Terrorist attack at Moscow airport is a brutal wake up call


(eTN) – The terrorist blast which occurred at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport on the evening of January 24 is one of the most deadly attacks at a civil airport in many years. The carnage it has caused with over 30 killed and 90 wounded is rightfully the main focus of concern right now. This article will not speculate on who is responsible or the human tragedy it has caused. However, it is important and I hope not insensitive to consider the tourism security implications of this attack.

After 9/11, the International Air Transport Association, International Civil Aviation Organization, Airports Council International, and Federal Aviation Administration of the USA all joined forces to harden security for airlines and airports around the world. Overall, the measures they agreed to has greatly enhanced airline and airport security globally. Consequently, many terrorist-related attacks on tourism and tourism infrastructure shifted to hotels, tour coaches, and other more vulnerable links in the tourism security cycle.

The Tourism Security Cycle
Despite the improvements in airport security over the past decade, it has been notable that the level of security on the air side of airports is considerably higher than it is on the land side. The passenger and baggage screening process normally commences at check-in for departing passengers and airside commences after departing passengers have been screened for hand luggage and personal items. For international arriving passengers, baggage pick-up normally occurs airside up until the exit from customs to the arrival hall. However, for domestic passengers, baggage pick-up can often occur landside, which adds a level of threat from terrorists who may have concealed weapons in their checked luggage.

The problem for Domodedovo Airport and for the people either arriving or waiting to greet arrivals was that the distance between the baggage pick-up and the publlc arrival reception area was so small and the barrier so thin that a powerful suicide bomb was able to wreak carnage on what appears to be both airside and landside.

The ongoing relative vulnerability of landside security at airports all over the world has resulted in tragic consequences in Moscow, but the problem is not confined to Moscow. In March 2009, a man was killed at Sydney Airport in a motorcycle gang brawl, which erupted landside, and security officers were slow to respond. In fact, almost all violent criminal or terrorist attacks at airports over the past 20 years have occurred landside.

The solution to the landside vulnerability of the world’s airports is not easily achieved. The simple fact is that sealing airside is easier to do than landside. On airside, passenger numbers are confined to actual travelers who have usually been double or triple screened. On landside, numbers are vast with welcomers for arriving passengers and service providers plus friends and family of departing passengers. Surveillance certainly occurs landside, but the Moscow bombing now begs the question as to whether some form of screening of the public arriving at a major airport is now required to deter and prevent the horrific carnage that occurred at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport last night. As Peter Tarlow and other tourism security experts have pointed out in eTurboNews, the bad guys look for weak spots and vulnerability when choosing a point of attack against international and domestic tourists. Unfortunately, landside at Domodedovo airport was today’s target, but all major airports have to heed the lesson from last night’s atrocity.

David Beirman, the author of this article, is a Senior Lecturer in Tourism at the University of Technology-Sydney.