) You have to draw the line somewhere. I do agree that this is an area that requires further debate between the industry and the regulator.

  1333. The head of British Airways, Rod Eddington, recently hinted at excessive security in the United States and emphasised the need to, he said, avoid being drawn into over-reacting. What in your view, gentlemen, will passengers tolerate in terms of security measures in this country? Where is the tolerance level being stretched? What will they tolerate?
  (Mr Jack) I flew the Atlantic a number of times after the 11 September and most recently on Monday out of San Francisco. There has been a major change in the way that the security is now being processed. The capacity to cope with numbers was not there after 11 September and there was huge passenger inconvenience. I heard the manager of Atlanta Airport say, with some pride in his voice, that it was taking people an hour and a half to check through security. That is amazing, but that, from my own personal experience, has simply evaporated now. They have adjusted their processes, they have recruited more people and they are now getting passenger throughput down to an acceptable level. In San Francisco on Monday it took me ten minutes to go through security.


  1334. Just briefly going on to sky marshals, just to give us a flavour of that, how many sky marshals would British Airways require? Would it be one per aircraft, two, three, people in reserve? I saw a figure of 80,000 required in the United States. Have you done any research on numbers and cost?
  (Mr Jack) If we put two on every aircraft we would require 15,000.

  1335. And then you would need others, obviously more than two, per aircraft, on standby?
  (Mr Jack) I am basing that on the number of flight crew that we have on the airline.

  1336. What about doubling up flight crew with some sort of training?
  (Mr Hutcheson) That is in place. The Department of Transport will, within I would say the next six weeks, introduce a new training programme for flight and cabin crew. It was discussed at a meeting I was at this afternoon. Just going back to Mr Roy's question, the level of tolerance in the UK would be a level of activity that is seen as commensurate with the risks that people are taking, which comes back to your question that, whatever the international situation is, it is the measures that we take that reassure you that it is safe to fly, and that is where the tolerance would be.

Mr Roy

  1337. Will that diminish over time?
  (Mr Hutcheson) It will inevitably diminish through time.

  1338. I hear more people complaining now than I did six months ago.
  (Mr Hutcheson) That is inevitable. We had a period where the complaint was that it was not sufficient and of course it is not all visible, but yes, it will diminish in time because people's memories are short. I think that it is up to us somehow to remind people of the importance of it.

Rachel Squire

  1339. I would just like to comment on what you were saying about what people will tolerate. It is difficult. I have found that when we have been told, when we thought we were just about to take off, that we have to stay on the runway because somebody has checked in a bag and the passenger has not appeared, I have never heard complaints even now because I think Lockerbie is still fresh in people's minds. My concern, when talking about the screening process and some people being given approved status, is that we might think that is attractive for regular travellers like ourselves, but I would say that I would be concerned that if people feel they are being unfairly discriminated against that is when you could get the anger.
  (Mr Hutcheson) That is where profiling comes in. There are no exemptions for hold baggage screening other than for heads of state. The entourage and everyone else, their bags have to be screened in the same way as anyone else. There are no exemptions to screening other than to the principal themselves. We are not advocating exemption. I think there will be different tracks of security, so that if you had a trusted flyer or a profiling system there would be minimum security that was applied that was commensurate with the threat at the time, other people would actually be subjected to a higher level. It is discriminatory but as long as people understand what the profile system is—I think people do complain, but overall people appreciate that aviation security is very important.

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