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Maintaining the sanitary border: air transport liberalisation and health security practices at UK regional airports

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This paper contributes to ongoing debates surrounding the governance and security of global mobility regimes through a theoretical and empirical examination of the extent to which air transport liberalisation and contemporary practices of infectious disease governance demand a re-conceptualisation of national borders. Recent outbreaks of SARS and H1N1 influenza, which spread rapidly around the world via air travel, illustrated the ability of pathogens to disrupt patterns and practices of human mobility and directly led to the introduction of new health screening technologies at airports that were designed to restrict the spread of infection and maintain a sanitary border. Yet while medical specialists have debated the effectiveness of the various screening techniques, and privacy campaigners have expressed concern over some of the technologies that have been deployed in an attempt to intercept these disease threats, there has been no exploration of the extent to which recent regulatory and structural changes within the global aviation industry have exacerbated the challenges of safeguarding public health and simultaneously transformed practices and spatialities of sanitary border control by re-siting national borders within a range of offshore and domestic locations. Drawing on official airport passenger statistics from the UK, this paper contends that, in transforming the spatialities of contemporary patterns of aeromobility, the progressive liberalisation of the commercial aviation sector (and the dramatic rise in passenger numbers, flights and airports handling international services it effected) – has had unintended and hitherto unexplored consequences for the governance of infectious disease mobility and the material deployment of sovereign sanitary territoriality by creating more points through which an infectious disease may enter or leave a country and moving the border inside UK regions.

Keywords: UK; air travel; health security; liberalisation; sanitary borders

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: April 1, 2011


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