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Security recommendations not enforced Airports face downgrade

Sunday, July 7, 2013

This country’s airports run the risk of being down-graded again if various security mechanisms are not implemented soon. A Sunday Guardian investigation has discovered that both the Piarco and ANR International Airports are yet to take corrective measures to address security weakness at the airports which were highlighted in an audit last year. The security concerns have been raised on numerous occasions to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who chairs the National Security Council



In 2001, Piarco International was downgraded to a Category 2 airport and this affected the operations of then national carrier British West Indian Airways (BWIA). Some of the setbacks of this action included BWIA not being able to expand its flights to the USA, use its new airbus to the USA and being unable to “quote-share” passengers with airlines such as American Airlines.


On August 2, 2005, however, Piarco was returned to Category 1 status by the US government’s Federal Aviation Authority (FAA). The ANR Robinson Airport was officially given this status in 2011 after its facilities were upgraded. The Sunday Guardian was reliably informed that following the release of the audit during the first quarter of 2012, the T&T Civil Aviation Authority (TTCAA) submitted a report, dated February 27, of security audit findings for both airports. 


The audit findings were critical of the AATT’s failure to “effectively manage its security operations and non-implementation of corrective measures to previous audit findings”. This included a lack of training and continuous training for its officers and also not having proper equipment to monitor activities at the airports. Three months ago, the Sunday Guardian learnt that then AATT deputy chairman Kurt Ajodha, acting on the advice of Transport Minister Chandresh Sharma, disbanded a security committee.


The committee had been set up by the Ministry of National Security in September last year and had the responsibility for maintaining security at both the Piarco and ANR Airports. The national security ministry, in confirming the establishment of the committee, stated: “This security committee would be responsible for setting clear guidelines on the strategies to be developed for aviation security in T&T.” The security ministry noted that the committee “would be under the authority of the Ministry of National Security and not the AATT”.


The AATT falls under Sharma’s portfolio and sources say both Sharma and Ajodha acted outside their remit by disbanding the committee. 


The AATT Act states that the security committee shall consist of a chairman to be appointed by the chairman of the National Security Council, which is the Prime Minister; the chairman of the Airports Authority; the Chief of Defence Staff; the Commanding Officer of the Regiment; the Commissioner of Police; the Chief Fire Officer and a senior officer appointed by the chairman of the National Security Council.


The act further states that “the security committee is accountable directly to the Prime Minister and in their absence to the Minister responsible for National Security.” Sunday Guardian investigations have revealed that the committee met in September last year and agreed inter alia to the establishment of a sub-committee comprising personnel from the AATT.


National Security sources say the mandate of this committee was to conduct a comprehensive review of security at the two airports. A “highly confidential report” was completed and submitted to Persad-Bissessar. The report made several recommendations, including that certain employees with strong security training and expertise be elevated and the further training of personnel and the acquisition of security equipment. The recommendations were accepted by the National Security Council.


However, the sub-committee tasked with overseeing the implementation of the security changes was dismissed three months ago. Some of the recommendations of the committee, sources say, included “that the x-ray machines at the check point and hold baggage rooms be replaced with machines having explosive trace detection (ETD) capability, either stand alone or within a system grid; the implementation of portable explosive trace detection machines and portable x-ray machines for the purpose of effectively dealing with unattended baggage  and explosive containment units be purchased for both airports and the training personnel for using such machinery. 


The report also recommended the acquisition of a B-Scan Dual View Body Scanner used for detecting drugs, prohibited items, narcotics and contraband concealed beneath clothing, inside artificial limbs or the human body for the departure area. Also highlighted were places deemed as compromised in and around both airports and what ought to be done to ensure the points were secured.


Several efforts to contact Sharma and Ajodha were unsuccessful, as calls and text messages sent to their cell phones were not returned or answered.


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