Japan airport operators step up security, but analysts warn of vulnerabilities

by Masaaki Kameda


After at least 34 people died in bomb attacks in Brussels on Tuesday, operators of major international airports in Japan tightened security and some passengers taking flights to Europe expressed unease about what happened.

“We urged security personnel this morning to beef up patrols around the airport in light of yesterday’s case,” a spokeswoman of Tokyo International Air Terminal Corp., the operator of the international terminal at Tokyo’s Haneda airport, told The Japan Times on Wednesday.

Keisuke Hamatani, a spokesman for New Kansai International Airport Co., the operator of Osaka’s main airport, said the firm has instructed security guards to heighten vigilance for suspicious individuals and objects.

At Narita airport near Tokyo, security officials stepped up searches for suspicious items on Tuesday, said a spokesman for the operator, Narita International Airport Corp.

The spokesman said the airport uses surveillance cameras to monitor incoming vehicles and has other assets that include an explosives detection system and bomb-sniffing dogs.

All three airport operators underscored that they already operate at a heightened level of security and therefore do not plan to introduce fresh measures at the moment.

However, one security expert pointed out that existing controls may be too little to thwart attacks like the one in the departures hall of Brussels Airport.

“It’s difficult to prevent this type of attack on the spot, which took place near the airline check-in counters,” said Takenori Mikasa, a counterterrorism expert at NTT DATA Institute of Management Consulting, Inc.

As this space is located outside the security checkpoints security staff cannot necessarily intercept explosives, Mikasa said.

He said while there is nothing much that can be done to guard against such attacks, boosting the number of security personnel would be worthwhile. A more visible presence, he said, could deter would-be terrorists.

“If individuals turn and run away upon seeing uniformed officers, police could catch them for questioning,” he said.

However, considering the level of terrorist threat in Japan, which he views as low due to its geographic location and lack of home-grown militants, what is more important is to gather intelligence on terrorists, Mikasa said.

“Eliminating terrorism beforehand is more crucial,” he said. “If that doesn’t work well, it would be extremely difficult for parties on the scene to provide protection,” he said.

Tokyo should strengthen its intelligence-gathering ability, he said.

Meanwhile, the attacks in Belgium caused unease among Japanese tourists planning to fly to Europe.

At Haneda airport on Wednesday, departing passenger Mitsuko Ueno said she was upset to hear the news.

“I never imagined something like that would happen the day before I start my trip,” the 61-year-old part-time worker from Yokohama said. “My destination is a town in the Italian countryside, so I guess it’s fine,” she added, as if to reassure herself. She added, she was traveling in a group with friends.

At Narita airport, a 27-year-old woman from Tokyo’s Toshima Ward embarking on a trip to Italy and France said she was frightened to watch the news.

“I decided to make the trip after hearing from a friend in Paris that it’s all right over there, despite the terrorist attacks in the French capital in November,” she said.

Information From Kyodo Added