Extra screening at Changi Airport possible

Random checks just after arrival at Changi Airport are not new, but these have so far been limited mainly to bag checks and the use of metal detectors. ICA says the recent stepped-up checks at the airport were meant to screen the passports of passeng
Random checks just after arrival at Changi Airport are not new, but these have so far been limited mainly to bag checks and the use of metal detectors. ICA says the recent stepped-up checks at the airport were meant to screen the passports of passengers on certain flights against Interpol's database of stolen and lost travel documents.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

ICA's trial of extra passport checks signals plans to step up overall surveillance: Experts

Travellers arriving at Changi Airport may have their passports checked more than once in the future, following a recent trial to enhance security.

Several travellers who landed at Changi Airport Terminal 3 have been caught by surprise over the past few months when their photographs were taken and their passports checked after they left the aircraft. They also went through the normal immigration checks before collecting their bags.

While random checks just after arrival are not new, albeit rare at Changi, these have so far been limited mainly to bag checks and the use of metal detectors.

The recent extra layer of screening, which was part of a trial by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) that ended last month, suggests there are plans to step up overall surveillance, security experts said.

When contacted, an ICA spokesman explained that the checks were meant to screen the passports of passengers on certain flights against Interpol's database of stolen and lost travel documents. Interpol is a global police organisation set up to facilitate international police cooperation.

ENHANCING SECURITY

The trial aims to enhance the security of Changi Airport and its passengers. This is part of our security measures, which are reviewed from time to time, taking into account the prevailing security threat.

AN ICA SPOKESMAN

The spokesman said: "The trial aims to enhance the security of Changi Airport and its passengers... This is part of our security measures, which are reviewed from time to time, taking into account the prevailing security threat."

ICA did not comment further, including on whether it plans to eventually introduce such checks for all arriving passengers. The Straits Times understands that the intention is to help catch contraband and verify the identity of passengers, especially those in transit.

They make up about a third of Changi Airport's passengers, who numbered more than 55.4 million last year. But what it also means is double screening for those who end their journeys in Singapore.

Unlike most other major airports, arriving and departing passengers can mix at Changi Airport's terminals. The challenge is to ensure that arriving passengers do not pass items that may be prohibited or dangerous to those who are departing.

Assistant Professor Terence Fan, who specialises in transport at the Singapore Management University, said it is "a tough balancing act" to ensure safe skies on the one hand and passenger convenience on the other. Where heightened checks are deemed necessary, the key is to ensure that these are done without significant delays so they do not put travellers off, he stressed.

Frequent air traveller Sim Kok Chwee, 56, who works at branding agency Rockstar Soulutions, said he has not experienced such double screening at other airports. "If it must be done, there should be advance warning so passengers are prepared and enough resources are dedicated to ensure minimal delays."

At a recent security conference in Kuala Lumpur, International Air Transport Association (Iata) director-general and chief executive Alexandre de Juniac stressed the need for governments and the industry to work together so that neither security nor traveller experience is compromised.

Iata is also pushing for global security standards.

Explaining that on an average day, an air transport workforce of eight million people supports 100,000 commercial flights that collectively carry more than 10 million passengers, Mr de Juniac said: "Staying at least a step ahead of those with an agenda of evil is a challenge on a massive scale."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 08, 2016, with the headline 'Extra screening at Changi possible'. Print Edition | Subscribe