The Home Secretary’s statement on airline security was repeated in the House of Lords by Baroness Neville-Jones, the Security Minister.
I asked her whether the device found at East Midlands Airport would have been detected by existing scanning arrangements had it been checked in as hold baggage by a passenger in a UK airport (and also whether this would be true in other countries given the differing nature of security regimes around the world).
Her answer made it quite clear that while this incident has raised important issues for cargo flights, it is also apparent that there are important issues for passenger flights as well.
The full exchange is below:
“Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I declare an interest as the Home Office appointee on the Metropolitan Police Authority, with responsibility for overseeing counterterrorism and security. I, too, am grateful to the Minister for the full account that she has given. With what degree of certainty does she feel that these devices would have been detected had they been in checked-in passenger baggage on a flight embarking in the United Kingdom? Given the variations in standards of airline security in different parts of the world, what degree of certainty does she have regarding incoming flights that such baggage would have been detected at airports elsewhere in the world? What will her answers mean in terms of current levels of aircraft security for passenger airlines in this country?
Baroness Neville-Jones: The noble Lord asks some pertinent and, I have to say, extremely difficult questions. My honest answer to his first question must be that we do not know the answer. This explosive is extremely difficult to detect. Technologies are known for detecting PETN and one consideration that we will have to take advice on is whether we should extend PETN testing to cargo going on board aircraft-most particularly passenger aircraft, but also other aircraft. We have to do this in a way that is consistent with assuring the public that they can travel safely, while not crippling the country’s economy and international commerce. Therefore, an international effort will be needed and we shall talk not only to other operators but to those who may be able to help us technologically. Part of the Transport Secretary’s review will consist of talking to the companies. Many of them are well advanced in increasing-and we will be increasing-the screening processes, including capabilities that are not necessarily at the moment distributed as a matter of course.”