– by John Hillard
"Security is the last refuge of a desperate bureaucrat." – credited to Sir Humphrey Appleby, Yes Minister, BBC TV.
Once upon a time, the government appointed three wise men to review the aviation regulatory system in Australia. The wise men were pretty well qualified with resumes including leadership of the Canadian and UK regulators and Airservices Australia as well as extensive experience in airline and commercial aviation.
In December 2014 the Deputy PM Warren Truss said ”The Government has fully agreed to, or agreed to undertake a more detailed examination of, 36 of the 37 recommendations.”
I had a particular interest in one of those 36 recommendations:
"The Australian government amends regulations so that background checks and the requirement to hold an Aviation Security Identification Card [ASIC] are only required for unescorted access to Security Restricted Areas, not for general airside access. This approach would align with international practice."
An ASIC card is currently required by any pilot that needs to “fly to or from a security designated airport that has regular public transport operations”. This is an additional cost ($220 every at every two year renewal) to pilots that serves no valid purpose. In the six years that I’ve had one, I’ve only ever been asked for it a few times – usually to prove that I’m a pilot so as to gain access to a locked gate. I could just as easily have proved that by showing the pilot licence that I’m also required to carry or a driver’s licence if photo ID is required.
The ridiculously broad definition used in Australia means that pilots have to carry an ASIC at tiny airports in remote central Australia (e.g. Birdsville, Tennant Creek and Thargomindah) due to their having a (very) occasional RPT service. While $200 every couple of years is but a drop in the ocean of costs involved in owning an aircraft, think of the benefits to the nation from our having ASICs.
I remember thinking the last time that I renewed my ASIC in 2015 that this would be the last. Since it expires in a few months, I thought I should check how the government is getting on with implementing what was a pretty clear recommendation. In August 2016, the new Minister Darren Chester updated Parliament on the Government’s response to the recommendations of the report. What it says is:
Completed: The Department has consulted industry and significant implementation issues have been identified. Further progress will be considered as part of a review of the current categorisation of security controlled airports
This is a very obtuse response to a very clear recommendation – Sir Humphrey would approve. Apparently it reflects that government’s reluctance to do anything that would give the Opposition the opportunity to attack it for being lax on “homeland security”. If that is the case, then clearly neither party understands that the current ASIC system actually results in a less secure aviation system.
The wide availability of ASICS in Australia devalues the valid purpose that such identification has in controlling access to those parts of airports that really do need to be secure. Many countries (e.g. USA and Canada) have access badge systems but, unlike the ASIC, it is available to pilots only if they have good reason to visit the secure areas of major airports. You can’t just apply for a Secure Identification Display Area (SIDA) badge in the USA – your employer has to process the application on your behalf after which you will be subject to background checks and may be required to undergo training.
The definition of where an ASIC is required should be amended to align with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) definition in the USA, i.e., the baggage loading areas, taxiways, runways and boarding gates of a commercial airport. In all other areas, the license that pilots are already required to carry should be sufficient identification.
If you are as aspiring terrorist, then the ASIC scheme is a gift. You don’t need to go to the trouble of stealing an ASIC – you need only apply. If you don’t have a criminal record or feature on an ASIO watchlist then you’ll almost certainly get one. Since the ASIC issued to GA pilots is identical to those issued to airline pilots, you need only buy a uniform (including four gold bars), attach your ASIC and it will take you just about anywhere in an airport. I’ve not personally tried this in Australia but I have when flying GA aircraft in the Middle East and the Pacific Islands and it works just fine.
So why has there been a delay in implementing the ASSR recommendation? While it makes good sense to eliminate the requirement that GA pilots have ASICs, I suspect that some out there will be lobbying to retain it. There is now a whole industry built around ASICs and there will be some in government (and the private companies that service it) who will try to retain the system by arguing that “they didn’t understand” and “Australia is different”.
This is, of course, pure crap and the Industry should push now to ensure that the government implements that recommendation.
John Hillard is a former president of the Australian Mooney Pilots Association.