24 Apr 2009

Pilots back call to boost airline security

9:32 pm on 24 April 2009

The Airline Pilots' Association is backing calls to boost airline security in New Zealand, saying the costs are nothing compared with the risk of a tragedy.

At present, 57% of passengers are screened before boarding flights within New Zealand compared with 97% in Australia.

A review of aviation security was ordered after a woman allegedly tried to hijack an Air New Zealand flight from Blenheim to Christchurch last year. She faces trial in September.

The review's findings were made public on Thursday. It identified enhanced screening of passengers and carry-on luggage as the best option for bolstering security.

At present, only passengers on aircraft carrying 90 or more passengers are screened. The review suggests that flights with 19 passengers or more be screened.

The move is likely to cost about $5 per passenger and the charge would probably be passed on to travellers.

Aviation security coordinator for the Airline Pilots' Association, Paul Lyons, says visitors come to New Zealand with a expectation of good safety and security and people should consider the impact on tourism if an incident occurred.

Mr Lyons says threat of terrorism in New Zealand is low, but that is not the point.

"Admittedly, the terrorist threat in other countries is higher than ours - we don't have any argument with that. We do agree that the terrorist threat in New Zealand is very low.

"However, what we're talking about is the threat from other areas: the disaffected person, the intoxicated person, the mentally unwell person."

Screening 'costly and inconvenient'

But some airport operators are opposed to increased screening of passengers on domestic flights, saying the cost and inconvenience far outweigh any risk posed by terrorism.

New Zealand Airports Association chief executive Kevin Ward says the risks from terrorism in New Zealand are low and any added costs and inconvenience to passengers based on an unknown risk, do not add up.

He says the association prefers other measures, such as enhanced training and education for airline and airport workers.

The Tourism Industry Association also says it does not want to see new security measures, based on a one-off incident.

Chief executive Tim Cossar says the extra cost for small airports could potentially be the difference between having flights or not, and extra security precautions that inconvenience passengers for no real reason cannot be justified.