By Geoffrey D. Askew AM
Each year the aviation industry experiences events that make seasoned security professionals just shake their heads.
At airports around the world there are dedicated and committed people working tirelessly at checkpoints and other security facilities providing protection for the industry and the travelling public as well as for the millions of people who work at and or visit those airports. In the USA, thanks to the transparency of the operations of the Transportation Security Authority (TSA), we know that somewhere between 30 and 40 loaded firearms are still being detected every week at U.S. checkpoints.
The industry and regulators have, understandably, demonstrated very little tolerance for lapses in concentration or effort by aviation security officers. If they are lucky they may be sent for retraining, otherwise they are looking for a new job.
What is of concern is that there continue to be reports of senior industry and high-profile individuals who should be setting an example when it comes to safety and security. Alas they are not.
Take for example the occasional pilot who doesn’t believe that they should have to be screened because as they say, “I could drive the plane into the mountain if I wanted to.” Their demeanour and body language is appalling and is on open display at the checkpoint for everyone to see. Thankfully they are few and far between. But, let’s be honest, one is one too many.
What about New Zealand’s Transport Minister last July? Mr Gerry Brownlee entered a gate lounge at Christchurch International Airport through an ‘exit only’ door bypassing the screening process with his two aides. Mr Brownlee publicly apologised and said that he acted “without thought” because he was running late for a flight. He was subsequently fined NZD $2000 (US$1,587).
‘Rebellion in the air – Passengers confront top MP over phone use’ was a headline in a recent Australian newspaper revealing that, in 2013, passengers had rounded on the then nation’s top law official, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, when he refused to stop using his mobile phone during the take-off of his flight in Sydney. The Australian Federal Police met the aircraft when it arrived in Brisbane. After discussions it is reported that the airline withdrew its complaint and Mr Dreyfus apologised for his behaviour.
Former Chelyabinsk Deputy Governor Andrei Tretyakov hit the headlines in December 2013 after being arrested for assaulting a flight attendant who refused to let him use a Business Class toilet. Mr Tretyakov was traveling Economy on a Krasnoyarsk-Moscow flight, which was forced to land midway in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk as a result of the incident. Charges against him were dropped last year after he paid compensation to the offended parties. Flight attendant Anton Chernyshov, who police said was hospitalised with bruising and a head injury after the sustained attack, says the former Deputy Governor paid him 1.25 million rubles in damages. Chernyshov said he asked a court in the Siberian city of Ob to drop the case after receiving compensation. Tretyakov told the court that he had also paid the airline, Globus, “about 300,000 rubles” for the aborted flight.
And then there is the case last December of Cho Hyun-ah, the former Korean Air Vice President in charge of inflight service and the daughter of the chairman of Korean Air, whose dismay over the way she was served macadamia nuts led to a plane returning to its gate at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport to remove the cabin crew chief.