Friday, November 20, 2015

Metrojet crash in Egypt initiates airport security review

Media coverage following the crash of the Metrojet flight to Saint Petersburg drew attention to extensive security failings at Sharm el-Sheikh airport. Criticisms have included allegations of scanning machines rarely being used, bribery of security guards, and reports that only 20-30 percent of airport employees were subject to searches on entry to the airport. The incident has also led to scrutiny of other Egyptian airports, reinforced by reports that two criminals were able to breach a perimeter fence at Hurghada airport on 1 November.

Though the cause of the crash has not yet been made clear, speculation by UK and US authorities has pointed to the possibility of a bomb in the luggage compartment or near the skin of the aircraft, leading to concerns it was planted by a member of staff or supplier. None of the crew or passengers on board the flight have yet been identified as a potential suspect.

Responding to criticism of lax security, Egyptian authorities have increased physical searches of airport personnel at Sharm el-Sheikh to include all staff, including guards and caterers. International teams have also been deployed to examine the scanning of passengers, cargo and baggage, as well as catering teams and security guards at Cairo International Airport. The introduction of more security equipment, tighter baggage checks and improved employee screening is likely to continue at Egyptian airports in an effort to reassure airlines and passengers that preventative measures are being taken.

Short-term impacts

The alleged security breach has already prompted several airlines and airports to review their operations and security procedures. Russia suspended all flights to Egypt on 6 November, amid concerns over security at Sharm el-Sheikh airport, and indicated that the ban might last several months and could be applied to other countries considered to be vulnerable to terrorism. On 13 November, Russian authorities announced they were temporarily banning flights to the country from national carrier Egypt Air, the only airline still operating direct services between both countries since the Metrojet crash. Several international airlines have temporarily suspended flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, and KLM restricted passengers flying from Cairo to only carry hand luggage on 10 November.

The security fallout is not limited to Egypt. Western authorities, concerned by the threat from Islamic State, have encouraged airports with perceived vulnerabilities to increase security measures. Britain’s Secretary of State for Defence Philip Hammond said that a confirmation of the reports of an IS bombing would prompt a review of aviation security in countries where the militant group is active. This was reiterated by Prime Minister David Cameron in the wake of the 13 November IS attacks in Paris, when he announced a review of airports used by British travellers around the world, as well as more advice, training and equipment for local authorities at those airports. The full details of these plans are to be outlined in the five-year strategic defence review, to be published on 23 November.

     Metrojet crash in Egypt initiates airport security review

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