Pilots expect tougher security on small commuter aircraft under measures due for Cabinet consideration today in response to this month’s hijack attempt over the South Island.
Some degree of screening of passengers of aircraft with 19 seats or more is possible, although the Board of Airline Representatives says that is not the only way to increase the protection of pilots in their cockpits.
A woman charged with hijacking an Eagle Airways aircraft from Blenheim to Christchurch and wounding its pilots and a passenger on February 8 did not have to walk past an x-ray machine to get aboard as it had fewer than 90 seats.
Neither was there any cockpit door for her to get through to reach the pilots.
Airline Pilots’ Association safety and security officer Paul Lyons said yesterday he was confident of some tightening of security and that “doing nothing is not an option”.
But he said his confidence was drawn from a statement by Prime Minister Helen Clark that tougher security for smaller flights seemed inevitable after the hijack attempt.
He denied being given a sneak preview of security options, as the Sunday Star-Times reported him saying he had, although he confirmed his involvement with other industry representatives in a briefing the week before last on issues requiring attention.
The newspaper said it understood the screening of all passengers on aircraft with 19 seats or more was likely and that security staff would be sent to regional airports.
A spokesman for Transport Minister Annette King confirmed last night that she was due to present an officials paper on the February 8 incident, and recommendations to prevent a recurrence, to today’s Cabinet meeting.
But he questioned the newspaper’s report and said she had yet to see the briefing document, as she was in Australia and not expected back until this morning. He confirmed the document had been prepared by the Civil Aviation Authority, Aviation Security and the police.
Board of Airline Representatives executive director Stewart Milne said he was not at the aviation authority’s industry briefing and could not comment on whether it would be desirable to screen passengers on small aircraft.
But he said that although the security of pilots and passengers was “hugely important to airlines”, there were other ways to achieve that, such as installing cockpit doors.
Mr Milne said airlines had agreed to pick up costs of aviation security in this country, given that the Government paid for border control and biosecurity.
The industry hoped in return to be properly consulted before any security changes were introduced.
He said that until the hijack attempt, the industry had accepted advice from the aviation authority that screening was not needed for passengers on smaller aircraft.
He was unable to comment on whether such a change was now desirable, without knowing what information the Government had about the background to the hijack bid.