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Tuesday, 3 October, 2000, 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK
Security: The standards at Stansted
Stansted
Stansted airport, where year-on-year growth is 30%
Stansted airport has been accused of having failed an anti-terrorism test. How does the airport manage its security?

One of Europe's fastest growing airports, Stansted last year dealt with almost 10 million passengers.

It mainly serves European and Mediterranean destinations, as well as Tel Aviv in Israel and North America.

Earlier this year, the airport found itself at the centre of a tense four-day stand-off between hijackers of an Afghan airliner and UK authorities.

Ronald Reagan airport, Washington
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It was the third hi-jacking drama at Stansted in 25 years. The airport has been specially designated by British authorities to deal with such events, because planes can be kept away from terminal buildings and other aircraft during negotiations.

As with all airports run by the British Airports Authority, security at Stansted is divided between airlines, which handle checked-in baggage, and the BAA itself.

The authority is responsible for personal and hand-luggage security, and it is this that has been called into question by the latest Department of Transport checks.

According to a report carried in The Sun newspaper, security guards at Stansted failed to detect a gun and fake bomb "smuggled" through security in normal government-authorised checks.

But former army officer and specialist in anti-terrorism security, Mike Yardley, has said any system is breachable if groups or individuals are determined enough.

Standards set down

Minimum security standards are set down by international regulation and more specific procedures are detailed by the Department of Transport, Environment and the Regions.

BAA's security performance is overseen by a safety, security and environment committee.

X-ray baggage check
X-ray checks: Stansted is accused of failing standards
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 has to go through an X-ray machine while individuals pass through an archway metal detector.

If passengers activate the metal detector they must, by law, undergo a hand search.

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

Tighten up

The constant menace of terrorism in the skies 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.

Behind the scenes, the company has spent millions of pounds installing equipment for screening hold baggage - bags handed over at check-in - which is operated by the individual airlines.

But some experts argue more still needs to be done.

Images from Secure 1000 system, OSI Systems Inc
The way ahead? Hands-off security screening
In the United States, the Federal Aviation Authority is making efforts to tighten standards when it comes to X-ray baggage screening.

It is now deploying an automated screener testing system, called Threat Image Projection, which runs on X-ray machines.

The system randomly projects electronic images of guns, knives and explosive devices on to bags going through the X-ray machines to keep screening staff on their toes.

The walk-though metal detector has also been usurped by advances in X-ray-type technology that "photographs" passengers to reveal what they are carrying.

The equipment is said to be cheaper and safer than metal detectors or "pat-down" searches, revealing small metal objects such as razor blades and coins and wire.

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