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Saturday, 22 September, 2001, 12:26 GMT 13:26 UK
Pilots back passenger screening
Armed police at Heathrow Airport
Pilots want better security measures at UK airports
British airline pilots say a new high-tech security system could prevent future hijacks and should be installed at UK airports.

The system, developed by QinetiQ, is designed to pick up suspicious passengers before they board planes, by checking passport details against a database of suspects.

It could also be used to spot people using fake passports, passengers with a history of air rage, and criminals wanted by the police.

The British Airline Pilots' Association (Balpa) believes this will be more effective than introducing new security measures on board planes, such as armed guards or extra cockpit security.

This system could give us the ability to stop potential terrorists from boarding our aircraft

Capt Ian Hibberd
Balpa's security committee chairman, Captain Ian Hibberd, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It has always been our belief that although such things might have a part to play in the final solution, the focus must be on stopping terrorists and preventing disruptive passengers from boarding our aircraft in the first place.

"We believe this system could give us the ability to stop potential terrorists from boarding our aircraft."

Faster check-in

Capt Hibberd said airlines could feed information on potentially disruptive passengers and people who use fraudulent tickets into a central database.

The Home Office could also supply information on false passports and people wanted by the police or Customs and Excise, he said.

"One of the aspects of this is something called Border Guard, developed by Imaging Automation. When that is added to the QinetiQ database, it will actually validate the passport as soon as it is read."

Capt Hibberd said the system would make it "very unlikely" that anyone with a false passport would make it on to a plane.

Faster security checks would also benefit ordinary passengers, he added.

"They will be able to check in, in a far quicker way than they do at the moment, because it will be automated and their name will be run against the database."

The system could be adapted to target different types of passenger in the future and would not leave taxpayers with a hefty bill, said Capt Hibberd.

"We believe it will be self-financing within a couple of years."

New scanner

QinetiQ, the public-private partnership which took on much of the work of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, has also developed a scanner to detect objects missed by metal detectors.

Scanner in action
The scanner picks out a ceramic knife hidden under this newspaper
The Millimetre Wave Camera would find weapons like the ceramic knives believed to have been used by some of the hijackers involved in the terror attacks on America.

It works by detecting naturally occurring radiation as it reflects off different objects.

Knives or guns hidden in clothing or baggage appear on the scanner's display as distinct illuminated shapes.

The device can also detect a person's body shape, showing up concealed objects, and can cope with three times more passengers than conventional scanners.

The system has been tested at Eurotunnel's Calais terminal, where it was used to uncover asylum seekers hiding in the back of lorries.

The BBC's Tom Heap
"British airports are among the most secure in the world"
IanHibberd, British Airline Pilots Association
"After any aviation incident there are full reviews"

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See also:

18 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
Scanner 'could boost air security'
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