Civil aviation ministers at a Swiss-chaired conference have backed a new strategy to improve the security of the airline industry worldwide.
At least 150 representatives to the conference, held in Montreal, Canada, agreed to the development of a new approach to aviation safety. The meeting followed a similar conference last February of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations agency.
While the group has focused on mandatory audits as one way to upgrade security, a number of participating states have been reluctant to submit their security systems to outside review, despite agreeing to the measures at February's conference.
Urs Haldimann of the Swiss Federal Aviation Office chaired the Montreal event, which examined the problem of implementing new standards while ensuring that airlines' security tactics remain confidential.
Too late to withdraw
Haldimann told swissinfo that the next step is to establish a timetable to test procedures before the mandatory audit standards are implemented at the end of 2003. He said the aviation industry faces substantial costs, but it is too late for countries to withdraw from the security standards.
"In principle, they don't have the possibility anymore. But there are some reluctances in particular from states who see themselves now confronted with huge investments," Haldimann explained.
The new security plan approved by ICAO is expected to cost some $17 million (SFr28.4 million), of which more than $15 million will come from new contributions. Part of the funds are to be used to fill loopholes in airline security systems.
Haldimann says it was a lack of consumer confidence in the existing standards of airline security, particularly in the wake of the September 11 attacks, which contributed to financial losses in the airline industry worldwide. He added that the new security audit system is a means to lure more people back to air travel and in turn, to create the funds to pay for the system.
"You can't have security without making investments, but on the other hand, you can't have confidence without the investments. Different states have different concepts."
Haldimann had previously said that a carrot and stick approach would have to be developed to coax states that refuse to carry out the security audits, into complying with the new measures.
Ultimately, he said, it will be nations' civil aviation infrastructure rather than airline companies that will come under scrutiny after the standards take effect.
by Jonathan Summerton and MaryAnn Mathew