Select Committee on Defence Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by British Airways (28 June 2002)


  British Airways is pleased to have been offered the opportunity to submit written evidence to the Defence Select Committee about the response to the tragic events of 11 September 2001.


  British Airways activated its own crisis management centre at Heathrow, principally to manage the flight operation as a direct result of the complete closure of North American airspace.

  Immediate additional security measures put in place included plastic cutlery for in-flight catering, the inclusion of all sharp objects in the list of items prohibited on board, secondary searches of passengers and cabin baggage at boarding gates, aircraft guarding and a requirement to lock flight deck doors. This latter measure was published by the CAA on 12 September and was one of a number of safety requirements which had resulted from an internal investigation into an incident on a British Airways flight to Nairobi the previous December. The other measures were communicated by the government aviation security regulator, Transport Security Division (Transec) of the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) in a letter to UK airlines and airports on 13 September. British Airways implemented these measures world-wide. British Airways was fortunate in having a well established relationship with the policy makers in Transec and communication lines were clear and accessible.

  After 48 hours, it became clear that there were insufficient trained security resources available to sustain this level of security operation for any lengthy period. Staff were becoming tired and management volunteers who had been used to help in the short term needed to return to their principal jobs. Meetings were held between industry representatives and Transec which produced two key results. Firstly, the enhanced measures detailed in the letter of 13 September were communicated to the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) and were accepted in their entirety by the USA as an alternative to the US Emergency Amendments to the US Airline Security Programme. This allowed the resumption of flights to the USA and Canada by UK airlines, well before other European carriers. Secondly, the measures in the UK were rationalised so that resources could be more appropriately deployed, predominantly focused on flights to North America. Further letters were issued on 17 and 18 September detailing these measures, and a Direction to Aircraft Operators, Aerodrome Managers, Listed Air Cargo Agents and Airline Caterers made them statutory on 26 September. Explanatory guidance notes were also published. This was extremely helpful in providing clarity where there had been a degree of initial confusion.


  British Airways was invited to participate in two working groups constituted under the Committee for International and Domestic Terrorism (TIDO). Meetings were held in London on 27 and 28 September and addressed a range of security issues relating to Pre-flight and In-flight Security, respectively. A wide range of industry bodies and government departments were represented and the meetings took the form of brainstorming sessions to determine which of a whole raft of ideas were worthy of further work. The meetings appeared to us to be quite productive but unfortunately, were not repeated. Neither have we seen any minutes of these meetings so it has been difficult to determine the outcome.

  We understand that a number of initiatives have been taken forward by government and there has been some further consultation. Our perception is that, as time has passed, individual government departments have settled back into their traditional separate roles and this has resulted in a lack of cohesive project management. This is understandable given the pressure of work and the need to apportion tasks effectively to maximise the use of resources but it is, perhaps, a shame that the initial TIDO Working Groups did not continue to meet on a regular basis to ensure a more cross-functional response.

  The Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act which received Royal Assent on 14 December 2001, is a comprehensive piece of legislation which will have far-reaching consequences for airlines. Whilst we appreciate the urgency and importance of this Act, the speed of its enactment allowed for minimal industry consultation. The detail of the requirement to provide advance passenger and cargo information will, we understand, be the subject of secondary legislation. We hope that this will not be rushed. It is important that the UK takes account of the demands being made in this area by the governments of other countries, particularly the USA and Canada. The global nature of airline operations merits a co-ordinated international effort if we are not to incur unreasonable costs in meeting all these varying demands.


  Europe—It was agreed that the European Community should be given competence for aviation security following 11 September. This had previously been the province of the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) and was based on voluntary compliance by the 38 Member States with the Chicago Convention (Annex 17). A draft EU Regulation passed its second reading in the European Parliament on 14 May with some 32 amendments, of which the Commission have accepted only 16. If the Council of Transport Ministers reject the amendments, formal conciliation will then take place. Existing differences fall into two areas, political and technical.

  The political problem centres on funding of the additional security measures. It is our view that there must be a consistent application of funding arrangements across all Member States otherwise the principle of the single market is not upheld because there will be an unfair competitive position between European airlines and airports. We are keen to see a solution reached that ensures a level playing field.

  The technical difficulties arise between the pragmatists, who seek to delay or weaken the security measures on practical operational grounds, and the conscients, who strive to put in place effective security measures to meet the new threat and to reassure the travelling public. The UK government has been instrumental in influencing the design of a European aviation security regime that is similar to the UK's own national programme. It is our opinion that the measures proposed are necessary and would create a harmonised common security area. Compromise on the security measures would be inadvisable.

  United States of America—The USA, understandably, has also passed legislation in a somewhat hasty fashion. The creation of the federal Transport Security Agency (TSA) is still incomplete and it has set itself timescales for implementation of enhanced security measures that appear almost impossible to meet. In addition, the USA has not shown any reluctance to impose its version of an aviation security regime on the rest of the world, with little or no recognition of host state responsibility or international standards. After the initial acceptance of the UK's enhanced National Aviation Security Programme, there has been minimal reciprocity between the US and the UK over security measures. This has led to airlines operating from the UK to the USA being required to introduce measures which take no account of the mature programme already in place in the UK as a result of the Lockerbie crash. Some of these measures appear illogical and, as a consequence, are difficult to explain to the staff that carry them out. This leads to inconsistent performance.

  United Kingdom—Conversely, the UK demonstrates great respect for host state responsibility, adhering to all the international conventions. This is generally commendable but, on rare occasions, may not be commensurate with the threat and may actually act contrary to the interest of the UK. We believe that the UK intends to follow the US lead on setting the date for implementation of reinforced cockpit doors as April 2003, although nothing has been published to date. If this is the case, the UK government is clearly acting in a manner appropriate to counter the threat of an attack on the UK using an inbound aircraft as a missile. However, unlike the USA, the UK only has legal authority to require this of UK registered airlines. This means that, until the target of November 2003 set by the International Civil Aviation Conference (ICAO) is reached, there remains a vulnerability from inbound foreign registered aircraft, and maybe for longer if not all contracting states follow the standard. British Airways would like to see the government take the necessary legal powers to require reinforced cockpit doors on all inbound flights.


  British Airways employs a team of international auditors to inspect all of our overseas operations on a regular basis. Where we have concerns about security standards and are unable to secure an adequate response from the host state by way of improvement, we implement additional measures solely for the departure of the British Airways flights. Transec provide assistance by writing letters expressing our concerns and by visiting countries on a threat and risk basis to persuade the authorities to introduce the necessary measures for UK carriers.

  Global aviation third party insurance against war and associated risk was withdrawn by the underwriters after the attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon. The assistance from government to airlines and security suppliers in the form of the UK government Troika scheme has been absolutely essential to our continued operation.

  Although the UK government provided apportioned financial compensation to the UK airlines affected by the four day closure of North American airspace, no other financial assistance has been forthcoming to date. This puts European airlines at odds with the position of US carriers who have been offered financial assistance with the costs of installing reinforced cockpit doors and the installation of screening equipment at airports.

  The immediate and significant drop in passenger traffic, particularly on transatlantic routes, gave rise to genuine concern for the profitability of the business. Revenue was badly affected. Market research conducted by British Airways identified that customers were concerned about safety and security, but the fear of displacement caused by military action taken by the US and the UK in the war against terrorism was the key factor which prevented them travelling by air. The American market was significantly affected by this. The government could, perhaps, have done more to reassure the public and restore confidence in flying. The widely televised scenes of President Bush visitng US airports and meeting aviation industry employees was a good model.


  There has been much debate on the question of whether the UK should have available an armed sky marshal response. We have yet to be persuaded of the benefits of such a response. A considerable amount of effort is expended at airports in preventing weapons being taken on board our aircraft and the routine presence of armed personnel would necessitate a significant degree of expensive aircraft modification. We cannot envisage a scenario where British Airways would request the presence on board of a sky marshal and it is unlikely that we would choose to operate a flight where the threat was deemed sufficiently high to merit provision of sky marshals.

  The subject of military response to a rogue aircraft was briefly discussed at the TIDO In-flight Working Group in September 2001. The matter was deemed to fall within the province of the Ministry of Defence and National Air Traffic Control and there has been no further discussion with British Airways. In the immediate aftermath of 11 September, we were concerned about possible precipitate military action in the event of an aircraft momentarily losing contact with ATC or temporarily deviating from flight path, both of which are not uncommon occurrences or an aircraft inadvertently communicating the transponder code for hijack, a less common occurrence. However, as time has passed, we have been reassured that our concerns appear to have been unfounded in respect of UK airspace. We have experienced an increase in the number of military interceptions over mainland Europe.


  British Airways is participating in the independent review of airport security being undertaken by Sir John Wheeler on behalf of the Home Office. This review was set in train following the recent robberies at Heathrow. We are also participating in other initiatives being led by Transec under the auspices of the National Aviation Security Committee (NASC). It would be helpful to have a co-ordinated government approach to industry consultation across the multiplicity of government projects which have arisen following 11 September, either through the NASC or through TIDO. Perhaps it would be timely, before the first anniversary, to reconvene the TIDO Working Groups to review progress since 11 September with the industry and to set the agenda for further work. It would be reassuring to feel that we had considered all the options, made appropriate decisions and were confident in the resulting programme.


  The attacks in the USA on 11 September 2001 were of such an unprecedented nature and on such a scale that it is not surprising that the international aviation community needs time to assess the new threat and appropriate response. In general, the response of the UK government has been effective although it could have benefited from better co-ordination. It has also, at times, been a little slower to respond to subsequent events and new intelligence than the industry would have liked. British Airways is fully committed to supporting government in restoring and maintaining public confidence in aviation.

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