Facing up to security in NZ after UK terror plot

By Stephen Cook, Miles Erwin

Tough new security measures including permanent restrictions on hand luggage, digital fingerprinting and the use of face-recognition technology could be rolled out in New Zealand airports in the wake of the foiled UK terror plot.

The plot - the most serious since the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington in 2001 - has led to renewed fears about how prepared airports like Auckland are in the event of a terror threat.

Auckland Airport is New Zealand's largest and busiest airport - more than 11 million passengers use the facility each year which accounts for around 70 per cent of international arrivals into the country.

Aviation experts like British-based Norman Shanks say if Auckland Airport is serious about the threat of terrorism it will have to look at beefing up security to include measures like the electronic screening of passengers.

One security option, experts say, is digital fingerprinting and iris scanning - a tool used in a growing number of airports overseas to cross-match passengers against a database of terror suspects.

New Zealand Airport Security Service general manager Mark Everitt acknowledged the terror threat, saying it had come as no surprise that the aviation industry had been targeted again.

And while New Zealand was delivering a high standard of aviation security, there was always room for improvement, he said.

Technological developments like digital fingerprinting, for example, were options always being looked at and nothing could be ruled out in the future.

In the meantime, he believed airports and airlines needed to ensure sufficient background checks and screening procedures were carried out on airport staff to eliminate any rogue threat.

The physical screening of all cargo was another issue that would have to be addressed over time, he said.

Airline passengers around the world yesterday continued to feel the impact of the alleged plot with most airports beefing up security checks which led to long delays.

Now there are fears reverberations from the failed terror plot may be felt by Kiwi travellers for months and perhaps years to come. The short-term concern is the latest terrorism scare could lead to a drop in international travel as Kiwis put on hold their winter holiday plans.

The terror plot has also seen additional security screening at Auckland airport, including booths for people to remove their shoes for X-ray. It is also having an impact on businesses, with duty-free sales down after a ban on travellers to the United States and Britain taking any liquids on to aircraft. Other carry-on luggage has also been severely restricted.

Everitt said he personally was not a proponent of banning hand luggage, but it was something that would have to be discussed. "It's not practical, but you have to keep an open mind about that. We will have that discussion at some stage," he said.

Shanks, a world authority on aviation security, agreed tighter airport security measures were needed in airports like Auckland.

Currently all bags in and out of the country are screened, but Shanks said the technology was still not capable of detecting "the very real threat" of thin and well-disguised plastic explosives.

Shanks, who was Heathrow Airport's security manager between 1986 and 1991 and now is recognised as one of the world's foremost experts in aviation security, also warned of the potential for a terror attack being launched in the future from New Zealand. If terrorist groups had a real or imagined view that New Zealand was supporting the US or the UK in the war against terror it would not be beyond the realms of possibility that it could use that as justification to launch an offensive.

The other worry was New Zealand's proximity to Australia - a country that had made no secret about its support for the US in the war against terror, Shanks said.

"Australian-based airlines could be a target. That is the problem with world terrorism, nobody is actually safe.

"The threat to New Zealand from these sorts of fanatics is very real. They can pop up anywhere in the world."

Air Transport World magazine senior editor Geoff Thomas was concerned that any costs associated with beefing up security would fall on travellers.

"You may find there's a $100 security fee lumped on to the ticket which pays for all the people and equipment to give you a thorough going over," Thomas said.

"It's going to mean more hassle, more irritation and longer delays."

What's allowed

Auckland to London or Los Angeles

* Pocket-size wallets and purses and contents such as money, credit cards, identity cards - but not handbags.
* Essential travel documents such as passports and tickets.
* Prescription medicines and medical items essential for the flight, such as a diabetic kit. Liquid medication is banned unless verified.
* Spectacles and sunglasses, without cases.
* Contact lens holders, without bottles of solution.
* Baby food or milk - contents of each bottle must be tasted by the accompanying passenger.
* Sanitary items including nappies, wipes, creams and nappy disposal bags.
* Female sanitary items but only if unboxed.
* Handkerchiefs, unboxed tissues.
* Keys without electrical fobs.

Waiting, but not worrying too much

There aren't many ways to kill time in an airport - especially when you've been waiting four hours.

The Glovers - Ken and Vicki and children Milly, Sally, 11, and Jake, 8 - spent yesterday confused and concerned as they waited for their Emirates flight home to Manchester.

They arrived four hours before check-in but found the airline office unstaffed.

The family conerns were more about the wait than terror threats: "They got them didn't they? It could have been a hell of a lot worse," said Ken.

Passengers on five flights to the UK and US were affected by increased security yesterday, with check-in times extended to three or four hours.

Robyn and John Harding had to check in three hours before their flight and anticipated a lot of inconvenience when they arrive at Heathrow. "We've been planning this holiday for a long time. It's a lot of inconvenience but it's twice as secure," said Robyn.

Most travellers had similar sentiments. Andrew and Karen Reid were returning home to Miami after visiting Andrew's mother in Auckland, and were at check-in 3 1/2 hours before their flight, along with many others. But Karen said the family would keep coming back.

Other travellers weren't so stoic. Muneet Duggal said he was very concerned about the London plot and wouldn't fly unless he had to: "It's very disturbing". - Miles Erwin

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