Express did a reality check on the state of security across four major airports in South India. We found that it is alarmingly easily for terrorists to carry weapons and explosives into airports unchecked, all the way to baggage screening or boarding point. It is only here that real checking happens, too far and too late to avert a major disaster. For a terrorist who is prepared to die but determined to make a big impact, an airport is a high-profile target. In India, access is easy since security is primed to protect the aviation infrastructure, including the aircraft, but not the pre check-in area. It’s time we revisited the security apparatus and quarantine the whole airport from such threats. “The only airport that is secure and safe is the one in Srinagar,” says a former security official on condition of anonymity. “There the passengers and vehicles are checked outside the 1 km radius of the airport itself. Otherwise, our airport security systems are out of sync with real time threats,” he says.
For instance in Chennai airport, vehicles go unchecked all the way to the kerb near the terminals posing a serious security threat to passengers and visitors. “Terrorists can easily enter the Chennai airport and launch attacks like in Turkey,” says a security expert. “The kerb-side is a soft target since it has nearly 2,500 people at any given time,” admits Chennai Airport director Deepak Shastri. Also, the number of people who have been exempted from security checks has spiked sharply over the years, adding to the concerns. “It was only five categories of officials who were exempted in the early 90s. Now it is more than 50,” says aviation expert Captain Mohan Ranganathan.
In Hyderabad, from where five suspected Islamic State militants were arrested recently, an Express reporter wandered around the airport with a bag for more than an hour, but it raised no suspicion among security officials. The first real check at Hyderabad airport happens at the baggage scanner which is at least 100 metres away from the main entrance.
In Bengaluru, the security system is marginally better with one in three vehicles being checked at the entry point. Again, this means two in every three vehicles are not checked along with those with “Press” or “Police” stickers. At the Cochin international airport, the area without tight checks extends to 25 metres from entrance.
Indian airports will be like sitting ducks if an attack similar to the one in Istanbul were to happen here, say experts.
Hyderabad’s Rajiv Gandhi International Airport, for instance, has been ranked among world’s top three airports for consumer satisfaction and standards. But when it comes to security measures, it is not any different, compared to any other airport in India