19 May 2009

Regional airports relieved security plans scrapped

6:37 pm on 19 May 2009

Regional airport operators say they are relieved the Government will not pursue tighter security screening of air passengers on domestic flights.

The Government announced on Monday it would not introduce mandatory screening of all passengers at smaller airports because it would be too expensive.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce said the the Government is to tighten up flight deck security instead of extending security screening of passengers on domestic aircraft.

Taupo Airport general manager Mike Groome says building screening facilities would have been disruptive and costly.

The chief executive of the group that owns Gisborne Airport, Matt Todd, says tighter security screening would have been a knee-jerk reaction.

Aviation security was reviewed after a woman allegedly tried to hijack an Air New Zealand flight from Blenheim to Christchurch in February 2008. Asha Abdille is facing trial in September.

The review, released in April this year, said screening passengers before they get airborne was the only effective way to stop weapons being taken on board. However, it said the screening equipment would cost well over $100 million.

Minister defends decision

Transport Minister Stephen Joyce told Checkpoint on Monday the estimated $160 million to extend security screening for domestic air travel was too expensive and the Government had to balance the level of risk with the cost.

Extra screening would create costs for airports, airlines, the Government and ultimately passengers, and was unjustified during difficult economic times, he said.

The Government intends to strengthen cockpit doors on aircraft with 30 seats or more and investigate the installation of cockpit doors for 19-seat planes.

Mr Joyce said security training and education for airport staff would be boosted.

He said events such as the alleged hijacking are very rare in New Zealand.

Pilots disappointed

The Airline Pilots' Association is "significantly disappointed" that extra security screening at airport has been ruled out and rejects the Government's claim it is too costly.

Aviation security coordinator Paul Lyons told Checkpoint the decision puts New Zealand out of step with other countries - some of which screen more than 95% of all passengers.

"The $160 million (Steven Joyce) was talking about was spread over a 10-year period ... One way of looking at it is to say the additional cost is really only about $1 per passenger over 10 years for the domestic passengers that are not currently screened. We didn't see that as a significant cost."

Mr Lyons says authorities confiscated five-thousand blades and 86 gun parts from screened aircraft in 2007.

He says there are almost as many passengers on unscreened flights and it is clear this poses a risk to pilots and aircraft safety.