Is Australia’s Aviation Security Regime Cost And Performance Effective?

By Paul Retter AM

  1. It is almost 10 years since the Federal Government last undertook a detailed review of Australia’s aviation sector and produced a national aviation policy White Paper entitled Flight Path to the Future. The aviation policy White Paper was released to the public in December 2009 by the then Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Anthony Albanese. At that time, the Federal Government analysis concluded that the Australian aviation security (AVSEC) model was cost effective and that it reflected world’s best practice, while remaining flexible to the future challenges confronting the aviation sector.
  2. Ten years on, PBAR Associates has examined whether Australia’s AVSEC regime remains cost effective. This is particularly relevant at a time when both the economic and security environment confronting the Australian aviation sector is becoming more challenging. Australian aviation businesses are facing both global and domestic headwinds. Key decision makers within the Australian aviation industry are worried about issues such as Middle East oil insecurity, the US–China trade war and the softening Australian economy.
  3. We have examined the various layers of AVSEC currently in place across Australia’s security regulated airports and airlines. The paper makes a number of recommendations where it appears there is room for improvements in effectiveness and efficiency (including through reducing costs).
  4. A truly cost-effective AVSEC regime will include many of the following characteristics:
  5. fit-for-purpose legislation/regulation that is outcomes focused
  6. strong operational leadership by industry
  7. a pro-active security culture
  8. an intelligence-led, risk-based layered security regime
  9. well understood and practised security procedures/processes that are integrated with appropriate security technology
  10. an independent security-outcomes assurance regime
  11. well trained and motivated security staff who understand the importance of the resolution of suspicious activity
  12. effective coordination, data sharing and frequent communication between government agencies, security providers and industry operators
  13. In terms of effectiveness, the current AVSEC regime has served Australia reasonably well to date; however, there is room for improvement. Fine-tuning of the AVSEC regime (including its layers of security) needs to occur on a regular basis if it is to remain fit for purpose. Any proposed amendments to the AVSEC regime should be based on a clear and shared understanding of the emerging threats facing the aviation sector, and the need to identify and mitigate the different infrastructure and operations-related vulnerabilities across the aviation sector. This is a shared government and industry responsibility.
  14. Assessing the overall cost effectiveness of the current AVSEC regime is a more challenging and complex task, noting the diversity of aviation industry participants across the sector. The current regime works well at major capital city airports where large passenger numbers reduce the overall security costs per passenger. In regional Australia, reduced flight and passenger numbers result in higher security costs per passenger.
  15. The sustainability of many regional airports is a contentious issue in Australia because the continued provision of affordable air services is a critical economic and cultural factor when assessing the long-term viability of many regional cities and towns.
  16. We have suggested the Aviation and Maritime Security (AMS) Division within the Department of Home Affairs should, in conjunction with other federal government agencies and the key aviation industry participants, examine several proposed enhancements to the existing AVSEC regime. Key enhancements proposed include improving airport access control arrangements; enhancing Aviation Security Identity Card (ASIC) functionality; examining the feasibility of moving to a ‘network pricing’ screening model; and reviewing the proposed new AVSEC screening measures to be adopted by smaller security-controlled regional airports.
  17. These enhancements will encourage the development of a more robust yet cost-effective AVSEC regime. Australia needs a security regime that balances the desired level of robustness in security outcomes in the most economical way – after considering the threats being faced, the risk appetite of the Government, optimal passenger facilitation rates, and the capacity and resources of industry to implement the required AVSEC measures.

Paul Retter is Principal at PBAR Associates and non-executive director at Certis Security Group