Fear of flying

May 4, 2011

Seventy-four percent of UK citizens believe that airports and aeroplanes are vulnerable to a malicious or terrorist attack.

So finds the latest Unisys Security Index*, announced today, a global survey that seeks to provide insights into consumers’ general perception of security. Unisys says that UK public anxiety has reached its peak since they began the bi-annual review in 2007, and it is driven by concerns about terrorism, financial issues and identity theft.

According to counter-terrorism expert Neil Fisher, vice president of Global Security Solutions at Unisys, the public are right to be concerned and knee-jerk approaches to security aren’t working.

Fisher told me that the UK public’s sense of security was stable up until a year ago, even after the so-called underpants bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, attempted to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight over Detroit in December 2009. Fisher is surprised in the anxiety spike since then, which seems to have increased across the board.

That over three-quarters of those surveyed were nervous about air travel shows that governments haven’t got it right and aren’t regulating properly, says Fisher. He compares aviation with the maritime arena, where a top-down, holistic approach to security, regulated by the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code, means that only those who have signed the agreement can trade with each other.

Air-side, however, we see a knee-jerk reaction to each new security breach. Explosives found hidden in shoes? Take your shoes off at many security checkpoints. An attempt to use bombs made from liquid explosives? No liquids on the plane above 100ml.

Following a number of security threats in 2010, we have, Fisher thinks, reached the end of the road with this “point” approach. Travellers need to be reassured that more thought is going into keeping them safe when on the move.

“Until government and industry come together to address these vulnerabilities in a more collaborative and integrated fashion, the public’s confidence will continue to suffer,” says Fisher.

Nearly two-thirds of the UK public also believe, the survey reveals, that large gatherings, like the London Olympics, are targets for malicious attack. Despite these fears, a million lined London’s streets for the royal wedding celebrations last weekend.

Fisher says that the fantastic turnout on 29 April – and the blemish-free proceedings – is a credit to law enforcement, who achieved exactly the right balance in their policing operation the event.

For a company whose business it is to help clients secure their operations, the Unisys survey could be seen by some as an occasion for gleeful hand-rubbing. However, Fisher says that Unisys does these studies to inform clients (in the private and public sectors) as to what customers and consumers worries are. They can then work together to try and alleviate them.

For the aviation industry, supra-national regulation looks unlikely in the near term. Even the lifting of the liquids ban, which the EU aims to achieve by April 2013, is causing a kerfuffle. A partial lift has now been postponed twice in case ‘passenger disruption’ ensues.

Speaking on the issue, the European airlines association (AEA) stated that “We need a harmonised approach, not a fragmented patchwork of national policies. EU member states must deliver on their commitments and implement pro-consumer decisions in a unified way.”

This survey goes some way towards highlighting how anxious Joe Public are that this harmonised approach be implemented. And quickly.

*The Unisys Security Index is a bi-annual global study that provides insights into the attitudes of consumers on a wide range of security related issues. Lieberman Research Group conducted the survey in Brazil, Europe and the U.S.; Newspoll conducted the research in Asia-Pacific. Over 11,715 people were surveyed in 12 countries: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Germany, Hong Kong, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Columbia. In the UK, more than 953 UK citizens aged 18 and over responded to the latest survey, conducted from February 11-14, 2011.

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