The Turnbull government’s consideration of a dramatic tightening of domestic airport terminals – which would introduce measures similar to those deployed for international flights – has been cautiously welcomed by aviation security experts.
Following the disruption of what police have alleged to be the most serious terror plot ever hatched in , cabinet will consider new measures that would include identity checks for domestic passengers at boarding gates, full body scans and restrictions on liquids. Access to terminals could also be restricted to those holding boarding passes.
Infrastructure and Transport Minister Darren Chester told Fairfax Media “security measures are kept under constant review” to ensure they keep up with evolving threats.
“I will be relying on advice from our intelligence and security experts and won’t be speculating on potential changes to airport arrangements before they are properly considered by cabinet in consultation with the aviation industry,” he said.
After raids on properties across Sydney last weekend, police have said a would-be terrorist planned to attack an international flight by smuggling a bomb aboard inside check-in luggage. Khaled Khayat, 49, has been accused of communicating directly with an Islamic State operative in Syria.
A second alleged plot could have seen a toxic gas dispersed on a domestic flight, public transport or in another crowded public space.
John Coyne, head of the border security program at the n Strategic Policy Institute, said any new security measure had to be linked to mitigating a specific risk or threat.
“In this case, when we look through the list, they could potential be very helpful as long as they are linked to some sort of threat and they are part of a layered security system,” Dr Coyne said.
But he cautioned that forcing people through body scanners may not be necessary.
“Is there a significant improvement by bringing in a body scanner. I would probably argue not. There is a layer of security we already have to fill most of that role. Identity cards are another that are really controversial. To the general public, it makes sense…but then again that only works if it’s connected to a broader system,” he said.
He said the reason for passport checks in international travel was part of an international law enforcement system and questioned whether photo ID in domestic travel would be monitored or used in a a beneficial way. He contended there was no direct benefit from identifying a traveller as they board a flight.
Dr Coyne said there should be a comprehensive review of airport security.
Roger Henning, CEO of Homeland Security Asia/Pacific, said he was “absolutely in favour” of what the government was doing but cautioned that it wouldn’t completely address the threat.
“It’s only taken us 10 years to do it. Again, the emphasis is on bells and whistles – the technology. What these politicians don’t comprehend is that technology is a tool, not a total solution. Makes them look good, feel good to spend a couple of hundred million dollars but it is not a total solution.”
Mr Henning also questioned the necessity of extra body scanners and said that the employees working at airports – across retail, airlines, maintenance and other areas – should be trained and deployed as eyes and ears looking out for suspicious activity.
The measures being considered are similar to those imposed on domestic flights in the United States.