Wednesday, April 4, 2012

UK: Airlines Warn Government of Potential Gridlock this Weekend

The two pieces below show the issue of UK border security from the perspectives of both commercial organizations and government. It seems that the UK border apparatus is succumbing to the Peak Load Problem. Systems have to be built to function adequately during periods of maximum stress even though those periods might only occur briefly and occasionally. The other end of the problem is that the capacity to handle peak demand is idle during ordinary operations appearing wasteful from a certain point of view.

For systems like the Border Force that rely on highly skilled labor, the Peak Load Problem is particularly acute. There are only three solutions: (A) The system must employ some number of people it won't need very often; (B) It must become less efficient/reduce quality at peak operating times; or (C) it must refuse to satisfy some portion of demand for its service. For the Border Force, in particular this means border officials standing around during normal operation, relaxed standards during busy times, or long lines, missed flights and mishandled baggage — or some combination of the three.

Well, that's the theory, anyway. The two pieces below show how these issues shake out in practice.

In the past the Border Agency opted for Plan B. That didn't turn out well. Now, the airlines are warning about gridlock (too much from Column C). Column A is hard to change quickly.

Easter travel 'gridlock' warning given by airlines (BBC)
The British Air Transport Association has written to Theresa May with 11 airlines' concerns over possible delays at peak travel times such as Easter.

They say there are too few border staff for full security checks.

The Border Force said it would "aim to keep disruption to a minimum by using our staff flexibly to meet demand".

British Airways and Virgin Airlines are amongst those expressing their concerns over potential delays to hundreds of thousands of passengers.

More than 370,000 passengers will fly from Heathrow airport between Good Friday and Easter Monday, and 200,000 will travel through Gatwick.
Immigration minister Damian Green: Transforming our border (Public Service)
I want to cover three things today. First, I want to set out the scale of the challenge we face in transforming the border. Second, I want to deal with the problems there have been – most notably those uncovered by the independent chief inspector of the UK Border Agency, John Vine, which highlighted the failings of the previous Border Force. It is only by understanding those problems can we fix them. Third, I want to set out the radical changes this government is making to improve border security. The creation of a separate Border Force accountable to ministers; the establishment of the UK's first Border Policing Command (within the UK's first National Crime Agency); and real focus on progress on technology to prevent threats getting to the UK border in the first place.

But first we should be clear on the nature of the challenge. Securing our border is a vital task, but it is not an easy or straightforward one.
At least they agree on the problem. The second piece is longer but it's a good summary of the past, present and future from the government's perspective.