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Wednesday, 22 September, 1999, 14:03 GMT 15:03 UK
Standard procedure: UK airport security
xray machine
All hand baggage must pass through an x-ray machine
As the world's busiest international airport, with more than 60 million passengers per year, security is a major concern at Heathrow.

Responsibility is divided between the airlines, which handle checked-in luggage, and the airport operator, British Airports Authority.

It is BAA's role to ensure personal and hand-luggage security.

International standards

Minimum security standards are set by international regulation, and more detailed procedures are set down by the Department of Transport. All airport operators must prove they are complied with.

After check-in, all passengers and staff must go through a security check to pass from "land-side" to "air-side".

Each piece of hand luggage must go through an X-ray machine while individuals walk through an archway metal detector.

If a passenger activates the metal detector they must, by law, undergo a hand search.

A spokesman for BAA said handheld metal detectors, called wands, have been used in the past, but no longer.

"[Hand searches are] a thoroughly tried and tested system which take place thousands of times a day," said the spokesman.

Private room

"It is carried out by highly trained staff. People very rarely complain."

If someone objects to a hand search in public, it can be carried out in a private room with a witness attending.

Passengers who refuse the hand search cannot cross to the "air-side".

Under Department of Transport regulations, airport security staff will also carry out random searches of both passengers and their hand luggage.

The constant threat of terrorism in the air has forced BAA to tighten its security procedures over the years. A third of the company's employees work in security, mostly screening passengers and hand baggage.

The company claims to have established a "clear lead in aviation security" and has even branched out into training other airport operators.

However, flaws have been exposed. A report drawn up by MI5 in 1996 found almost half of Britain's international airports were open to terrorist attack. It did not specify which airports in particular were at risk.

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