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Pilots worried about aircraft security

Airline pilots are seriously concerned about inconsistencies in the security screening of ground and air staff at Australia's major airports.

The Australian Airline Pilots Association is questioning why its 5000 members are subjected to stricter screening than others with aircraft access, including baggage handlers, cleaners and catering staff. "It's an inconsistency that needs to be rectified, particularly in light of the recently enhanced screening arrangements at Australian airports," President Murray Butt said on Wednesday.The demand for action echoes calls by transport workers and federal police as airport security is tightened following an alleged foiled plot to bomb or gas a passenger plane out of Sydney. Pilots are also unconvinced about private contractors doing security screening rather than a government agency. Captain Butt says these issues have been raised with the government in the past but have fallen on deaf ears. 

Senator Nick Xenophon, who spearheaded a recent inquiry into aviation security, will urge the government to plug the screening gap when parliament returns next week. "I have great respect for the work that ground crew at airports do but this loophole fails to pass the most cursory of pub tests," he said.

The Transport Workers Union has also panned airport security, saying high staff turnover means workers without security clearance are being granted access to high-risk areas. National secretary Tony Sheldon says casual staff are allowed behind the scenes without adequate training. He wants a single authority in charge of national airport safety.

Police fear organised crime figures are getting work at airports and ports and exploiting their security passes to influence the screening of cargo and passengers. More than 60 organisations and companies can issue aviation and maritime security identification cards, with the AFP warning the more people who can dish them out, the more vulnerable they become.

There are 250,000 aviation and maritime security cards issued but the regulator responsible cannot say how many workers have ceased employment and not given their cards back. The passes are issued by organisations including airlines, the immigration department and port operators, and while the Office of Transport Security runs card-return campaigns, nobody has ever been fined for refusing. The agency is investigating adding biometrics to security cards and cutting the number of issuers. It is also boosting screening of airport staff working in restricted areas, expanding the scope of background checks and forcing those who issue ID cards to verify identities face-to-face.
Anyone with links to serious or organised crime would be blocked from getting identification cards under legislation before parliament.