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Thursday, 1 February, 2001, 13:07 GMT
Lockerbie 'could happen again'
Wreckage at Lockerbie
Terrorists could breach security at rogue airports, it is claimed
Another Lockerbie tragedy could happen today because of lax security in parts of Europe, it has been claimed.

An air security expert has told BBC News Online that, despite the huge strides forward in safety since Lockerbie, it would still be theoretically possible for a new bombing to be carried out.


Some places in the former Soviet Union have abysmal security

Kieran Daly, Air Transport Intelligence
And astonishingly, terrorists could even stand a chance of repeating exactly the same technique: booking a through-ticket from a short-haul flight onto a longer one, and managing to get the unaccompanied luggage on board.

In theory, any unaccompanied baggage has to be checked by hand, the expert explained. In practice, it does not always happen.

"The major gateway airports for long haul flights are as secure as secure can be, but out in the provinces where the feeder airlines operate it's a different story," one expert told the BBC.

Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi
Lockerbie bomber Megrahi: Unaccompanied bags reached long-haul flight
"But that could have an impact further down the line.

"Someone boarding a plane at a small Russian airport, say Vladivostok, where security is not tight, to catch a connecting flight from Moscow could get luggage on to the flight."

In theory, that baggage would be checked, but oversights or sloppy practices mean it does not always happen.

Other experts agree that ,while major European airports have closed the Lockerbie loophole, others remain slapdash.

"There is horrifically poor security at some airports in the world," says Kieran Daly, editor of internet journal Air Transport Intelligence.

Pan Am Flight 103 baggage hold
Flight 103's shattered baggage hold - bomb-proof technology now exists
"Some places in the former Soviet Union have abysmal security, although they are less likely terrorist targets.

"It would be extremely hard for another Lockerbie to happen at any major European airports."

All that is assuming - as with Lockerbie - that the bomber's intention is to plant the bomb and live.

Suicide bombers pose a whole new danger, and getting yourself and a bomb onto the same plane is that much less complicated.

Experts admit that a suicide bomber even stands a slim chance of breaching even the best security systems currently operating.


For some countries in the old Soviet bloc, it is a question of whether the national finances will allow for the upgrades to security which are necessary

Aviation expert
Chris Yates
Even in Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania, security levels are only now being improved to international standards set out under the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC), after the countries signed up for membership.

And bringing security up to scratch will prove expensive.

"For some countries in the old Soviet bloc, it is a question of whether the national finances will allow for the upgrades to security which are necessary," says Chris Yates, Aviation Security Editor for Jane's Information Group.

Suitcase fragments
Pieces of the suitcase were painstaking put back together
In Germany alone, airports will spend $300m on restructuring airports to allow for 100% screening of all checked-in baggage, says the former head of security at Germany's Lufthansa airline, Juergen Loos, now an airline consultant.

"But you cannot guarantee the same standards outside Europe. Sometimes the standard abroad is very low," he says.

He says there have even been examples of airports putting on a show of efficiency for a team of German Government inspectors which visits any new Lufthansa destination.

"When the delegation is there everything is fine, but once they're gone it changes," he says.


At the time of Lockerbie, what happened to PanAm could have happened to other airlines... now it's much more difficult to sabotage baggage but there still remains a risk

Ex- Lufthansa security chief
Juergen Loos
Lufthansa will withdraw flights if there is a danger to security - but other airlines might not do the same.

Advances in technology are being made all the time. A new generation of scanners, due for launch soon, will illuminate a warning light if suspect material shows up - reducing the current scope for operator error.

Bomb-proof holds have been developed, although experts and some Lockerbie relatives, including leading UK spokesman Jim Swire, have criticised airliners for appearing reluctant to invest in them.

Dr Jim Swire
Jim Swire: Backs bomb-proof holds, but most airlines are resisting
And by 2002, every single item of hold baggage flown within the ECAC area will have to be screened. Belgium and the UK are among the first European countries to have achieved the target.

But even after the 2002 deadline, countries outside the ECAC zone will not need to comply.

Experts agree that giant strides in security have been made since Lockerbie - but there is no room for complacency.

"At the time of Lockerbie, what happened to PanAm could have happened to other airlines, but now it's different," says Juergen Loos.

"It's much more difficult to sabotage baggage, but there still remains a risk."


We will never get a 100% foolproof system, and we will never make air travel 100% safe

Chris Yates
Chris Yates agrees that Europe has learned the lessons of Lockerbie.

"Lockerbie did not present us with any option but to apply new methods and stop such an outrage happening again," he said.

But he warns that air security can never be guaranteed.

"We will never get a 100% foolproof system, and we will never make air travel 100% safe," he said.

"There will always be someone who attempts it and succeeds - maybe only 0.01% chance, but we cannot rule it out."


Full verdicts
Lockerbie opinion posted by Scots Court Service
Lockerbie megapuff graphic

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See also:

01 Feb 01 | In Depth
01 Feb 01 | In Depth
01 Feb 01 | In Depth
31 Jan 01 | Europe
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