On the job: John Edwards - AvSec

A Yorkshireman by birth and a hotelier by training, John Edwards is an aviation security officer at Auckland Airport. 

John Edwards - PSA member at AvSecEvery day John and his fellow PSA members make sure the skies are safe while tackling increasing workloads, a major frontline review, and the occasional chainsaw in cabin baggage.

Security experts, law enforcement officers, diplomats and shoulders to cry on – aviation security officers do far more than tell you to take your laptop out of your bag, and their job’s getting busier every day.

“We don’t just check fences and guard aircraft,” John Edwards says. “We search aircraft and lounges, search all the power stations, fences and installations. We issue IDs. There’s the general duties at the screening points before you board a plane, but that’s just the one face the public sees.”

Facts you didn’t know about aviation security officers: they have powers of arrest, and they can enter any property on an airport flight-path if they think someone there could be a danger to aircraft. Laser-pointer pranksters could be caught by surprise, in other words.

John and his wife owned a bar, restaurant and backpacker lodge before he joined AvSec. Before that, he was an engineer with the UK National Coal Board and stood on the picket line during the 1984 Miners’ strike.

He came into the job after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 – but anyone who flew regularly before then will know how much the job has changed, and keeps on changing. The stakes are high, and they’re getting higher. 

John says security at Auckland Airport is now “basically a 24-hour job”. Passenger numbers are growing 10 to 15 per cent year on year, and new routes and carriers are constantly being added. Wellington’s soon to be getting flights from Singapore via Canberra, and Christchurch Airport trumpeted a record-breaking summer.

Constant vigilance is tiring – and increasing workloads worry staff. There is the occasional bizarre find, like chainsaws or tools. But there’s always the possibility of something more serious, and the consequences of missing something could be catastrophic.

John says his workmates are the best thing about his job: “We are under pressure, we are short staffed and there’s been massive changes. I love the humour and the banter between us, even with the passengers sometimes. You get into a conversation with people, they realise you’re doing a job and they appreciate it.“

And here’s where the role of unofficial diplomat comes in.

“For visitors leaving New Zealand, we’re the last interaction they’ll have with Kiwis. If you share a joke and a laugh you make it a good experience for them and that’s an integral part of the job,” he says.

But some people may be travelling for a more sombre purpose, and sensitivity’s needed too. “Sometimes you ask people, ‘where are you off to?’ and they say ‘my mum’s died’. Not everyone is going on holiday or on a fun trip. You’ve got to take it on board when you’re interacting with people.”

AvSec workers know they’re keeping the skies safe, and they take pride in it – something John says the management don’t always realise. They represent New Zealand. And they’re doing it with a smile.

By Jessica Williams