Airport Security


Airport Security Essay, Research Paper


Security for airline passengers currently is handled in two arenas-one international and one national. Internationally security standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Annex 17, offers a least common denominator approach to security. While accepted internationally, these standards fall short of providing a tough set of measures that protect air carriers that have been targeted by terrorists. For countries like Ireland, however, Annex 17 is a starting point for security rather than the final destination.

If the world consisted of only one nation the task of aviation security would be simple and straightforward. In the multinational world, however, aviation security involves more confusion and conflict than clarity. An Australian carrier operating in Ireland, for instance, must carry out extraordinary procedures mandated by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). Yet, primarily Ireland’s federal government controls the Australian air carriers operations at Belfast’s international airport.

While CASA can dictate the procedures of Australian flagged carriers, CASA must follow and fine them for lapses in security, its ability to monitor those procedures falls under the jurisdiction and laws of Ireland. In addition, foreign flagged carriers flying to Australia claim that under Annex 17 the Australian Government and by extension CASA cannot compel them to impose tighter security procedures. CASA can only require foreign carriers to implement higher standards if they are departing from an Australian airport.

Protecting civil aviation against terrorist attacks is a major challenge for security personnel throughout the world. Terrorists have continually increased their knowledge and sophistication in the use of explosives. Civil aviation has been and will continue to be a primary target for terrorists. The 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed 270 people, clearly illustrated the need for new explosive detection technology and tighter requirements on security standards.

There is absolutely no safer way to travel than on an airline. In fact, people are far more likely to get hurt or killed driving to the airport than on the flight itself.

Nevertheless, terrorists are a real threat to air travelers.

Intelligence sources worldwide have been warning that the threat of terrorism is changing in two important ways. First, it is no longer just an overseas threat from foreign terrorists. People and places within a country have joined the list of targets, In America for example, Americans have joined the ranks of terrorists. The bombings of the World Trade Center in New York and the Federal Building in Oklahoma City are clear examples of the shift. The second change is that in addition to well-known, established terrorist groups, it is becoming more common to find terrorists working alone or in ad-hoc groups. Some terrorists are not afraid to die in carrying out their evil designs.

Although the threat of terrorism is increasing, the danger of an individual becoming a victim of a terrorist attack — let alone an aircraft bombing — will doubtless remain very, very small. But terrorism isn’t merely a matter of statistics. We fear a plane crash far more than we fear something like a car accident. We may survive a car accident, but we don’t have a chance in a plane at 30,000 feet. This fear is one of the reasons that terrorists see airplanes as attractive targets. And, they know that airlines are often seen as national symbols.

So when terrorists attack an Australian airliner, they are attacking Australia. They have so little respect for our values — so little regard for human life or the principles of justice that are the foundation of our society — that they would destroy innocent children and devoted mothers and fathers completely at random. We cannot and will not tolerate this, or allow it to intimidate us.

Much has been done before to bolster the security of airline travel. Clearly these measures have prevented many attackers from carrying out their cowardly deeds. But, we cannot allow that record to lull us into complacency. As the terrorist threat changes, so, too, must our deterrence and our defenses.

In so much that an airline represents it’s country of origin, Airline and Airport Security must and should place emphasis on the Governments of the respective countries to take part and assist in realising the cumbersome costs of Aviation safety.

A fundamental starting point for airline security is consideration of the airline as a business. And as such, the realisation of the significant contribution to the profits that security plays in the overall scheme of the company. It must be realised that this cost can not be under-estimated. What I propose is perhaps an idealised implementation of security standards and may not take into account the pecuniary considerations associated, but can we put a price on human life?

Australian travelers to Ireland should not have to choose between enhanced security and efficient and affordable air travel. Both goals are achievable if the federal government, airlines, airports, local law enforcement agencies, and passengers work together to achieve them. Accordingly,

1. Airport Vulnerability Assessments.

Safety, security, efficiency, and affordability can go hand in hand if all parties work as partners. The airline, with the aid of CASA should direct its officials responsible for oversight of security procedures at International airports to convene relevant aviation and law enforcement entities for the purpose improving aviation safety and security.

At each airport, these partners will: (1) immediately conduct a vulnerability assessment; and (2) based on that assessment, develop an action plan that includes the deployment of new technology and processes to enhance aviation safety and security.

Vulnerability assessments of the nation’s International airports should be conducted. Based on the results, action plans tailored to each airport will be developed for expedited approval by CASA.

2. Employees, Security Professionals and Guard Posts.

Currently, employees, including those with unescorted access to secure areas of airports, are not subject to such review. Given the risks associated with the potential introduction of explosives into these areas, We should ensure that screeners and employees with access to secure areas be subject to criminal background checks and fingerprint checks.

The majority of the people operating baggage-screening systems in airport terminals are “contract security guards”, hired by the airport authority or other airlines to conduct these essential security checks. According to industry insiders, they have frequently received only a minimum of training, often “on-the-job” and often taught by co-workers who’s primary qualification, to be an instructor, is that they have simply been employed longer than the trainee. Almost all of these guards are unarmed and have no powers of arrest. Most of these guards are paid less than $15.00 an hour, many far less. Low pay, unreasonable expectations, and “rotten working hours” are said to contribute to high turnover rates, assuring that little, if any, guards will have extensive experience.

Demographically, most of the today’s guards are entry-level youths, minorities, women, and/or retired or future law enforcement “wannabes.” In fairness to the these guards, it should be noted that is generally not their fault that they haven’t received enough training or education to enable them to receive better pay; if the agencies that hired them trained them to higher levels, they would be expected to give the guards pay and benefits commensurate with their advanced knowledge and abilities.

Airline insiders say that airport authorities, security companies, and airlines attempt to keep security payrolls to an absolute minimum.

Ingress and egress points (outside perimeter guard post), at Sydney airport, is often the venue of older or semi-retired guards. They too are often unarmed, although some may be former police officers or military men and may be permitted (in some jurisdictions) to carry weapons. Inspections of traffic entering and leaving the cargo areas of several airports is “sporadic”, and familiar looking vehicles (Airline vehicles, Fed-Ex, UPS, Air Cargo, catering firms, etc.) may not ever be inspected. These guard posts should be updated with trained guards who are themselves “sporadically” inspected by officials to ensure that the security they provide is optimised.

To make matters worse, guard points are often located at ground level and very far apart. The only thing protecting most runways, taxi-ways, cargo areas, hangers, and even terminals is a chain-link fence, regularly topped with barbed-wire. At Sydney airport, service and access roads wind through airports that would allow the public to drive or walk within 50 feet or less of active taxiways, ramp areas, or airport buildings. It would not be difficult to enter onto Sydney’s runway. (If you don’t believe me I will show you !). The easiest entrance onto the airport premises would probably be by cutting though exterior perimeter fences at night or in bad weather and then moving to the desired area(s).

3. Deployment of existing technology.

We need to review numerous machines designed to detect explosives in cargo, checked baggage, carry-on bags, and on passengers. There is no “silver bullet”. No single machine offers a solution to the challenges we face. Each machine has its own advantages and its own limitations. Even machines that work fairly well in the laboratory need to be tested in actual use at busy airports. We recognize that CASA has certified only one technology for baggage screening, but I believe we must get a variety of machines, including some in use in other countries, into the field. Their day-to-day operators can figure out which equipment works best in what situations and combinations, and what features need to be improved. Finding the strengths and weakness of existing technology will spur industry’s creativity, leading to the invention of better and better instruments. Ultimately, the goal should be to deploy equipment that can be certified by CASA and relevant authorities internationally to detect explosives likely to be used by terrorists.

Preference is for the government to purchase significant numbers of computed tomography detection systems, upgraded x-rays, and other innovative systems. By deploying equipment widely, passengers throughout the aviation system will receive the benefits of the enhancements.

New detection systems must be more capable than current airport systems in detecting different material and smaller quantities of explosives. Current airport X-ray systems can detect only metal objects–not sophisticated plastic explosives. The bombing of Pan Am 103 illustrated the need for security devices to detect small plastic explosives. The plastic explosive suspected in that incident is virtually odorless; difficult to detect; can be molded into a shape that appears as a common, harmless item on X-ray screens; and can be rolled into thin sheets and placed in baggage lining.

The security of the traveling public rests on a careful blend of technology, procedures, and policies. Developing new explosive detection devices is only part of the solution–improving security also involves people. The introduction of new explosive detection equipment represents the next step in the evolution of aviation security after the introduction of metal detectors. Careful attention should be placed on human factors–such as the effectiveness of the people operating the new devices–is necessary to complement the technology.

Magnometers (metal detectors), through which passengers must walk to detect weapons and other metal objects can be adjusted in sensitivity and are often “turned down” to avoid searching passengers, or slowing passenger flows. Or, at times of higher alert, they are turned up to such levels of sensitivity that they detect inconsequential items like a few coins in ones pocket or a belt buckle. Apparently there are optimal settings for these machines, if only the guards were properly trained to use them. Therefore focus should be placed on training and on adhering to stringent security standards.

4. Use of bomb-sniffing dogs.

Canines are used to detect explosives in many important areas, but only sparingly in airport security. I propose an increase in the number of well-trained dogs and handlers can make a significant and rapid improvement in security.

5. Assess the viability of anti-missile defense systems..

Whether or not the explosion of TWA 800 turns out to have been due to a surface-to-air missile attack, as some eye-witness accounts suggest, missile attacks have downed passenger planes in other countries, and it is a risk that should be evaluated. No threat should be deemed as a hoax and a full inquisition into the possibility of threat operating on this sector should be examined aswell as the extent of the threat observable by identified parties.

6. Complement technology with automated passenger profiling.

Profiling can leverage an investment in technology and trained people. Based on information that is already in computer databases, passengers could be separated into a very large majority who present little or no risk, and a small minority who merit additional attention.

Such systems are employed successfully by other agencies, including the Customs Service. By utilizing this process Customs is better able to focus its resources and attention. As a result, many legitimate travelers never see a customs agent anymore.

We should link up with the government to develop an automated profiling system tailored to aviation security. I understand the obvious legal and privacy implementations that this may arouse, but I am of the mind that if you are innocent the law will set you free.

7. Certify screening companies and improve screener performance.

Better selection, training, and testing of the people who work at airport x-ray machines would result in a significant boost in security. I recommend development of uniform performance standards for the selection, training, certification, and re-certification of screening companies and their employees.

8. Aggressively test existing security systems. “Red team” (adversary) type testing should also be increased, and incorporated as a regular part of airport security action plans. Frequent, sophisticated attempts by these red teams to find ways to dodge security measures are an important part of finding weaknesses in the system and anticipating what sophisticated adversaries of our nation might attempt.

9. Use the Customs Service to enhance security.

The Customs Service has many responsibilities and powers not observed by other law enforcement agencies operating on the confines of the airport. By using the Customs Service to complement CASA, and other authorities, I believes that aviation security would be significantly enhanced.

Customs has statutory authority to search people and cargo to stop contraband from coming in or going out of the country. Customs has arrangements with most airlines to receive automated passenger and cargo manifests. These arrangements could be adapted for use in security procedures. Customs, as a law enforcement agency, has access to automated law enforcement databases that could be an invaluable tool in fighting not just drugs but terrorism.

10. Begin implementation of full bag-passenger match.

Matching bags to passengers ensures that the baggage of anyone who does not board the plane is removed. Full bag match ensures that no unaccompanied bag remains on board a flight.

11. Provide regular, comprehensive explosives detection training programs for airline personnel.

Law enforcement agencies with expertise in explosives detection can provide valuable training to those involved in aviation security.


In my assessment the development of a security plan covers not only operation into Belfast but rather any operation where a threat is eminent. The reason being that aviation as a whole would be the target of any such threat. Security measured put in place would be for the benefit of the people as a whole and not only our passengers.

We are moving into a new era of better aviation security. Because of hard lessons learned from previous terrorist and criminal attacks the government and industry are better prepared in the best position ever to confront the current threat. Yet the current system is flawed and additional changes are needed. As the number of commercial flights continue to expand, the number of passengers increase, and the next generation of aircraft are deployed, the vulnerability of the system to terrorism and explosives will increase rather than diminish if new technology is not developed. During the waning years of the twentieth century, finding a solution to the breach of airline security will preoccupy government and airline security officials. It is an area that in my judgment requires far greater effort on the part of federal authorities to work with local authorities, law enforcement agencies and all airline personnel to achieve an environment that is safe for any intended operation, and such security measures would not e sector specific.


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