Farnborough International Air-show

Speech by the Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, Secretary of State for Transport.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Justine Greening MP

Opening remarks

Thank you for that introduction Sir Edward (Sir Edward Crew - ADS). Thank you also for asking me along - I’m delighted to be here today.

This is a world famous air-show that requires world class organisation.

So, while I have this opportunity, I’d like to congratulate everyone at the ADS Group and Farnborough International Ltd for staging this incredibly impressive event.

Protecting Britain

Farnborough is a global showcase for Britain’s dynamic and successful aerospace industry. It’s also a reminder of the crucial economic contribution made by the companies this group so ably represents.

From small start-ups to multi-national corporations, and from the military sphere to the civilian sector, ADS members are creating jobs and generating growth.

But, thanks to the defence and security products they develop and manufacture, they’re also helping to keep our country safe.

Protecting Britain, our people and our interests.

That’s what lies at the heart of so much of your members’ work. It’s also the priority that shapes and drives this government’s aviation security policy.

And that’s what I want to talk about today - aviation security: the challenges we face and how best to meet them.

Strike the right balance

In a world without terrorism the security checks employed today at our airports would never be needed. Sadly, that isn’t the world we live in.

So, while going through these procedures can sometimes be frustrating and inconvenient, the undeniable truth is that aviation security exists for a reason.

And that’s to deter, detect and prevent murderous attacks.

That makes airports our first line of defence.

It also makes the aviation security challenge a complex and multi-layered one.

By that, I mean that we need to strike the right balance so that we ensure the best possible passenger experience without compromising security.

And, because security is expensive, we also need to make sure that we don’t place unnecessary burdens on the aviation industry.

Global partnership, public confidence

How then do we strike that balance and meet that challenge?

Well, I’d argue that one of the most important things we need to do is collaborate with other countries in the global fight against terrorism.

Our counter-terrorist strategy is designed to reduce the risk to the UK and UK interests so that we are both protected and prepared, and people can go about their lives freely and with confidence.

And that’s why we work closely with european and other international partners to develop and implement measures to improve the security environment across the world.

This can range from providing training and giving technical support, to sharing best practice and building capacity.

So, for me, a key step has to be a global partnership to confront a global problem. And, with the world coming to Britain for the Olympic & Paralympic Games, that way of working matters more than ever this year.

As you’d imagine, making sure the games are safe and secure is a top priority. So, on land, at sea and in the air, it’s at the very centre of our work right now.

But, as I’ve argued, when it comes to the future of aviation security the real challenge is to strike the right balance.

And a big part of that means retaining the public’s confidence that what we do, and what we ask of them, is not simply effective, it’s also proportionate.

Take one of the most recent enhancements of transport security, airport security scanners.

To stay one step ahead of those who would do us harm we not only have to meet the threats of today, we must also anticipate the threats of tomorrow.

New screening technologies such as scanners can help us detect a wide range of threat items, especially non-metallic items concealed close to the body.

So, beyond question, we had a duty to introduce them and scanners are now in operation at Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester.

But we also we have an obligation to explain and rationalise this security upgrade to the travelling public. And that’s precisely what we’ve been doing.

Hence our decision to put a tough code of practice in place - one where airports are required to undertake scanning sensitively and have regard to the rights of passengers.

And crucially, the code states that passengers must not be selected for scanning on the basis of ethnic origin, gender or destination of travel.

Following an extensive consultation process the government has also announced plans to further improve the privacy and data safeguards for security scanners - notably requiring the use of technology that removes the need for a human to review images of passengers.

I’m sure you’ll be aware that the European Parliament proposed giving passengers the right to request an opt-out from scanning.

The UK did not support these proposals when they were presented to the Aviation Security Committee. In fact, if you allow an opt-out, it defeats the point of having scanners in the first place and could well expose other passengers to unacceptable risk.

So I have used my powers as Secretary of State for Transport to block this move in the UK. If someone is selected for scanning and they refuse, then they won’t be able to fly.

I believe the vast majority of travellers will see that as fair.

And, let’s face it, the most basic human right of all is the right not to be blown up on a plane.

LAGs and backscatter

So I accept that airport checks and processes should always be as customer friendly as possible. But I’m equally determined that they should never undermine security. That has to be the bottom line.

And that same bottom line applies to the introduction of liquid explosive detection systems at our airports.

This is something that would enable people to carry greater quantities of liquids onto their flights. So it’s good for passengers.

But I am clear that the systems employed must be sustainable operationally and that, again, they should not compromise security.

With that in mind, and given current technological capabilities, the implementation of EU legislation for the full introduction of liquids, aerosols and gels screening by April 2013 could be too great a challenge for airports to meet.

For that reason we’re exploring options for a stepped approach to the screening of LAGs as they’re commonly known - and, in particular, the screening of duty free LAGs at transfer screening points.

This would help passengers, give manufacturers a return on their research investments and encourage development of future technology to meet airport operator’s requirements.

A stepped move to LAGs screening in the EU would also move us closer towards the screening of LAGs internationally, including in those states which do not impose any LAGS restrictions at all.

However, I recognise that airports have concerns about screening LAGs, fully or partially, by April 2013.

So I want to assure you that we’ll be working closely with the European Commission on possible ways forward, examining in detail the full security and operational impacts of any proposals.

I also want to emphasise just how keen I am to begin discussions with my european colleagues about how we can adapt and improve existing european regulations to provide more flexibility for airports, airlines and manufacturers to develop new security solutions.

I recognise that current regulations can often be a barrier to innovation. And, even when innovation does occur, the regulatory framework can still adopt retrospective measures that stifle it.

One example of this is the use of backscatter security scanner technology at Manchester Airport, a measure that provides excellent security outcomes and improves the passenger experience.

Now, in spite of numerous scientific studies showing that this technology poses no health risk, european regulations ban its use.

So Manchester Airport is now faced with a substantial bill to replace proven, effective technology for no good reason.

Outcome focused risk based approach

There’s another way we’re meeting the aviation security challenge, and that’s by regulatory reforms that will make a real difference.

Take the Civil Aviation Bill which, thanks to the hard work of my ministerial colleague Theresa Villiers, is making good progress through Parliament.

Through this legislation some key aviation security functions currently performed by my department will be handed to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), creating for the first time a single regulator covering all aspects of aviation.

And, subject to the date of Royal Assent, we’re preparing for the CAA to take on those functions from April 2014.

But perhaps the most far reaching step we’ve taken is our decision to reform aviation security regulations by moving to an outcome focused, risk based approach, which we propose to do through the introduction of a security management system.

This will be developed and operated by each responsible organisation and our intention is to begin with a series of pilots - no pun intended - starting at London City Airport once the Olympics have finished.

It’s important to stress that the London City trial will be concerned only with the organisation and governance of security at the airport.

It won’t focus on the security checks themselves. These will continue to be managed and delivered in the current way.

Further pilots will take place at other airports, airlines and across the wider industry.

Once these have been concluded, and we are satisfied that the security management system is sufficiently robust and that it will deliver its intended benefits, we’ll look to roll it out across the industry. This will then provide a sound basis for the development and piloting of the outcome focused, risk based approach.

So what do our reforms actually add up to?

Well, in essence they will modernise the current security regime so that it is less prescriptive and more flexible.

In other words, we’re shifting from an out-dated “one-size fits all” framework to a new way of regulating that is far more bespoke.

No longer will Whitehall dictate every last dot and comma of how passengers are processed.

Instead, airport operators will able to devise and implement security systems that are tailored to their particular circumstances.

So they’ll be able to design made-to-measure solutions for the specific challenges they face at their airports.

But we’re also making sure that this new freedom goes hand-in-hand with increased responsibility.

For example, operators will certainly be able to introduce more efficient ways of working and thereby reduce their cost base and increase their profit levels.

And, where they feel it’s needed, they’ll be able to focus their time and resources on cutting queuing times and speeding up throughput for travellers.

But airport operators will also be required to deliver specified security outcomes so that they achieve the same, or better, levels of security than are in place today.

In this way, our reforms strike that crucial balance between checks that are passenger friendly and checks that are also effective.

Smarter security regulations, more business opportunities

By being less prescriptive we will free up the private sector to do what it does best - innovate.

And, not only will this help improve the passenger experience, it also has the potential to boost Britain’s manufacturers

Alongside the freedom and flexibility to decide how they deliver their security outcomes, airport operators will also be able choose which security equipment they purchase and deploy.

Rather than being limited to a list of technologies drawn up by the government, under the new system operators will have more freedom to liaise directly with manufacturers.

So they’ll be able to design and order equipment that meets the required security standards, enhances the passenger experience and integrates effectively with their business processes.

And who will they go to and buy from? Well, with your track record for world class products, I’d say the people and the companies here today will be at the front of the queue.

In short, smarter security regulations mean more business opportunities. And, in that sense, our reforms in this sector are part of our wider growth agenda.

Now of course, governments can’t create markets or conjure up customers.

What we can do though is put in place the conditions where private sector businesses like yours can get your foot in the door, win a contract and make a sale. And that’s precisely what we’re doing with this approach.

Concluding remarks

In conclusion, today I’ve highlighted the importance of global co-operation in combating terrorism. And I’ve spoken about the key role of technologies like scanners.

I’ve also made the case for “outcome focused, risk based reform”.

  • Regulations that are less prescriptive and restrictive
  • A regime that allows the flexibility to adapt and the freedom to innovate

These are the building blocks of our reforms and I’m convinced that, together, they will mean that passengers are well served, the skies are safe, our planes are secure and your industry is supported and successful.

Thank you

Published 11 July 2012
Last updated 17 October 2012 + show all updates
  1. First published.