New counter-terrorism measures will soon be unveiled to improve security at regional airports, but concerns are growing the costs involved could make flights to some towns unviable.
The Federal Government’s plans for major security upgrades to regional airports is expected to be announced in the next few weeks.
The ABC understands the changes will include mandating more scanning of passengers and baggage at regional airports and in some more remote locations.
Earlier this year, a terrorism plot to smuggle a bomb aboard a flight at Sydney airport was thwarted, but it prompted the Federal Government to re-assess airport security.
Regional airports were identified as a weak link and around 170 have now been reviewed.
Currently, there is no mandatory screening of passengers when a plane weighs less than 20 tonnes, meaning travellers can arrive at major capital city airports unchecked.
In some regional airports, there are carriers flying larger jets that have to scan their passengers, while competitors with smaller jets flying exactly the same routes do not have to.
The ABC understands this will be altered under the changes to be announced, as well as the option of full body scanners being introduced to some of the larger regional airports.
The extra scanning would be a prominent security upgrade, but not necessarily the most effective, according to experts.
“You can scan their bags but if you want to put a bomb on board, you can still do it,” aviation security consultant Roger Henning told the ABC.
“You just put the parcel in as air freight, hand it over the counter, it goes on the aeroplane.
“It’s a shemozzle.”
Regional air service ‘already borderline’
That concerns Opposition infrastructure and transport spokesman, Anthony Albanese, who wants safety and the needs of regional communities to be factored in alongside counter-terrorism concerns.
If the cost of new security regulations is passed on to owners and operators of regional airlines and airports, it could threaten the viability of services.
“I’d be concerned about a number of regional airports that operate at very low margins now, that are run by the local governments,” Mr Albanese said.
“[They] provide essentially a lifeline to the economy of those regional cities by giving access to the capital cities on a daily basis.”
Aviation security consultant, Roger Henning, agreed some of the regional air services were “already borderline, if not already, trading on the edge of absolute insolvency.”
“These airports are vital to people who live outside of capital cities and we’ve been very slack indeed in terms of addressing their needs.”
He believes there needs to be a differentiation between security concerns facing major airports and the safety issues for regional and remote airports.
“It’s a security risk but not a terrorist security risk. It’s a risk that something will go wrong, an incident will involve an aeroplane.”
Mr Dutton declined to comment.
Airfield fencing critical for protecting wildlife
Basic upgrades would go a long way to improving pilot and passenger safety, according the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS).
Proper fencing for smaller airfields would not only keep people out of secure spaces, but also animals.
Wildlife poses “quite a significant threat,” said RFDS Operations manager for south-eastern Australia, David Charlton.
“Constantly, throughout the year we’re taking measures to avoid large wildlife on runways and within airfield perimeter areas such as kangaroos an other animals.
“At least once or twice a year we have an event relating to wildlife that not only presents a threat to aviation safety in terms of passengers, staff and patients, but also to the aircraft.”
Concerns are not just at dusty airfields in the outback. Wildlife has been a problem for airports such as the Sunshine Coast, Essendon, Taree and others on the New South Wales mid-north coast.
For the RFDS, fencing is critical infrastructure that will help prevent both crashes and malicious attacks.
“You can’t add additional security protocols until you’ve got the basic fencing requirements met, so it certainly appears to be a good place to start.”