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Dublin Airport yesterday unveiled a plan to tackle lengthy queues. PA
queue chaos

‘Really bad planning’: Security expert says airport managers don’t grasp impact of decisions

‘There’s decisions being made where the managers don’t understand what’s going on on the ground’.

A SECURITY CONSULTANT and former Dublin Airport security trainer says the queue chaos seen at the transport hub is a product of management failing to grasp the operational impact of cost cutting measures.

Daragh Bolton has raised a number of questions about the management of security at Dublin Airport and their plans to tackle queues over the summer.

Bolton previously worked as a security instructor in the airport and as head of security with Stobart Air – a role that was primarily based at the facility in the capital. 

DAA chief executive Dalton Phillips addressed the Oireachtas Transport Committee yesterday to outline the airport’s plans to wrestle the queues under control.

Bolton took issue with some of Phillips’ explanations for the chaos, saying airport management failed to create contingency plans for staff absences. He noted that the absences outlined by Phillips amounted to 13.5% of the staff.

“Without 13.5% your whole operation falls down and falls apart? That’s really bad planning,” Bolton told The Journal.

The consultant said cutbacks at the airport have had a massive impact on the security training department, decimating the number of instructors available to train new recruits.

He said this led to class sizes dramatically increasing and a diluted programme producing officers that aren’t fully equipped to effectively screen passengers and baggage.  

“There’s management decisions being made where the managers really don’t understand what’s going on on the ground. You’ve got people making decisions that don’t understand the gravity of what that operationally looks like on the ground,” Bolton said.

‘Absolutely shocking’

He argues that management also created a culture that emphasises speed over quality, resulting in the airport failing security audits

“Certain day-to-day operational things that are failing in the airport are very concerning and the recent failings of the prohibited articles are shocking, to say the least. Absolutely shocking.”

DAA boss Phillips told the transport committee that the airport had prepared for the numbers travelling reaching 75-80% of pre-Covid traffic. However, last month the amount of people passing through the transport hub reached 95% of 2019 levels.

Phillips explained that staffing levels at the airport were reduced by 25% between 2020-2021 because the pandemic had wiped out air travel. When demand returned, he said the airport began an extensive recruitment drive which continued into this year. 

However, Bolton said the airport’s efforts to recruit new staff have been hampered by the poor terms and conditions offered by the DAA. 

People were being offered €14.14 an hour to work on security at the airport and only 20 hours work per week were guaranteed.

“The biggest issue is the €14 an hour. They can get that in IKEA and they don’t have to get up out of bed at 2:30 in the morning,” Bolton said.

“Unfortunately, security gets a bad rap. You don’t need it until you actually need it. The cost saving measures that have happened at DAA over the last decade and the treatment of staff have resulted in massive turnover of staff,” he added.

Enhanced background checks

Phillips argued that recruiting staff was hampered by new EU Enhanced Background Checks, which came into force on 1 January this year.

“We lost 40% of the new security staff we had recruited, with the remainder having to wait an additional seven weeks before they could start in our business,” Phillips told the committee.

Enhanced background checks are a significantly more thorough security probe than standard garda vetting. They are carried out through the Security Vetting Unit within the Garda National Crime & Security Intelligence Service.

Bolton said using them as an excuse does not hold water as the introduction of enhanced background checks has been flagged since 2018. 

“DAA cannot use this as an excuse for the current failures as they were advised many years ago ahead of its mandated requirement and pending launch,” he said.

He argues that the fact that the DAA lost 40% of its new security recruits due to the checks highlights that the checks are effective and important. He said extended time should have been given to allow staff to pass them on time. 

Bolton said not providing enough resources and continually putting staff under extreme pressure is very damaging for morale and results in people missing work due to stress.

“The staff are fantastic, but they can only do what they can do. If you have 20 out with stress because of the pressures they are under, there’s not much you can work with then. They (the DAA) really are banking on a very tight margin.”

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