By BROOKS TIGNER
BRUSSELS – After several years of two-steps-forward/one-step-backward effort, the European Commission finally unveiled on 7 September its draft regulation to harmonise certification schemes for aviation security screening equipment across the EU member states.
It hems in the ways that national authorities have traditionally tweaked their rules to protect their home market, thus forcing foreign suppliers of the equipment to get separation certifications in each country. Once approved, the new measure would put in place a common set of certification norms and thus create mutual recognition between national authorities, thus eliminating duplicative costs for industry.
While the European market for aviation screening equipment is not huge, the proposal carries two important implications. One is that it will shore up the European market by creating a recognised international standard to challenge the US certification one that dominates the global market. More important, however, is the second implication: it opens the door for the Commission to push harmonisation schemes into other security equipment areas.
One of the problems with current EU legislation for screening equipment is that it does not create any legally binding Europe-wide conformity assessment scheme for the sector. There are, for example, common testing methodologies promulgated by the European Civil Aviation Conference whose “common evaluation process” to test aviation screening equipment has been in place since 2008. But this lacks the force of a legally binding framework.
The new proposed certification system would fill that gap by laying down a common approach to compliance. This would not modify the technical specifications or performance requirements of the laboratories that carry out the tests. Instead, it will define the methodology for assessing equipment compliance, essentially creating a single testing procedure.
Each EU country will have to designate a body – or that of another member state if it doesn’t have the competence – to oversee the compliance of aviation security screening equipment, and then issue an EU type-approval certificate the each equipment. The Commission considers this will reduce the number of tests performed by the laboratories, while avoiding the burden on industry of having to do multiple redesigns or modifications of equipment for different countries.
Under the proposed system, screening equipment manufacturers would have to issue certificates of conformity for all their makes, models and modifications which, in turn, would be valid in all member states via the EU’s well-established mutual recognition mechanism.
Aside from creating a borderless marketplace, one clear advantage would be to speed up the certification process. During the Commission’s public consultation period prior to the proposal’s release, nearly 65 percent of respondents complained that the time required to get their equipment past this final hurdle was “a real problem”.
The regulation will also make it far more difficult for labs to alter or suddenly inject hidden certification criteria. For example, too many test labs simply issue “pass” or “fail” when testing screening equipment, which doesn’t help the manufacturer correct the problem. In the future, there will probably some kind of implicit agreement among the labs to provide indications, or at least some kind of oral feedback to manufacturers, according to EU sources.
Finally, once approved, the draft regulation will set a precedent in that the Commission could apply the same approach to other parts of the security equipment market. One idea floating around is to harmonise certification from the point of view and urgency of Europe’s end-users: police, intelligence services, firefighters and health responders.
That would be a huge step forward toward harmonising this deeply fragmented sector in Europe.