The answers were not what we expected.
News reports today suggest the Russian plane that crashed over Egypt’s Sinai peninsula at the weekend, killing all 224 people on board, may have been brought down by an explosive device planted on the plane – possibly by ISIS or an affiliated group.
In other words, someone may have smuggled a bomb on board.
But, having all been subjected to random tests for explosives at airports, limits on on-board liquids and luggage screenings, we were left wondering how this very basic method of terrorism could still occur.
So we asked Geoffrey Thomas, editor-in-chief of airlineratings.com, to answer the many questions we have.
How on earth does a bomb end up on a plane in this day and age?
In Australia, it would be exceedingly difficult to get a bomb on board an aeroplane because of the very disciplined and high level of security we have at our airports. However, it’s a mistake to think that that level of security is reflected right across the globe. In the United States and Europe, you could probably expect a high level of security, but in continents like Africa and some parts of the Middle East, the security level starts to wane considerably. And I would say that in some parts of the world, where there is simply no security whatsoever, it would be relatively easy to get a bomb on board an aeroplane. In a lot of third-world countries, and at remote airfields with a small passenger plane, you probably won’t have any security whatsoever. The further you get away from a first-world country or a major airport, the security lessens.
Flight 7K9268 left from the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. What would security have been like there?
My understanding is that the security there is good, however, good is a relative term. It is probably good for Egypt; it probably wouldn’t stand muster against a country like Australia. And one has to understand that in a lot of these countries in the Middle East at the moment – Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt – there are all sorts of factions warring against each other, warring against the government, and all sorts of divided loyalties.
— Agence France-Presse (@AFP) November 5, 2015
So where does Australia rank in terms of safety?
In my view, Australia ranks probably number one in world as far as security is concerned – ranked equally with the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and New Zealand. In those countries, the security is as good as it can be.
A bomb on a plane seems like an unlikely, and even retro, event given airport security these days – just how likely it is?
It is thankfully very, very rare, although bombs have been getting on aeroplanes for decades (terrorism activities on planes has occurred from the late 1940s). Though it is extremely rare, this is an extremely frightening development. If it turns out that ISIS is responsible for this, it’s something that will be a wake-up call to security agencies across the globe and the level of security will probably be revisited at airports everywhere.
Plane security was massively beefed up following 9/11. Does the level of security wane or become more lax the further away from a big terrorist attack we get?
Typically after a heightened security situation it does wane – we all get complacent, we’re all human. However, balancing that, the sophistication of the equipment to detect a bomb or weapon has increased significantly… though items do slip through. But tests show Australia’s rate of detection is infinitely better than, for instance, in the United States.
I may have watched too many movies, but I’d be more worried about some kind of new-age technical way terrorists could take down a plane. Is this a reality?
I think we’re all guilty of watching too many James Bond films, but the sophistication of terrorist groups is becoming alarming. No one ever expecting anything like 9/11 to happen, and it did. The shoe bomber [a failed attempt in 2001] was another one, and now we’ve all got to take our shoes off. The level of sophistication and level of desire of terrorist groups to wreak havoc cannot be underestimated and we have to be really, really vigilant if we are to assure the travelling public that air travel is safe.
For more on the incident, watch this news report:
Are you feeling anxious about plane travel after what has happened in Egypt?