Could measures designed to reassure airline passengers leave gaps for terrorists to exploit?

A leading aviation security expert has warned that terrorists could exploit weaknesses created by the coronavirus pandemic and that checks could be diluted if search teams have to identify possible carriers.

Philip Baum, editor of Aviation Security International, said: “We must ensure that the airport security checkpoints remain focused on the task of identifying those with negative intent.

“There is serious danger in allowing our security screening personnel to become distracted by prevailing health concerns.

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“It is not the role of screeners to identify those who may be showing signs of illness.

“Groups such as Isis are likely to want to seize the opportunity such wayward thinking presents.

“With society already paralysed, it is incumbent upon the industry to think like our adversaries and recognise that.”

Airlines and airports are calling for swift international agreement on health measures, in a bid to restore passenger confidence.

Changes are likely to include temperature checks on departure.

Mr Baum said: “We must avoid falling into the hidden trap the virus has created.”

He believes that if security teams are asked to fulfil functions beyond their core purpose, it will create gaps for “those who wish to target aviation for criminal or terroristic gain”.

There could be one benefit, however. The current shutdown of entire airports such as London City, and individual terminals at Heathrow, could be usefully allow for exercises on a scale not usually feasible, said Mr Baum.

“Security managers often bemoan the fact that they cannot carry out the exercises they want; as an example, practising the response to a marauding firearms attacker carrying out an action within the airport terminal.

“They are always told that exercises have to be table-top in nature because no terminal can be closed down due to the disruption such exercises might cause.

“Do we want 2020 to be cited as an excuse for lack of progress or as an amazing opportunity to truly develop and test out a more robust security system?”

The US Transportation Security Administration said: “TSA has implemented procedures to increase social distancing and reduce direct contact between our employees and the travelling public whenever possible – all without compromising security.”

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