Despite security concerns from the US, a recent audit of Qatar’s Hamad International has found it to be one of the safest airports in the world, officials said.
The results come amid an indefinite ban on laptops and tablets onboard flights from Doha and nine other Middle Eastern cities to the US.
The US Department of Homeland Security said the move was made in response to concerns about potential terrorist attacks.
However, Qatar apparently scored highly in a February audit by the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO).
According to the Ministry of Interior (MOI), here are some of the scores Qatar received from the ICAO’s Universal Security Audit Program (USAP):
- 99.1 percent for protecting aviation against unlawful interference (i.e terrorism and smuggling);
- 96.76 percent for implementing safety management; and
- 100 percent in a section that related to customs and immigration processes.
The USAP results “proved that HIA is one of the safest airports in the world,” the head of the Qatar Aviation Authority (QCAA) said.
However, it is difficult to assess how Qatar measured up against other nations.
This is because results of ICAO security audits are usually kept secret.
Speaking to Doha News, a representative from the organization said, “we cannot make public or otherwise confirm anything to do with security audit findings.”
In the past, only a few nations have chosen to share their scores with the public.
In November 2015 for example, Indian aviation authorities disclosed that they had been given scores of 99.23 percent and 99.59 per cent in two ICAO audit areas.
And in April 2016, Nigerian authorities said they had scored an average of 96 percent in a similar audit.
Qatar’s MOI did not respond to requests for more details about the country’s scores or world ranking.
Another notable fact about the audits is that countries are given at least four months notice before they are conducted.
And they have the opportunity to accept or reject suggested audit dates, according to USAP guidelines.
Still, the average of the three scores shared by Qatar officials – 98.6 percent – is a big improvement from the nation’s 2012 overall score of 78.76 percent.
That was when flights were still departing from Doha International Airport.
Speaking to QNA, Director of Airport Security Brig. Essa Arar Al Rumaihi credited the higher score to a combination of better training and an investment in new technology over the past five years.
HIA has has apparently trained more than 1,000 security personnel since it opened in 2014.
It has also purchased new “inspection” devices that airport officials say will speed up the movement of passengers through security checkpoints.
More details about these devices have not been shared, but officials said that they were being used “for the first time in the world” at HIA.
A ‘smart airport’
Meanwhile, officials continue to work on introducing a “smart traveler” system at the airport, plans for which were announced last year.
The goal is to automate almost all processes at the airport, from bag weighing to boarding pass printing to e-gates and boarding the aircraft.
Speaking about the plans this week, Airport Security Department director Brig Essa Arrar al-Rumaihi said:
“The vision is that travelers can complete all travel procedures electronically without any human interference.”
The move should help with wait times at the over-capacity airport, as well as reduce costs for operators.
Among the new processes is e-gate, which fast-tracks residents through immigration. This service was rolled out free of charge to adults living in Qatar late last year.
According to airport officials, making it free has caused many more people to avail of the service in the past several months.
But because it is not open to children, some travelers still face lengthy waits at immigration.