Examination of Witnesses

Part of Civil Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:28 pm on 23rd February 2012.

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John Moloney: Our appreciation of the potential new regime is, as I said, that there would be institutionalised variability. As we understand the proposal, as it has been explained to the security inspectors, each part of the airline network would carry out its own risk assessment.

Although there would be a bedrock of EU regulations on which you would have to rest your security arrangements—though my understanding is that the Government are seeking to get an agreement in Europe potentially to change that position—in that situation, you would have an EU basic regulation and then, as far as we can see, a variable regime on top of that. At the moment, you have EU core regulations and then a uniform regulation applying to every airport, every airline and so on.

The variation, as we understand the outcomes-based regime, is based on an individual assessment of what you think the risks to you are. We think that there is a problem with that. If you were in Scotland, for instance, you might say, “We have no international links, so the risk of a terrorist incident in our airport is much lower than, for example, for Heathrow, which is a huge hub. We will therefore have a different security arrangement or lesser security arrangements than we have now.”

The problem we have is that our enemies clearly do not think, “Heathrow is a hard target and Scotland is a soft target, so I will not go for Scotland.” Unfortunately, they are constantly probing all our security arrangements, all the time. There are constant threats. If we have variable security—that is our understanding of what the new proposals are designed to produce—we will produce soft spots in the network. Where we have a soft spot, somebody might probe it, so we think that it is not a very good idea.

It would also change the nature of the inspectors from inspect and direct, which is what we do now. That is physically getting on the floor, seeing what is happening and, if you see something wrong, getting it changed, and, if it is serious enough, getting it stopped. Inspectors would become auditors of paperwork, because one of the key roles of inspectors under the proposed new regime will be literally to look at paperwork. As far as we understand it—obviously, it could be much more sophisticated than we have been led to understand—it will be that, provided the paperwork was all right, the assumption is that the security is all right.

In my members’ experience, that is not true. You have to have eyeballs on the ground. It does not matter what the reputation of an organisation is, human beings are variable, things change and people come under pressure. Without people constantly probing and checking, our worry is that moving to a paper-based system will lose the advantages of having eyes on the ground and constant pressure on organisations to maintain a uniform safety standard.