Ten years after 9/11: What has been done in Europe to make flying safer from terrorist attacks?
The attacks on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001 triggered a worldwide consensus on the need to improve transport security. As an immediate response, the European Commission decided to work closely together with Member States and the European Parliament in order to develop one of the most comprehensive aviation security regimes in the world. The European rules cover areas such as the screening of passengers and baggage, cargo security, the control of access to airports and aircraft, and standards on technology and training of staff employed for aviation security. The Commission enforces strict implementation of these rules by inspecting airports and national authorities.
The EU's aviation security regime has been developed after 9/11 and ensures implementation in Europe of the International Civil aviation Organization's (ICAO) rules on aviation security contained in Annex 17 to the Chicago Convention. It covers the secure transport by air of passengers and their luggage as well as cargo and mail. In several areas, for example cargo security or screening standards, the EU rules go well beyond the minimum global standards set by ICAO. They are needed in order to address the level of risk we face in Europe. The regime first entered into force in 2003 and has been revised since to adapt to new developments. Today, it is based on Regulation (EC) 300/2008 and several implementing acts, for example regarding the restrictions in respect of liquids carried in cabin baggage. The EU's common system of oversight and quality control is recognised by ICAO as exemplary.
How are these applied?
All EU Member States have to implement the EU common basic standards of aviation security and have to control correct application thereof by airports, air carriers and supply companies. Member States confronted with an increased level of threat may exceptionally introduce higher security standards.
The common application of minimum standards allows that any passenger, baggage or cargo only needs to be controlled once throughout the EU. Contrary to passengers from third countries transferring at EU airports, a passenger coming form a German airport does not have to undergo security controls a second time when transferring at Madrid onto a plane taking him to the Canary islands.
The Commission enforces strict implementation of these rules by inspecting airports and national authorities.
Have these measures made it safer to travel?
Yes, and the EU measures are constantly modified to new threats, such as improvised liquid explosives in 2006, but also have the capability of being adapted whenever a measure of adequate security but lower impact on industry or passengers becomes available. For example, although the threat from improvised liquid explosive devices has not gone away, the EU is investigating means to screen liquids with dedicated technology instead of continuing the ban. EU legislation has set a deadline that by 2013 all passengers shall be able to carry liquids back on board aircraft after applying security controls using newly developed screening equipment.
In principle, all EU rules are continuously adapted to technological developments that allow us to strengthen security and improve passenger experience. Recently, the Commission has proposed to allow the deployment of sophisticated security scanners at EU airports – under strict conditions to protect the health and privacy of passengers. These machines are expected to reduce physical searches of passengers, an experience not every passenger feels comfortable with.
Is there any ongoing new measure?
As a major player in aviation security, the EU fully participates in the further development of aviation security rules at the global level, for example to address today's risks from unsecured air cargo and mail. We have developed a strong dialogue with partners overseas, both within ICAO and bilaterally with a number of our key aviation partners.
What have we learnt since 9/11?
Strategic intelligence assessments of the terrorist threat are crucial. Any measure at the airport can never be more than a last line of defence. We have improved our common understanding of the threat, which allows Europe to tailor its response to the evolving security situation. Under the European Internal Security Strategy the Commission is developing a risk based approach to new security measures, analysing threats against vulnerabilities. On this basis, the Commission adopted new risk-based rules to ensure better security of cargo and mail which is being carried on aircraft flying into the EU from third countries. These rules are now being implemented. Their extension to other aviation security areas than cargo is being considered.