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Swiss chair airline security conference

Over 150 countries have endorsed the plan

(Keystone)

A meeting of civil aviation ministers is taking place in Montreal this week, to examine ways to make the airline industry more secure.

The Canadian meeting follows a conference last February of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), at which more than 150 governments endorsed a global strategy for strengthening aviation security worldwide.

The ICAO, a body of the United Nations, wants airlines to submit to mandatory, regular and independent audits of their security systems.

The meeting in Montreal, to be chaired by Urs Haldimann of the Swiss Federal Aviation Office, will discuss ways of implementing the strategy while ensuring that the airlines' security tactics remain confidential.

Haldimann, who is head of International Affairs and Security at the office, believes getting every country to agree to open their books could be difficult.

Expecting reluctance

"Of course this is a very big task," Haldimann told swissinfo. "Normally in security matters states are rather reluctant to open their books and let others have a look. But with this ICAO decision they will be forced to let the auditors have a look at their administration and at their security."

The ICAO strategy envisages setting up teams of three aviation experts to examine the security structure of airline companies and of airports. Normally the three would be drawn from countries other than that of the airline being examined.

Although over 150 countries have endorsed the plan, Haldimann says the details of how it will actually work still have to be agreed.

"We have to find out what happens if an audit is not very positive," he explained. "We need to work out how far we should go with transparency, because obviously in the security field this could be tricky. We don't want to give indications of poor security which could be used by potential terrorists as a sign of where they should plan their next attack."

Carrot and stick approach

Since strategies or conventions of United Nations bodies normally do not extend to having jurisdiction over signatory countries, getting states which don't want to be audited to comply could be difficult.

"We are going to adopt a carrot and stick approach," said Haldimann. "The stick will be the audit itself, and the possibility of sanctions."

"But since the overall goal is to improve security," he added, "we will probably find a way of offering technical assistance to those states which do need to work at their security."

Correcting lapses

The ICAO believes its new security plan could cost around $17 million (SFr28.4 million) of which more than $15 million will have to come from new contributions. Part of the money is expected to go on correcting security deficiencies.

"I think this could be an incentive to get countries to open their books," said Haldimann. "We want to offer some goodies as well, and so I think the will to cooperate is there."

The ICAO and Haldimann believe that countries that do not comply with the new strategy will find their airlines becoming increasingly isolated.

"Let's not forget that aviation is a highly networked business," explained Haldimann. "You can't operate an aircraft without links to the rest of the world. So if one state refuses to accept the auditors, or doesn't comply with the measures then this state will be rather isolated."

"So I have no doubt that finally our common approach to security will succeed."

by Imogen Foulkes and Anna Nelson


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