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Strike threats by Brussels airport police expose the soft underbelly of Europe's aviation security

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN Africa Correspondent  Apr 02, 2016

The only party still smelling of roses at present in the increasingly drawn out battle behind the scenes between several stakeholders including Zaventem Airport, Aviation Security, and the police, is Brussels Airlines. The carrier, robbed of an early return to its hub airport, has pulled out all stops to ensure passengers booked with them can reach their European destinations out of Liege and Antwerp while intercontinental services operate out of Frankfurt and Zurich to Africa and North America.

Bus services to and from Liege and Antwerp are provided for passengers free of cost and many of the airline's staff have volunteered to stay on after their shift and help the social media teams and call centres to answer questions from passengers with minimum delay. It is precisely such an attitude which will result in passenger retention when the airline returns to Zaventem next week, date and of course operational details which flights will resume still to be confirmed.

Meanwhile is a grim picture emerging, now that personnel fed up with the situation have began to talk and at the very heart of the delay is a threat by the Belgian police assigned to secure the airport to go on strike, should their demands for additional and sharply improved security measures not be met.

In an open letter did staff of the police force say: 'Every police officer in any police force at Zaventem knew this day would come' while in another section of the letter blaming the airport management and apparently some of their bosses too when the authors claimed that 'Huge flaws in security existed'.

Such a public washing of dirty laundry is almost unprecedented and calls of course into question who is overall responsible for aviation security, the airport management or a specialised police and security organ force deployed to keep buildings and passengers safe.
The letter also suggests that police officers and security agency personnel deployed before the bombing last Tuesday had on numerous occasions pointed out a range of crucial shortcomings, issues they now want to be fully resolved before they will allow traffic to resume.
This entire scenario begs comparison with East Africa of course and more recent developments for instance in Nairobi. Following an attempt to use explosives which thankfully proved to be a dud, did the Kenya Airport Authority on the fast track create a 20 lane entry security control area outside the main perimeter, where passengers must undergo personal scanning while security operatives and police check vehicles for suspicious packages or bags.

This has been in place at Entebbe International Airport's perimeter fence already for several years after threats by Al Shabab following the deployment of Ugandan troops to Somalia.

Few airports in the region now allow direct access to the terminal by vehicle any longer, to ensure that a potential car bomb could only be set off at a safer distance to the terminals.
Measures like these, including entry security checks on travelers and their bags, before entering the terminal are also standard across East Africa, where in addition ONLY passengers are now allowed into the terminal, unlike in places this correspondent recently visited like Frankfurt, Strasbourg and of course Brussels. Cafes, restaurants, snack bars were all teeming with a mix of travelers and family or friends dropping them off at the airport and having a meal, snack or drink before checking in and then proceeding to the boarding gates, those of course located in a sanitized security area only accessible following strict scans for hand baggage and items carried by passengers.

The letter of the Belgian police in fact appears to blame the laxity of access security to the terminal for the bombing, saying that the terrorists had ample opportunity to scout the terminal and find weak and vulnerable points before carrying out the attack. Most damning however was the submission in the letter that even convicted criminals, and a number of alleged sympathizers of radical organizations, were employed at Zaventem and had security clearances to critical areas.
Discussions are ongoing today, it is understood, and what is clear, airport operations at Zaventem will only commence when the security forces and police detach tasked with aviation security have been successful in seeing their legitimate demands turned into extra security measures.

Suggestions have been made to this correspondent that limited operations may resume the day after tomorrow, Monday 04th April, but no details could be obtained as to which airlines would be first to return to Zaventem. What has however been confirmed is that the restoration and re-opening of the departure / check in area may take until June or even July this year, until which time temporary facilities will have to be used to process travelers from check in to their boarding gates.

Brussels Airlines, the biggest user of the airport, has already stated that flight operations will continue from Liege, Antwerp, Frankfurt and Zurich until at least the 03rd of April inclusive, so travelers with the airline should subscribe to their Twitter handle @flyingbrussels or use other means to ascertain where their booked flights will take off from come Monday 04th April.

Strike threats by Brussels airport police expose the soft underbelly of Europe's aviation security

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