Airport told five years ago to replace baggage screening kit

GUERNSEY Airport had five years’ warning that its hold baggage equipment needed to be replaced, but requested the money for the new kit only six months before its licence was revoked.

 (Picture by Peter Frankland, 28705858)
(Picture by Peter Frankland, 28705858)

This has resulted in hold luggage being searched by hand in the airport check-in area – a practice that is set to continue until at least spring next year.

The £12m. to fund the new hold baggage screening system was approved in mid-June – less than three months before the licence ended.

When asked about why the letter was not submitted earlier, a States’ Trading and Supervisory Board spokesperson said they were unable to control when the matter was debated.

‘Once policy letters are submitted, like other States committees, STSB has no control of when parliamentary business is scheduled for debate in the Assembly,’ they said.

‘This would be a matter for Policy & Resources.’

However, the STSB policy letter is dated 1 March. If the matter had been debated at the earliest opportunity – at the end of March – five months was unlikely to have been enough time to get the kit installed.

It is estimated the new kit will be installed by spring 2021.

If this refers to March 2021, then it would have been nearly nine months after the money was voted through in June.

An STSB spokesperson said they would not make public comment on the events leading up to the States debate due to aviation security reasons.

STSB’s March policy letter confirms that it knew in 2015 that new equipment was needed.

A bid for capital funding was submitted for 2017, but then withdrawn when it was felt that private investment from the airport’s security provider would cover the cost.

However, in late 2016 it was decided that the responsibility for future funding of capital equipment should be taken back by the Guernsey Airport.

In 2018, a CT scanner was purchased through the Ports Holding Account for £600,000.

While this was later rejected on the grounds it could not keep up with demand, it was meant to cover the screening.

‘The new hold baggage scanner purchased in 2018 may provide a temporary compliant solution for hold baggage screening should the regulator impose an immediate remediation deadline for ‘Standard 3’ compliance,’ the policy letter last March said.

STSB has not responded to queries about why this is not being used to cover current gap in screening provision. It would have cost between £1.5m. and £1.8m.

The policy letter raised concerns about the machine not reaching the minimum 580 bags per hour needed and would make it more challenging to install the new equipment.

In July just over 6,000 passengers passed through the airport. If half of them were outbound, with one bag each, that is an average of less than 100 bags per day.

The policy letter reveals that Guernsey Airport was set a final deadline by the UK Department for Transport of summer 2019, but said they were sure they could get an extension. That extension ended at the start of September.

Passenger numbers through Guernsey Airport are currently at low levels, with just a few flights to Alderney and Southampton a day. But the disruption has already been noticed by passengers, including Isle of Man visitors who have posted about it on social media.

Passengers numbers are likely to rise in the next few months, with Blue Islands’ Guernsey services restarting in mid-October and Aurigny also set to step up its service at that time. The States of Guernsey is also moving towards Phase 5c, which will allow some travellers to only have to isolate until they get their negative test result. These factors, along with festive holidays, are set to see passenger numbers rise in the next few months.

The STSB spokesperson said preparation for 5c was underway.

‘We are running a pro-active public awareness campaign encouraging passengers travelling with hold luggage out of Guernsey Airport to allow for plenty of time for checks if their hold baggage is selected for a search before meeting their flight,’ the spokesperson said.

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