The report leaked to the press which led to the resignation of Belgian Transport Minister Jacqueline Galant is “irrelevant” and does not reflect safety practices in place at Brussels Airprort at the time of the attacks on 22 March, says Airports Council Europe (ACI-Europe) in a statement released today.

The airports group said it “deplores the media escalation in recent weeks concerning supposed security deficiencies at Brussels Airport prior to or since the terrorist attacks of 22 March,” and characterised recent coverage of events at Brussels Airport as based on a “culture of misinformation about aviation security.”

ACI-Europe pointed out the stringent regulations already in place for airports, describing them as “the most regulated and controlled spaces for security purposes” among all modes of transportation.

The leaked report, the association states, “relates to an audit of the oversight capabilities of the competent Belgian authority in relation to aviation security. It is not an audit of the aviation security conditions at Brussels Airport. Therefore, the report does not contain any material indication that aviation security at Brussels Airport was deficient prior to the attacks of 22 March.”

The association also notes that the 22 March attacks took place in open areas of the airport, which fall under the jurisdiction of Belgian federal police and other law enforcement agencies, like other open spaces throughout Belgium.

“The aviation specific security regime in place at EU airports has been designed and implemented with a deliberate focus on limiting access to airside areas (non-public spaces of airports accessible only to air passengers who hold a valid board pass), which generally falls under the responsibility of airport operators. The security of these spaces is subject to close monitoring by national and EU authorities,” ACI-Europe states. “This security regime is built around the purpose of preventing unlawful interference with aircraft – a historically strategic target of terrorists for several decades. Since 2001, these aviation specific regulations have been harmonised and coordinated at EU level.”

“Airports only have a legal mandate for aviation security. The maintenance of law and order within the entire airport domain remains the responsibility of the police,” the ACI-Europe adds.

 

ACI-Europe also states it has full trust in the existing system of aviation security.

“Brussels Airport – like all EU airports – is subject to regular monitoring as regards compliance with EU and national security regulations. The current security auditing system in place means that should serious security deficiencies exist at any EU airport, they would be identified, monitored and remedied at the earliest possible opportunity,” ACI-Europe states.

Uphill Battle

While ACI-Europe already addressed many of these concerns on the day of the attacks on Brussels Airport, citing existing practices, the limitation of oversight by the airport to airside areas and the need for better intelligence sharing among authorities and intelligence agencies, the association, Brussels Airport, and airports around the world have work to do helping the public understand the difference between airside security procedures, general public area security and just the idea of flying safely and securely.

To the ordinary flyer, these terms are indistinguishable and themselves irrelevant. In principle, what people want is to be safe when they fly–no matter the point along the journey.

However, it is also important not to feed fears by sharing incomplete information, and not to call for excessive and reactionary imposition of new rules without due consideration simply to create what is no more than a false sense of being more secure.

This is a challenge aviation faces whenever there is an incident of any kind in the sector, but it is not helped by situations like the one in Brussels which has become heavily politicised.

It is an ugly and tragic situation for which everyone wants answers, and few have any answers. Everyone wants something to be done about it, and few know what to do.

At times like these, it is unwise to be precipitous in calling for or drafting new laws we’ll have to live with in the long term. That is chiefly the point ACI-Europe and others in the aviation sector would make.

“Along with safety, security is an absolute top priority of European airports,” the organization concludes. “ACI EUROPE can attest to the existence of a strong security culture at Brussels Airport. The airport is an active member and contributor to ACI EUROPE’s Aviation Security Committee, which acts as a unique and recognised industry forum focused on raising security standards and efficiency, as well as developing expertise and promoting best practice.”


At this point, searching for ways to find fault with Brussels Airport which might explain 22 March, or to avoid another event like this in future, seems a bit like blaming the victim of any criminal act for proving an easy target. It doesn’t solve anything and won’t make anyone safer. All we accomplish is to spread more fear and confusion.

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