Aviation Security and its Impact on Airports

Subject: Transportation
Pages: 13
Words: 3542
Reading time:
13 min
Study level: School


This research paper looks at aviation security and how it is affecting how operations are conducted in airports. The paper examines in depth what has triggered all this frenzy in our airports and gauges how people rate the security measures put in place. It does this by incorporating mainly secondary data from trusted sources. The purpose of the research is to show that the American government is ready to deal with any kind of attack on our airports. This is meant to instill confidence among the people who often use air transport. At the end of the paper, the paper gives recommendations on the way forward in maintaining aviation security and means to ensure that the security checks do not harass or inconvenience people. Some of the recommendations given include the fact that aviation attacks can be carried outside the country and therefore there is a need for the government to be on the lookout for any attacks carried out against Americans elsewhere.


The need for aviation security in America can best be derived from a report presented by the National Strategy for Aviation Securities on March 26, 2007. The report reads in part:

“America historically has relied heavily on two vast oceans and two friendly neighbors for border security, and the private sector for most forms of domestic transportation security. The increasing mobility and destructive potential of modern terrorism have required the United States to rethink and renovate fundamentally its systems for border and transportation security. Indeed, we must now begin to conceive of border security and transportation security as fully integrated requirements because our domestic transportation systems are inextricably intertwined with the global transport infrastructure. Virtually every community in America is connected to the global transportation network by the seaports, airports, highways, pipelines, railroads, and waterways that move people and goods into, within, and out of the Nation. We must therefore promote the efficient and reliable flow of people, goods, and services across borders, while preventing terrorists from using transportation conveyances or systems to deliver implements of destruction.” (National Strategy for Aviation Security, 2007)

When we talk about Aviation security in the united states, the memories of September 11 terrorist attacks are still vivid in our minds. We remember that on this fateful day, Arab terrorists used our airspace to launch multiple attacks that led to a lot of damage and many deaths. Aviation attacks have not however started with the September 11 attacks. Events like hijacking of airplanes and downing of airplanes by terrorist groups have been with us for several decades past although it is worthy to note that these attacks have been increasing on a large scale in recent years. While America responded to September eleventh attacks immediately by launching military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan aimed at weakening Al Qaeda infrastructure, another response that is greatly changing our aviation industry is the impact of the government measures and strategies aimed at improving aviation security by limiting terrorist chances of attacking our airspace. (National Strategy for Aviation Security, 2007)

While some of these measures and strategies are bearing results in the protection of American Interests worldwide, a good number of these measures are causing undesirable results to our airports. Passengers are spending a lot of time at the airports for screening operations, which unnecessarily takes a lot of time. Airports have to do with extra expenses that have come up with implementation of aviation security measures. These are just among many other challenges that are coming up with implementation of security standards set up by the United States, international bodies and other countries to counter aviation terrorism. Even with these strict measures, we are still not in a position to confidently saying that our airspace is safe. The recent incident in Nigeria where a Muslim extremist almost blew up a plane with many United States passengers is a good example that can be used to illustrate this. It is therefore a matter of debate whether the security measures implemented at our airports are really the best instrument to use in protecting Americans from terrorist attacks. This is especially true considering the matter from another perspective where we evaluate one of the intentions of terrorist groups, an intention to spread fear and interfere with our normal way of life. This aim can be said to be something that is being achieved in one way or another by the strict aviation security measures that have to be observed and implemented in the aviation Industry. (National Strategy for Aviation Security, 2007)


This research paper looks at the aviation security of our airspace and how this security has affected our airports. In line with terrorist attacks and threats that have been launched through the airspace every person is concerned about aviation security. A good proportion of Americans travel by air frequently. Moreover, most Americans have relatives using the airspace at any govern time. This explains why the matter of aviation security is of great interest to everyone. To even emphasize this further, the September 11 attacks illustrated to us that it is not just passengers in a plane that has been hijacked by terrorists whose lives are in danger. However, everyone is in danger when terrorists are in control of an airplane. More people at and around the Twin Tower buildings lost their lives compared with the fraction of people that died as passengers inside the hijacked planes. It is therefore true that every person in the United States wants and needs to be assured of his/her security in relation to aviation travel. (Forest, 2006)

With the real threat of terrorist attacks against American interests through the airspace, the government, relevant international bodies and other parties concerned have responded to these threats through measures aimed at deterring these attacks. This is also in keeping up with the fact that the American space travel volume is very high and is expected to keep up growing in the near future. Our airports have therefore been significantly affected in implementing security measures and everyone who uses the airplane as a means of travel has subsequently been affected by the new mode of air travel that has come up as a result. This study aims to find out whether our airspace is safe especially in the context of security measures that have been put in place and how our airports have been impacted by these measures whether positively or negatively. (Neumann, 1998)

Policymakers can therefore use the results obtained from this study and other relevant parties concerned with aviation security to come up with effective methods and evaluate current methods used in protecting our airspace. The measures that these bodies have put in place to promote aviation security can be evaluated from another perspective, on which we consider how they have affected our airports and air passengers in general. The common American is just as much concerned about screening procedures, more time has to be spent in these procedures just as much as he/she is concerned about his/her security in the process of air travel. This is among the issues that are coming up as we strive to ensure the safety of everyone in air transport. For this study, the following research questions have been considered: Is our airspace safe? Why not? Why yes? How is security implemented in aviation? And how have our airports been impacted by aviation security in general? (Forest, 2006)

The following is an abstract from a paper on aviation security strategy:

“Threats to the Air Domain are numerous, complex, and adaptive. While conventional military threats in the Air Domain continue and will likely increase in times of international tension or conflict, the greatest current threat, as demonstrated in the Heathrow plot of August 2006 reminds us of the continuing danger, and therefore the focus of the Strategy, is terrorism. Globalization, technological advances, the proliferation of WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction), and the emergence of terrorism as a global phenomenon have enabled threats to the Air Domain to extend in reach, accelerate in speed, and increase in potential impact. Aviation is a global enterprise with a distributed infrastructure and multiple access points. Successful attacks in the Air Domain can inflict mass casualties and grave economic damage, and attract significant public attention because of the impact on the modern transportation system.” (National Strategy for Aviation Security, 2007)

These threats to aviation security can be categorized into the following. First, there are threats from terrorist groups. These are groups that are politically and often religiously motivated to use violence to harm a particular audience. They are considered to be the greatest threat to aviation security in the United States because they have shown a great desire to attack our airspace and have even launched some attacks with devastating results including the September eleventh attacks. This group is highly adaptive and sophisticated. It has shown an ability to infiltrate our security systems through clever mechanisms that can avoid detection. Another threat to our aviation security is that from hostile Nation-states. Some countries for example have been found to sponsor terrorist activities which could include attacks against our airspace. Others on the other hand can pose threats to our country due to their weak security systems that can act as an entry point for terrorists. Criminals can also pose aviation threats. These could be domestic or people from the international community with an extensive knowledge of air transport and with a capacity to launch attacks. Although we have never experienced attacks from criminal groups, they still pose a significant threat to air transport. (Neumann, 1998)

The September 11 commission concluded that Al Qaeda terrorists took advantage of weaknesses in aviation security to launch the deadly and devastating attacks. The following were recommended as measures aimed at sealing these weakness loopholes. One measure that was recommended was enhancing passenger screening. Computer Assisted Prescreening System (CAPPS) was unable to detect the terrorists because of the procedure involved. This was mainly because it was solely used to screen passengers that may try to bomb airplanes using methods that had been employed previously. CAPPS is still used for screening but it has been enhanced to screen for possible hijackers as well. It uses computer software to identify selections based on their behaviors for screening. A follow-up on CAPPS, CAPPS II is a controversial approach of screening that has been controversial because it interferes with personal data and civil liberties. The process would use two-step to first identify personal identity using a commercial database and then check this identity against terrorist watch list which is maintained by the federal government. Airlines have been reluctant to produce personal information of passengers which would be used by CAPPS. The commission recommended that airlines should be compelled to provide this information. (Transportation Security Administration, 2004)

Secondly, the commission recommended improved measures that can detect explosives on passengers. Current methods of detection like X-rays screening are limited in detecting explosives. There are new technologies that would provide a more efficient process of detecting explosives. They are currently being tested at various airports in the country. Body scan technology is controversial since it produces a nude image of a screened passenger. While screening could be effective in detecting explosives, the commission saw the need to address human factor issues at screening checkpoints. One way in which this issue has been addressed has been to set up Threat Image Projection (TIP). This method tests a screener on job performance by comparing images of threats detected with data from researchers which can help to monitor the performance of screeners. Among other factors that can affect the performance of screeners include fitness for duty, knowledge on the use of screening machines and interaction with screening machines. (Transportation Security Administration, 2004)The commission also recommended expedition deployment of IN-Line Baggage Screening systems. This requires for installation of these devices at the airports’ something that is quite costly. With a current funding level of about $250 million against a requirement of about $4 billion to install these devices alone, it is expected to take many years before these systems are fully installed and operational. Airlines are expected to participate in this funding since it is argued that they are likely to benefit greatly from these devices. Moreover, medium-sized airports are expected to contribute about 10 percent of the share while small airports are expected to contribute 5 percent. These devices are expected to greatly enhance detection of substances and devices that could be used to hijack or bomb airplanes. There has been debate on the issue of cost-sharing for the installation of these devices. Besides, the commission recommended the intensification of efforts to Identify, Screen and Track Cargo. This includes 100 percent screening of all cargo using effective technologies to detect cargo that can be used by terrorists. There has been debate on physical screening of cargo or inspection needed to mitigate aviation risks. An approach that has been approved is one that relies heavily on computer software that is used to assess shipments aboard aircraft. (Transportation Security Administration, 2004)

There has been considerable confusion regarding the terms screening and inspection as they pertain to air cargo and presently no statutory or regulatory definitions of these terms exist. In general, the TSA refers to screening as a vetting process, such as the use of a known-shipper database, to assess the level of risk associated with a cargo shipment. TSA uses the term inspections, on the other hand, to refer to physical scrutiny of cargo through any of several available means such as canine teams, hand searches, or the use of x-ray equipment or explosives detection systems. In this report, the term pre-screening has been used in place of what TSA commonly calls screening to avoid confusion since this does not refer to a physical screening process. (Transportation Security Administration, 2004)

To further improve aviation security, the September 11 commission recommended that hardened cargo containers should be deployed in airplanes to carry any suspicious cargo. It is estimated this would cost at least $ 125 million to acquire enough containers. This would cost the aviation industry a total of $11 million dollars due to a reduction in cargo load and an increase in fuel burn. Passenger airlines are thus opposed to this idea. Since this method has security risks that can be exploited, a better approach that has been implemented is one whereby cargo that has not been properly inspected and verified is carried strictly on cargo planes instead of passenger planes. Obviously, cooperation and integration in enhancing aviation security is an effective way of promoting airspace security. The commission recognized challenges that exist especially in role definition and resource allocation. These challenges exist between the state, industry and individual involvement. At the airport, the airport security program is responsible for local security. Physical security is carried out by airport operators as TSA work is mainly to oversee security as well as bear the responsibility of directly screening passengers and cargo. (Transportation Security Administration, 2004)


I aim to look at the aviation security of our airspace and how this security is affecting our airports. The population of this study includes air traffic passengers, workers in the aviation industry and airports. The information obtained for this study is secondary information from organizations and people that have been involved in ground research. Methods that have been used to obtain this information include interviews and observations. A survey interview that was carried on the opinion of airport workers on opinion methods is included in the appendix. This interview was carried out from seventeen airports in the country. The information obtained is considered accurate because most of these workers involved in the screening process of passengers face the same working environment. (National Strategy for Aviation Security, 2007)The other source of secondary information is that from the United States general accounting office. Although they have not shown their primary data, most of their findings agree with our conventional wisdom on aviation issues. Some of their findings are statements of facts like when they talk about the costs of implementing some security measures proposed by TSA, effective methods of security that can be used or the salary paid to some airport employees. (Counter-Terrorism technical Assistance programs, 2001)

Research and recent events have strongly shown that our aviation industry can be attacked at any given time especially by terrorists. The September 11 attacks and a recent incident where a Nigerian Muslim extremist tried to blow up an airplane with U.S. citizens remind us of a real threat that exists in aviation. The question to consider is whether the aviation industry is safe after implementing measures to counter the aviation threat. The security measures implemented in our domestic airports most of which have been discussed in the literature review provide a layered security system that is difficult to penetrate. The risk of hijackers boarding planes in the United States like during the September 11 attacks is thus significantly reduced. According to GAO findings however, a good number of countries in the world do not have a tight security mechanism, which could allow attacks against American interests. (Counter-Terrorism technical Assistance programs, 2001)

A study was carried out to find information on effective screening procedures used and identified the following parameters as important in coming up with new methods. Improve screening performance, establish accountability for screening performance, ensure cooperation among stakeholders, such as airlines, airports, FAA, and screening companies, efficiently move passengers to flights and minimize legal and liability issues. Results of the respondent’s opinions in re-assigning screening responsibilities are shown in the next chapter. (International Air Transport Association, n.d.)

In determining how aviation security issues have affected airports information was also obtained from secondary sources. Some of this information had been analyzed already in the secondary source reports. This information is believed to be reliable since the conclusions derived are making sense and are logical. For example, the recommendation by the Transport Security Agency on the inclusion of hard containers in passenger airplanes for the transportation of non verified luggage will obviously have a consequence of reducing airline profits because of reduced capacity to transport cargo loads by aircraft and an increase in fuel consumption due to increased weight. (Transportation Security Administration, 2004)

In this research, the following assumptions have been made. An assumption is that the samples collected in secondary sources represent the population. Another assumption is that the secondary sources did competent research that can be relied upon to come up with genuine conclusions. Another assumption made is that terrorism is the main aviation security threat. Moreover , an assumption that the current model of aviation in terms of the relationship between airline operators, the government and other parties concerned is not likely to change much in the future enabling this research to predict how some measures will affect the aviation industry in the future. (Neumann, 1998)


The following is a table showing the interview results that had been described in the methodology.

Summary of Respondent’s Views of Alternatives to the Current Program

Options Screener
Accountability Stakeholder
Legal and
Passengers moved
Airlines with new rules Better Better Same Same Same
Airports Undecided Undecided Undecided Undecided Undecided
Federal agency Better Better Undecided Undecided Undecided
Federal corporation Better Better Undecided Undecided Same

The views expressed about the airlines and airports options are based on the opinions of 17 major air carriers and airports we interviewed; views about the federal agency and the federal corporation are based on the opinions of 9 and 4 of these respondents, respectively. A consensus of Better, Same or Worse was determined by having about 60 percent agree on the response. During this interview, most respondents believed that the scanning procedures that were being implemented at airports were going to improve efficiency at the airports. (Forest, 2006)


  1. To curb airline insecurities, new screening methods and procedures have been installed at airports.
  2. Moreover, airports have been integrated into meeting the financial costs of these new measures of which a number are controversial because they interfere with civic liberties among other things.
  3. Generally, there has been a steady increase in the number of workers doing scanning at the airports straining financial resources at the airport further.
  4. The proposed method of 100% scanning of passengers and luggage is costly as compared to concentrating energy on a few potentially dangerous passengers. Besides, it consumes more time for passengers as a result, passenger traffic has increased at the airports.
  5. There is increasing consensus that the TRA regulatory role in aviation security is unnecessary and is leading to inefficiencies in fighting aviation insecurities.
  6. The new scanning procedures and methods installed at the airports are more efficient in detecting dangerous passengers although some of these procedures are very costly.
  7. There is a controversial debate by the congress and other parties concerned in the aviation industry on issues like scanning methods and measures that can be adapted to effectively curb aviation insecurities while considering important aspects like economy and civil rights of citizens.
  8. Aviation threats against American interests can be carried out on foreign soil. This means that a good international intelligence network is necessary to curb such threats. On the other hand, countries with a poor security system can present a door for aviation attacks against American interests.


Counter- Terrorism technical Assistance programmes. (2001). International Civil Aviation Organization. Web.

Forest, F.J. (2006).The Modern Terrorist Threat to Aviation Security. Web.

International Air Transport Association. (n.d.). The air transport industry since 11 September 2001. Web.

National Strategy for Aviation Security. (2007). Web.

Neumann, G.P. (1998). Computer Security in Aviation: Vulnerabilities, Threats, and Risks. Web.

Transportation Security Administration. (2004). Security Guidelines for General Aviation Airports. Web.