Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Security concerns continue


Despite the amazing advances in technology and engineering, global air travel has been most impacted by a very basic and ancient human behaviour – aggression. Sad to say, but there is nothing that has changed the way we travel more so than acts of terrorism.

For the vast majority, the air travel experience has now become tedious and stressful, due in no small part to the increasingly restrictive security measures implemented at the points of entry and departure. Comfort and expediency are now key watchwords for passengers as they have to hustle to meet strictly enforced boarding times for flights; in easily removable items of clothing.

Nonetheless, we certainly understand the need for precautions. When one is about to be suspended thousands of feet in the air, the more that can be done to enhance feelings of safety, the better. However, the most recent tragedy involving Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 has given onlookers around the world a new shock as it raises new, perhaps seldom considered questions related to air travel and safety.

First, there is the question of the routes that are used by airliners to transport their passengers. It is assumed by the travelling public that these would have been sanctioned by some authority that is tasked with monitoring the situation and providing appropriate updates to airline authorities. However, the MH17 incident has revealed that there are instances where commercial airlines may still be operating in controversial airspace; indeed, it was in response to the Malaysian Airlines crash that other commercial carriers announced their decision to change routes. Prior to this incident, however, making the call to re-route planes must have been a difficult one for airliners. They would need to balance the probability of being caught in crossfire with the effect that re-routing would no doubt have on scheduling and fuel costs. Of course, now that civilians have indeed been killed, the decision is quite easy.

This also leads one to question whether passengers should be given information about the intended route for their flight, so that they might decide for themselves whether they are willing to take the risk of travelling through a potentially dangerous area. However, releasing this type of information might only serve to introduce another security threat, as it might make the task of would-be terrorists and hijackers that much easier.

Another security issue that the MH17 crash has highlighted is related to the passengers themselves. It has been reported that the AIDS research community is currently reeling from this incident, since over 100 researchers and advocates in this field were on that plane en route to the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia. It is already common practice for world leaders to travel separately to summits and similar events, but what about top technocrats and experts? As seen in this tragic example, they are often valuable repositories of knowledge and losing them can be just as serious a blow to the world as the loss of a political leader. This may well need to be an important consideration going forward for any organisation sending a delegation to an event anywhere in the world.

We all long for the day when we can fly with fewer restrictions, but until that time, all we can do in the face of such tragedies is to mourn for those lost, regroup and put strategies in place to minimise or eliminate such senseless loss from recurring.

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