Aviation Security staff are on heightened alert following the raised terror threat level and on the lookout for a range of new risks including cyber attacks on aircraft and on its own screening equipment.

Airport security staff throughout the country were ready to roll out contingency measures, including beefed up screening at regional airports and checks for liquids and gels on domestic flights.

Earlier this week Prime Minister John Key's announced that the country's threat level had risen from "very low" to "low" and said there were around 80 people from New Zealand with possible links to the Islamic State terror army in the Middle East. Pilots have called for security screening at all airports for all passenger planes, not just those with more than 90 seats.

Aviation Security's general manager Mark Wheeler said it would be the government's call to step up regional airport and aircraft screening.


"We don't have a specific threat that we are targeting but we do have a range of contingencies should one of those eventuate."

Speaking on the sidelines of the New Zealand Airports conference in Auckland, he said Aviation Security had not been provided details of those individuals under watch but it was "possible" that information would be passed on.

"If they were a threat to an aircraft we would (be made aware). It would only be on a specific basis that we would get it."

AvSec's 800 staff screen around 13 million passengers a year and the most common items that pose a risk are knives, scissors, toy guns and ammunition that has been overlooked in luggage by mistake. Its bomb detector dogs had also found cash and illegal drugs in passengers' luggage.

Like other security agencies around the world, Wheeler said his organisation faced a growing range of threats to aviation.

He told the conference these included:
•Lone wolf terrorists - hard to detect through intelligence

•3D printing of cardboard guns which would not be picked up by standard metal detectors but are capable of firing bullets

•Land side attacks such as running a vehicle into an airport which is extremely disruptive


•Insider threats from air crew and ground staff that were hard to detect

•Cyber threats: modern jets have 60 external antennae that could be used by terrorists to damage or take over a plane. Security screening equipment could also be vulnerable to someone taking over the system at the time a terrorist passes through it to mask what they are hiding.

•Improvised explosive devices with low or no metal content spread out among a number of passengers who then assemble it on a plane.

Wheeler said there no particular threats in New Zealand.

"Our screening and processing is designed to cover a wide spectrum of threats - there is no one specific threat that we're looking for."

Work is being done with Customs to devise a one-stop screening process to avoid double-queuing when departing from New Zealand airports.