When the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) introduced its first framework for explosives detection systems (EDS), the date was January 2002 – just a few months on from the 11 September attacks. The vulnerability of aircraft to terrorist attack had been gravely illustrated, and in December 2002 the EU would also publish regulation governing aviation security for the first time, citing the attacks as evidence that “terrorism is one of the greatest threats to the ideals of democracy and freedom and the values of peace, which are the very essence of the European Union”.
ECAC’s early EDS framework, in use from January 2003, involved three standards, with Standard 2 mandatory for all EDS installed from 1 January 2007. Almost ten years on, the threat faced by aircraft from terrorism has far from diminished, and the use of explosives plays a significant role in this. After 224 passengers and crew lost their lives on Metrojet Flight 9268 from Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt on 31 October 2015, incidents in 2016 alone have included a mid-flight explosion on a plane from the Somalian capital of Mogadishu on 2 February, the 22 March bombings at Brussels Airport and Maalbeek metro station, and the 28 June suicide bombings at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, in which 45 civilians perished.
Endeavouring to mitigate the risks posed by explosives, EDS and screening protocols continue to advance and develop. Today, airports are working to implement ECAC’s Standard 3 for EDS in hold baggage, which must be adopted before the deadline of 1 September 2020, according to regulation imposed in April 2010.
José María Peral Pecharromán is aviation security technical officer at ECAC and is in charge of the organisation’s Common Evaluation Process (CEP) Management Group, a programme that tests security equipment against EU and ECAC performance standards. National aviation authorities across Europe use CEP as a common reference point for certifying the equipment used in airports within their domain.
Reflecting on how the new EDS standard was arrived at, Peral Pecharromán explains how ECAC works to incorporate the varying needs of individual nations.
“We start by organising dedicated study groups with technical experts of the different ECAC member states, and we put our [respective] threats in common – what each country faces according to national threat and risk assessments,” he explains. “Then, we normally organise several trials for using the equipment from different manufacturers, and once we have these results it’s a case of achieving a compromise on the detection performance of the state-of-the-art technology and the quantity of explosives that these machines need to be able to detect.”