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Monday, August 30, 2010

Local RP air travel boom threatened by stringent safety, security measures

FILIPINOS who have only recently discovered the fun in air travel are
facing an increasingly stringent security regime at the country’s
airports. And it may be a matter of time before airport security takes
all the fun out of air travel.

The stringent security measures are a contrast to the robust growth of
the local airline industry.

According to the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, there
were 8.39 million domestic air passengers in the first half of this
year, up 10 percent from the same period a year ago.

The emergence of low-cost carriers like Cebu Pacific Airways accounts
for much of the dizzying growth of commercial aviation in the
Philippines.

Cebu Pacific carried four million passengers in the first half of the
year, up 13 percent over year-ago figures. It is now the biggest local
airline in terms of passenger load, with a market share of 48.75
percent.

Philippine Airlines has seen its passenger traffic fall by 10 percent
to 2.8 million passengers this year.

But the slack has been picked up by sister company Air Philippines
which saw a three-fold hike in passenger load in the first half, from
254,244 last year to 667,686 this year.

The brisk growth, however, is slowly being tempered by the constant
increases in security measures at the local airports.

The long queues at the airport terminals—a result of baggage
processing via x-ray machines, plus body-frisking, inspections of
personal effects, and more body-frisking—say it all.

Not even the President, top government officials, and VIPs are
exempted from the rigorous exercise everytime they travel by air.

Terrorism has cast a very long shadow on the travel industry, and both
government agencies and private companies have invested millions of
pesos in equipment and man-hours to help address the security
concerns.

Ironically, these measures also dampen travelers’ appetite for trips.

Body scanners are the latest tools used by airports worldwide to
thwart terrorism.

There are currently four types of scanning machines used at airports
worldwide. These are the Terahertz, the Backscatter, the
Milimeterwave, and the Arcscan x-ray technologies.

All of these full body scanners reflect items on the surface of the
body that detect different types of plastic explosives through
different type of clothing.

But these scanners also make even the most seasoned travelers queasy.
Body scanners, after all, essentially paint a nude picture of the
traveler.

Body scanners even allow screeners access to otherwise confidential
medical information.

The Backscatter and Arcscan have more features that address the
privacy issue as this technology provides automatic coverage of a
person’s private parts. And this part of the body scan cannot be
deactivated by the operator.

Body scanners are strong enough to see objects inside the body,
including drugs and other paraphernalia that so-called “drug mules”
swallow, as well as hidden objects like plastic weapons in “skin
caves” and “vaginal and anal imported items.”

Airport security agencies continue to assess current procedures and
technology in an effort to put some fun into air travel again.

But 20-second passenger processing, minus the clothes stripping and
removal of shoes and belts, is still a thing of the future.

Until that time, air travelers will have to bear the inconvenience—and
the occasional embarrassment—in the name of safety and security.

http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/insideNation.htm?f=2010/august/30/nation5.isx&d=2010/august/30

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