Japanese aviation industry alarmed by ‘laxity’ in US security screening after woman carried handgun onto international flight

The discovery of a handgun aboard a flight from Atlanta to Tokyo’s Narita Airport earlier this month was the result of a failure of security screening in the US, according to a Japanese aviation analyst, and almost certainly a result of the federal shutdown.

An American woman, who has not been named but was reportedly in her 30s, apparently realised she had inadvertently brought a pistol and several rounds of ammunition in her hand luggage aboard a Delta Air Lines flight to Tokyo on January 3.

The woman handed the weapon and bullets over to the crew of the aircraft but was denied entry into Japan after the flight touched down at Narita. The woman said the weapon was for self-protection, Kyodo reported, and she returned to the US on a flight later the same day.

“The Japanese authorities are highly sensitive towards weapons and they are very security-conscious, so the suspension of security arrangements at airports in the US a matter of great concern here,” said Geoff Tudor, a Tokyo-based analyst for Japan Aviation Management Research. “It is well known that a lot of Americans carry guns and that many have special dispensation for a weapon, so it seems likely that she was just absent-minded about the weapon when she boarded the aircraft.”

The fact she approached airline staff with the weapon also indicated there was no malicious intent in the incident.

The problem, Tudor pointed out, is that a handgun and ammunition were not detected in multiple security checks between the passenger arriving at the airport in the US and boarding the aircraft.

“There must have been laxity in the processes at the airport, although there should be a number of points where something like this should have been detected and prevented from getting aboard the aircraft,” he said. “There must have been a lack of awareness. The regular security personnel who carry out this kind of work are government employees but they are not being paid because of the government shutdown.

“That means airport operators have to bring in contractors to do their jobs, and an incident like this shows that the stand-in staff are using are just not up to snuff.”

An incident like this shows that the stand-in staff are using are just not up to snuff
Geoff Tudor, Japan Aviation Management Research

The day after the weapon was found, the Japanese transport ministry filed a request with US aviation security authorities requesting that measure be taken to prevent a repeat occurrence.

The US government shutdown on Monday entered its 24th day – making it the longest federal shutdown in history – and there are no indications that US President Donald Trump is willing to give ground in his battle with the Democratic Party to secure funding for the construction of a wall on America’s border with Mexico. An estimated 800,000 government employees are affected, the majority of whom are taking unpaid leave.

Trump has insisted he is willing to allow the shutdown to go on until his demands are met, meaning additional security lapses are possible at the nation’s airports, Tudor said.

“Given the situation, it is likely we will see something like this again,” he said. “Incidents like this are very rare, but they always provoke a strong reaction in Japan. The authorities here are paranoid about weapons coming into the country.”

Tudor declined to comment on whether passengers disembarking from flights that originated in the US might face additional screening measures after arriving in Japan.

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