Easier OSL transfers meet resistance

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Both police and customs officials are warning the Norwegian government against plans to introduce easier, streamlined transfers for passengers arriving at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen (OSL). They claim the plans threaten national security.

Norway's main airport, OSL at Gardermoen north of Oslo, will be greatly expanded over the next several years. PHOTO: Oslo Lufthavn Gardermoen

Norway’s main airport at Gardermoen north of Oslo (OSL) wants to ease passenger transfers to domestic flights, but is meeting resistance from police and customs officials. PHOTO: Oslo Lufthavn Gardermoen

International passengers traveling through OSL on their way to other Norwegian airports currently must retrieve their checked bags at OSL’s baggage claim, clear customs in Oslo with both their checked- and carry-on baggage, and then re-check their luggage onto domestic flights.

Government officials are considering plans promoted by both OSL and the airlines to streamline transfers by allowing Norway-bound passengers from abroad to check their baggage through to final destinations in Norway beyond Oslo, without having to take it through customs at OSL themselves.

“We strongly oppose this,” Bjørn Røse, director of Norway’s customs servive (Toll), told newspaper Aftenposten on Wednesday. He claims the plans will weaken customs agents’ ability to spot smugglers, while Norway’s Police Directorate and police intelligence unit PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste) oppose the plans as well.

“We believe this will lead to a considerable deterioration of our local and national cooperation with customs,” Vidar Refvik, assistant director of police, told Aftenposten. PST officials claim that efficient customs control can reveal suspicious passengers who have “direct relevance” for PST’s “special areas of responsibility,” like anti-terrorism. The police also claim that forcing passengers to go through customs with all their baggage can aid in the fight against organized crime, narcotics traffic, human trafficking and money laundering.

Could no longer ‘look passengers in the eye’
“Criminals are constantly hunting for weak points in every control system,” Røse told Aftenposten. “If travelers from abroad can go through customs without their baggage (which would instead be X-rayed when transferred by baggage handlers to domestic flights) we lose the possibility to look them in the eye while they also must stand there and be responsible for what they’ve brought into the country.”

Airport and airline officials claim the streamlined transfers will cut transfer time from 55 to 35 minutes and may enable more flights. Police and customs officials warn against allowing such commercial issues to take precedence over security issues.

The proposed transfer system can be accommodated through the massive airport remodelling and expansion now underway at OSL. Current plans call for international transfer passengers to be channeled right from their arriving flights in the international terminal directly to their departing flights in the domestic terminal, avoiding baggage claim entirely.

Transport Minister Marit Arnstad said the viewpoints of customs and police officials will be an important part of how the government evaluates the plans. She seems to be leaning in favour of a pilot project to allow the streamlined transfers, though, over the customs and police objections. She said the group studying the plan was working on measures “to compensate for any reduction” in national security, and that it was important to experience how such streamlined transfers could function in practice.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund