Security Amid Recovery: Risk-based Alternatives to help Airports Accepted by ICAO

Nicholas Ratledge by Nicholas Ratledge | Aug 6, 2021

Many security measures that are required from airport operators, landside or airside, are provided by their regulatory authorities. Where do these regulations come from and who develops them?  As members ICAO, subject matter experts from various States meet regularly to develop Standards and Recommended Practices from which many national regulations are derived. 

Each year, representatives from member States convene to discuss the latest developments in security during the ICAO Aviation Security (or AVSEC) Panel.  As a permanent observer, ACI attends to advocate for airports’ interests globally. This year brought some significant positive changes for airports which may help them with their post-pandemic recovery.

Innovation and disruptions

In March 2021, an ACI report, produced in collaboration with SITA concluded that airports had accelerated investments in technology to aid the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The report found that airports have been responsive in adapting to the changing health and safety requirements, focusing on automated and touchless solutions for both customers and staff. However, most security regulations focus on detection of explosives, where technology is subject to a heavy certification framework. 

ACI presented to ICAO new proposals for accelerating the pace of innovation in aviation security. For example, third parties should be able to certify certain security equipment for use at airports, on behalf of the authorities and under strict conditions.  The discussion was positive, and the Aviation Security Panel recognized the challenges of certifying equipment while keeping up with the pace of innovation and is now going to assess potential solutions.

Prior to pandemic slowdown, several airports experienced shutdowns and severe disruptions due to large scale protests and activism. ACI brought this issue to the attention of international regulators. While the threat of disruptions due to activism is a concern, the Panel drew a line between aviation security and public order.  It was agreed that the risks to aviation security, particularly acts that can jeopardize the safety of aviation, should be assessed and monitored. ACI will continue to raise the awareness of its members on the need to prepare for such events.

Guidance on one stop security, prohibited items and lower risk airports

Over the last few years, ACI has worked to introduce new guidance in the ICAO Aviation Security Manual that will provide to airports the ability to tailor their security procedures based on risk.  This year, the AVSEC Panel approved new text that recognizes the key role that airports (and airlines) can play in suggesting and initiating discussions between States on one-stop security and recognition of equivalence – which can exempt transfer passengers and/or baggage from re-screening, if adequately screened at departure. 

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Based on an ACI proposal, ICAO also agreed on new guidance that will allow airports to adjust response protocols, resolution procedures, training, testing, and quality assurance based on the risk posed by various types of prohibited items. 

Last but not least, the Security Manual will provide a framework for States to categorize airports based on risk and allow the lower risk airports (e.g. those handling smaller aircraft) to apply differentiated but equivalent security measures that are more tailored to their environment and operations. This concept is applicable not just to whole airports but also to certain parts of airports, known in Europe as ‘demarcated areas’, so it may also be interesting for large airports. It also applies to airports who receive seasonal traffic and may benefit from switching from a lower risk set up to a higher risk set up at different times of the year.  

Nicholas Ratledge

Nicholas Ratledge

Senior Manager, Security, Safety, and Operations at Airports Council International (ACI) World
Nicholas Ratledge joined ACI World in March 2015. As Senior Manager, Security, Safety, and Operations at Airports Council International he is responsible for providing guidance and best practice with airport security standards and recommended best practices.
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