Birmingham International Airport will become a safer place to fly from following alleged security breaches, an aviation academic claimed yesterday.
Dr Patrick Hanlon, an aviation economist from Birmingham University Business School and former consultant to British Airways and Air India, said terrorists would note airlines or airports where security had been exposed as lax.
But the embarrassment over a recent passenger jet break-in and a TV investigation aired last night would ultimately result in BIA being less of a target, he said.
The Birmingham Post revealed yesterday that police were called to the airport on Saturday after door seals on a Corsair FR Boeing 747 were found to have been broken, and items removed from the flight deck including keys and a first aid kit.
And last night a six-month investigation by Tonight with Trevor McDonald showed images of contract security officers asleep, reading on the job, poor passenger searches and planes being left unguarded.
The footage was taken by a worker employed security firm ICTS UK, under contract by Continental Airlines. He had had worked at BIA for 10 years and was concerned at poor standards being employed by some ICTS colleagues, it was claimed.
Dr Hanlon said the apparent lapses were "very gravely serious".
"If this lax security was seen by potential terrorists, that it was easier to smuggle things on these aircraft, it could make for a very serious situation," he said.
"Terrorists do their research and case the joint as it were. That is where security, especially in a network like Birmingham, if it acquires a reputation it might be targeted by people trying to initiate terrorist activity. They only need to strike lucky once."
But, he pointed out, potential chinks in security had been identified before any disaster took place.
"Given that it has been uncovered and there is going to be an investigation and they are going to be sensitive to security issues, it is going to be very safe to use and terrorists will look elsewhere," he said.
"What has happened in the past when lax security has been uncovered, after the event it acts as a warning before anything happens."
Birmingham MP Khalid Mahmood (Lab Perry Barr), who chairs the All-Party Inquiry into Tackling Terrorism, said he was "appalled" by the allegations and questioned whether it was time for an outright ban on private contractors providing security at airports.
"The people seeking to do damage aren't amateurs," he said. "If a television programme can resource an investigation like this and show weaknesses, then those who have the ability to cause harm can also take advantage."
In a statement, BIA said it had launched an inquiry following ITV's investigation and had taken action. Several workers have been suspended. It said the allegations related solely to ICTS UK, which provides "secondary screening to a limited number of airlines at BIA".
The statement said: "From the evidence provided by ITV two weeks ago, an investigation was launched involving the UK Regulatory and Security Authorities and the airlines concerned. We are confident the actions already taken continue to assure the safety and security of passengers."
The statement added the airport was concerned some security procedures may have been misunderstood. In a statement issued to ITV for use on its programme, ICTS UK said it too had launched an investigation.