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Air security to get even tighter

Tighter security after September 11 has meant longer lines at airports
Tighter security after September 11 has meant longer lines at airports  

By CNN's Jim Boulden

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Changes to air security after September 11 were swift -- and visible.

No more silverware on board. No more visits to the cockpit. Doors to cockpits have not only been reinforced, many will become bullet proof.

But most visible of all have been longer lines that have come with more intense passenger screening, more body searches and more random bag searches.

More potentially dangerous objects have been confiscated from hand luggage. But passengers are growing tired of giving up possessions.

"I think tolerance levels were extremely high after September 11. Now people are less tolerant and less understanding about how some of these items need to be confiscated," says Ian Hutcheson, director of security for BAA, the British Airports Authority which owns and operates seven UK airports, including London's Heathrow and Gatwick.

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But recent reports of fake guns making it passed security screeners, plus numerous charges of cleaning staff using false working documents, raise questions of how effective the stepped-up security is at the world's airports.

"The security system is 10-15 percent better," says Chris Yates of Jane's Transport. "I would have liked to have seen the system 50, 60, 70 percent better. After all, we have had 12 months to get our acts together and do something about it."

There are more security changes coming.

U.S. airports are supposed to screen all checked luggage by the end of this year. Meeting that goal is proving difficult, and Congress may push the deadline back by a further year.

And though security experts are impressed by the new federally hired screeners in U.S. airports, there are doubts that all 30,000 of them will be in place by the mid-November target.

"I think the time scales the Americans set themselves were extremely ambitious, understandably so in the light of what happened," says Douglas Barrie of Aviation Week.

"You would want to get everything in place, effectively, yesterday. It was always going to be difficult."

Much of what the United States is putting into place already exists at Europe's bigger airports as a result of earlier terror attacks.

The bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 led to the screening of all checked baggage in London by machine -- and some of it by hand.

The recent arrest of a man in Sweden attempting to carry a gun on board a flight is seen as proof that Europe's security is airtight.

Then again, Richard Reid was allowed to board a pre-Christmas American Airlines flight in Paris with explosives hidden in his shoes -- even after security pulled him off an earlier flight. That's why passengers' shoes are checked now.

An increase in the more public aspects of security was also important to restore public confidence in travelling again. That seems to have been largely a success.

At many European airports like Heathrow, the number of flights and the number of passengers are almost back to pre-September 11 figures.

And to keep those numbers growing, the industry is working hard to introduce even more security measures without slowing business down any further.

Passenger profiling, iris recognition machines, background checks for all airport employees and bomb-sniffing machines are all to be introduced slowly -- and, security officials hope, without much notice to most passengers.




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