Philip Hammond: Worldwide airport safety review needed

Airport security around the world will have to be overhauled if it is confirmed the Russian airliner crash in the Sinai was caused by an Islamic State bomb, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has warned.

People light candles during a memorial service at the St.Isaac's Cathedral in St.Petersburg, Russia. Picture: AP

Egyptian investigators have said they have yet to determine whether a noise picked up by the cockpit voice recorder in the final seconds of Metrojet flight 9268 was the sound of the explosion.

However, Mr Hammond reaffirmed that the view of the British authorities was “more likely than not” that the crash, which killed all 224 passengers and crew on board, was the result of a terrorist bomb planted on the aircraft before it took off from Sharm el-Sheikh on 31 October.

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He said that there would have to be a major re-think of airport security in countries where IS –also referred to as Isil or Isis – is active if it turned out that they were behind the attack. “If this turns out to be a device planted by an Isil operative or by somebody inspired by Isil then clearly we will have to look again at the level of security we expect to see in airports in areas where Isil is active,” he said yesterday.

“What we have got to do is ensure that airport security everywhere is at the level of the best and that airport security reflects the local conditions and where there is a higher local threat level that will mean higher levels of security are required.

“That may mean additional costs, it may mean additional delays at airports as people check in.”

Mr Hammond’s comments came as it was reported a CCTV camera station at Sharm el-Sheikh airport where security officials were meant to be monitoring baggage handlers to “make sure that staff don’t put in the bags or take things out”, was routinely abandoned. It was also claimed a number of the CCTV cameras were broken.

A staff member at the airport, who did not want to be named, said monitoring rates were “50/50”, adding that “it happens sometimes that no-one is there”.

The source added that CCTV was a problem throughout the airport. “To tell you the truth, there are a lot of broken CCTV cameras inside Sharm el-Sheikh airport,” the insider said.

Senior aviation experts have also spoken out about the need for airport security to be radically improved.

Matthew Finn, who chaired the international world aviation security conference in Dublin last month, said that the issue of workers such as baggage handlers reaching airside without being screened or subjected to adequate security checks must be addressed following the apparent explosion that downed flight 9268.

“There needs to be an international response in terms of how everybody working in the aviation environment is vetted,” said Mr Finn, managing director of independent aviation security consultants Augmentiq.

“We need to ensure people who come into contact with aircraft in secure areas are the right people. There needs to be an international framework about how everyone working in the airport is screened and by whom.”

Philip Baum, global security expert and editor of Aviation Security International – who chaired a session at the Dublin conference examining possible threats from airport “insiders” – said security needed to become both more unpredictable and thorough to confound future terrorism attempts.

“There would be much better security if you had no idea what type of screening process you were going to go through,” he said. “One person went through advanced imaging technology, one was going to be swabbed, one was going to be frisked – from a terrorist’s point of view that’s a nightmare, and why don’t we do the same with airport employees?

Meanwhile Egyptian officials have begun questioning airport staff and ground aircraft staff involved in servicing the Russian plane.

British holidaymakers, some of whom have been told they may have to wait another eight days before being flown out of Sharm el-Sheikh have said that life-saving medication is running low and that others are struggling as their money runs out.

There are currently around 16,000 British tourists waiting to return home.

One said: “We’re really, really worried – we were due to leave for the UK on Thursday but have now been told we won’t go until Wednesday at the earliest.

“My wife has a heart problem and doesn’t have enough medication to last that long. We’re starting to panic a bit.”

Lee Davis, 42, from Birmingham, had to pay £100 to a local doctor to obtain emergency medical supplies for his colostomy bag. Mr Davis and his wife Taz were on holiday in the resort with children Grace, seven, Willow, nine, and Shannon, ten.

Mrs Davis, 30, said: “If we don’t get home he’ll have to have another £100 consultation with the doctor. We’re just hoping.”

Train steward Paul Heathcote, who was turned away from a rescue flight on Friday, said: “People don’t know where to turn.”

Holidaymaker Rowan Griffiths, said: “Two lads in my hotel have run out of money so they can’t buy anything or go anywhere and are just sitting in reception.

“The Egyptians are embarrassed their security was shown to be a disaster – now they’re taking it out on the trapped tourists. It’s a total shambles and it’s getting worse.”

Around 20,000 British nationals, including several hundred Scots, are estimated to be in the resort. The first Scots flown out of the resort arrived at Glasgow airport just before midnight on Friday.

Passengers described “chaotic” scenes at the airport, with conflicting information and last-minute changes.

Meanwhile thousands of Britons remain stranded in Sharm el-Sheikh as strict security measures at the resort’s airport have delayed flights to bring them home from their holidays.

Tourists returning to the UK described chaotic scenes, with people trampled and hurt as they rushed for planes while swamped security staff carried out only cursory checks.

Holidaymakers stuck in Egypt will continue to return to the UK today as airlines lay on more flights to get them home.

Eight flights are expected to leave Sharm el-Sheikh. Thomas Cook will fly tourists back to Gatwick, while Thomson has planes bound for Gatwick, Birmingham and Manchester.

Two EasyJet planes will fly into Luton, while Monarch will also operate two flights, one to Gatwick and the other to Birmingham. British Airways also has a flight scheduled for today.

Around 1,500 holidaymakers were brought back on Friday.

In Sharm el-Sheikh, Britons said the situation is changing “hourly” with thousands still stuck in the resort.

Emma Beeney, who was due to fly back on Saturday night, has spoken of her relief after finding out in a text message from Monarch her flight was due to leave the Red Sea resort last night.

The mother-of-two said the airline has arranged for transfers to the airport “four hours ahead of the flight” due to the delays brought on by tightened security measures.