Baggage screeners at country's sole int'l airport lack certification

Nepal has failed to execute standards related to aviation quality and security

Kathmandu, January 16

The recent incident of gold-smuggling at Tribhuvan International Airport has revealed the appalling state with which the nation's gateway is being operated and how security is being trifled with at TIA.

According to officials, TIA neither has the required number of screeners nor does it bother about their certification. Thus, it has been violating the aviation security-related annex of the International Civil Aviation Organisation that requires Nepal to ensure that persons carrying out aviation security screening operations be certified according to requirements of the national civil aviation security programme to ensure that performance standards are consistent and reliable.

Besides, the annex also requires certification of aviation security instructors according to the programme that is approved by the national aviation security committee headed by the Minister for Civil Aviation.

Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal not only operates TIA but is also responsible for training Nepal's aviation security apparatus and running the civil aviation academy, which is approved for providing aviation security related trainings to Nepal police and airlines.

The ICAO requirements have existed for long, but Nepal as usual, has been a laggard in implementing the critical standards that relate to quality control in aviation, a senior TIA official admitted.

According to him, Nepal police is entrusted with the responsibility of screening the baggage of those flying from TIA and other airports. "However, they depend on CAAN for providing necessary training to its screening staff. The academy website also boasts of several aviation security trainings — basic, advanced, refresher and specialised. It is, however, curiously silent on certification trainings for screeners." An official at CAAN's academy also admitted that the screeners lacked certification.

Screening of passengers' baggage worldwide is carried out by specialised X-ray baggage inspection system (XBIS) that presents computer-generated visuals of the contents of the baggage pieces inside the equipment to the screener. Since the screener on his/her watch has to exercise judgment while analysing the visuals and raise alarm, if needed, certification is clearly required for standardisation.

Owing to the cognitive workload fatigue is generated in the XBIS screeners. The ICAO also requires that screeners be periodically replaced every two to three hours for relief and recovery.

The inability of the academy to comply with sensitive ICAO standards in AvSec training and lack of certification of its instructors is clearly worrisome, given the fact that it is headed by a 12th level officer, many of whom in the past went on to be CAAN’s director generals, a TIA source said.

Interestingly, the XBIS operated at international arrivals is owned and operated by the Department of Customs, which is silent about the training of its screeners in use of the hi-tech equipment. "Though the screening purpose of DoC differs markedly from that of aviation security, for operating identical XBIS equipment it is dependent on CAAN’s academy for providing training to its screeners," a senior customs officer said.

It is unlikely that the DoC went ahead with equipment procurement without any memorandum of understanding on training screeners with CAAN, as customarily the customs’ director general sits on the CAAN Board, he added. "The DoC has its own technical manpower for maintenance of equipment, one of whom stands accused in a recent case," he recounted.