Sri Lanka airport security to get more passenger friendly: official

ECONOMYNEXT – Draconian security measures at Sri Lanka’s Bandaranayake International Airport (BIA) in Katunayake after Easter Sunday bombings will be eased progressively, and will not be the new norm, Airports and Aviation Services a top official said.

"When things get back to normal they (military) will get back to their duties and we will get back to our functions and it will be like what it was before," Chairman Dammika Ranatunga said.

Sri Lanka had much smoother security measures where passengers moved faster during a 30-year war, though volumes have picked up since then.

Daily security meetings among with ministers, senior officials and security forces which had been held since the bombings have become less frequent.

"We had been meeting on a daily basis, but now the frequency is not so intense," Ranatunga said.

"Gradually we are discussing on getting back to where we were," he said.

"It may take a week or a couple of weeks, when it will be much better than now as far as customer satisfaction is concerned."

Passengers at BIA have been dealing with restrictive security measures.

Immediately after the Easter Sunday Bombings, which killed over 250 persons and wounded over 500, departing and arriving passengers had to walk while dragging their baggage for long distances, as vehicles were not allowed near the airport.

Travellers were instructed to arrive at least one hour earlier than usual to subject to new security measures.





The intensity of the new security measures were not even seen during the height of a civil war, which ended in 2009.

Congestion built up around the airport due to a combination of foreigners wanting to leave immediately, and tight security.

"Our main concern then was safety, and not comfort. We urge everyone to understand that, and we apologize for the inconvenience," Airport Management Head H. S. Hettiarachchi said.

"Going forward, our aim is to introduce processes which will reduce the discomfort of passengers," he said.

Private vehicles are still not allowed into the airport, while vetted taxis are.

AASL has introduced six shuttle services between the terminals and points where vehicles are allowed.

A new traffic plan has been introduced around the airport to ease the congestion and let vehicles come closer than previously allowed as well.

No Security Compromise

As the airport seeks to restore traveller comfort, security will be upgraded.

"Of course, we are going to improve certain things, like up-to-date equipment to ensure the safety of the airport and the passengers," Ranatunga said.

The cabinet has already approved the purchase of new security scanners for the airport.

Ranatunga however did not divulge the cost or other details of buying the scanners.

All currently installed equipment are working as intended, he said.

However, Sri Lanka has machines which work well, but are out-of-date.

Security at some points of the airport are the responsibility of the national carrier SriLankan Airlines.

A Presidential Commission had last year found that SriLankan had bought and installed four scanners which were not qualified by the global transport security equipment watchdogs, the US’ Transport Security Administration  and the UK’s Department of Transport, in order to cut costs.

The tender for the scanners had been mired in controversy, and the airline had reduced the technical specifications for the machines in order to cut costs.

Meanwhile, Ranatunga said that security audits will be conducted on the airport.

He also confirmed that Sri Lanka will be reaching out to experts from transport security agencies of the US, UK and the European Union in upgrading airport security. (Colombo, May10/2019)

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