Airport security amid cargo flight ban

Dhaka,  Fri,  22 September 2017
Published : 09 Aug 2017, 20:09:45

Airport security amid cargo flight ban

Shahiduzzaman Khan
The recent killing of a member of Bangladesh Ansar force by a knife-wielding attacker at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport raises serious questions about the security system of the country's busiest airport. This week's haul of 30 kilograms (kgs) gold at the airport also suggests vulnerability of the airport's security system.

Australia, European Union (EU), the United Kingdom (UK) and Germany had earlier imposed direct cargo flight ban on Dhaka airport due to increasing security concerns. All the countries happen to be the country's large destinations for readymade garments (RMG) products. Many other countries have also threatened to enforce such ban.

Although Australia has lifted the ban recently, Europe-bound cargo is facing a restriction from many other countries for alleged failure of Bangladesh to ensure proper security at the airport. At a time when maximum efforts are being given to prevent the rise of terrorism after a series of militant attacks, knife-wielding attack is obviously a testimony to the alleged failure of airport security system.

The airport incidents did reveal the inefficient, weak and obsolete natures of the airport's management structure. There is no denying that the airport is a gigantic mega-structure and covers a broad area. Apart from the passengers, there are countless persons working there. The government has a plan to establish a modern multimode surveillance system at the airport under a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) project, but the task has yet to be accmplished.

Late last year, the landing of the Prime Minister's plane at the airport was delayed due to some metallic parts of an aircraft left behind on the runway. The airport's radar failed to detect it in time. Three committees were formed to probe the incident. Probe report submitted by a committed raised serious questions about the quality of the airport's control tower and competence of the manpower dealing with it.

The findings of the report came up with suggestions that the radars as well as 12 important pieces of equipment of the airport control tower needed to be either replaced or repaired as those are not working properly. It also said that over 200 flights of different airlines take off from and land at the airport every day amid risks as the radars and guidance system that are being used at the airport are about 33 years old. The primary radar system was installed at the airport in 1984 while the second one in 1986. As the lifetime of the two radars expired in 1994 and 1996 respectively, the authorities repaired those several times, causing a serious problem to air traffic management.

Now the primary radar has almost become dysfunctional while the second one sometimes fails to detect air traffic, and it remains operational for only 12-15 hours a day. Good news is that the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) is now planning to launch a multimodal surveillance system, including radar and other equipment at the airport.

Applications of the entire system, deemed as the critical component of modern air traffic systems, include airport surface surveillance and high surveillance updates in the terminal and en route to airspace for enabling the functions of automation.

According to reports, an internationally-reputed British contractor was engaged in strengthening the security situation at the airport. It is said to be working jointly with the Bangladesh government to ensure safety and security of transportation, scanning and screening of goods and cargoes.

But the cargo ban by the EU and the UK is causing tremendous losses to the country's trade. Bangladesh is losing in the cost of doing business not just for the RMG sector, but also for perishable items that use airway routes to reach their products to overseas destinations. 

Cargo screening by a third country in case of flights bound for Europe, if tried, will raise costs. Regardless of what the authorities now claim about taking measures since the first cargo ban, double checking will push up the costs and make the airport unsafe, undermining the country's  image globally.

The fresh British warning has given rise to apprehension about Bangladesh's vegetable exports to the UK. The RMG export has already been affected. It is imperative that immediate action should be taken to ensure tight security at the international airport in Dhaka and other airports of the country.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) has been trying to form an aviation security force (AVSEC) with 1735 members since 2011. The government has already approved the organogram for deploying additional security personnel. Necessary fund needs to be allocated for its immediate launch.

Once such a force is created and trained properly by international experts, the airport security issue can be better addressed.

Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
Published by the Editor for International Publications Limited from Tropicana Tower (4th floor), 45, Topkhana Road, GPO Box : 2526 Dhaka- 1000 and printed by him from City Publishing House Ltd., 1 RK Mission Road, Dhaka-1000.
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