Airport security: Wikis


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Baggage is scanned using X-ray machines, passengers walk through metal detectors at Berlin-Schönefeld International Airport, Germany
Baggage screening monitoring at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport

Airport security refers to the techniques and methods used in protecting airports and aircraft from crime.

Large numbers of people pass through airports. Such gatherings present a target for terrorism and other forms of crime due to the number of people located in a small area. Similarly, the high concentration of people on large airliners, the potential high lethality rate of attacks on aircraft, and the ability to use a hijacked airplane as a lethal weapon provide an alluring target for terrorism[citation needed].

Airport security provides defense by attempting to stop would-be attackers from bringing weapons or bombs into the airport. If they can succeed in this, then the chances of these devices getting on to aircraft are greatly reduced. As such, airport security serves two purposes: To protect the airport from attacks and crime and to protect the aircraft from attack.

Monte R. Belger of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration notes "The goal of aviation security is to prevent harm to aircraft, passengers, and crew, as well as support national security and counter-terrorism policy."[1]


Airport enforcement authority

While some countries may have an agency that protects all of their airports (such as Australia, where the Australian Federal Police is responsible for security at major airports[2]), in other countries like the United States, the protection is controlled at the state or local level. The primary personnel will vary and can include:

  • A police force hired and dedicated to the airport
  • A branch (substation) of the local police department stationed at the airport
  • Members of the local police department assigned to the airport as their normal patrol area
  • Members of a country's military
  • Members of a country's airport protection service
  • Police dog services for explosive detection, drug detection and other purposes

Other resources may include:

Process and equipment

Some tragedies have been the result of travelers being permitted to carry either weapons or items that could be used as weapons on board aircraft so that they could hijack the plane. Travelers are quickly screened by a metal detector. More advanced explosive detection machines are being used in screening such as X-ray machines and Puffer Machines. Explosive detection machines can also be used for both carry on and checked baggage. These detect volatile compounds given off from explosives using gas chromatography [3]. A recent development is the use of backscatter X-ray scanners to detect hidden weapons and explosives on passengers. These devices, which use Compton scattering, require that the passenger stand close to a flat panel and produce a high resolution image [4]. A technology released in Israel in early 2008 allows passengers to pass through metal detectors without removing their shoes, a process required as walk-though gate detectors are not reliable in detecting metal in shoes or on the lower body extremities. Alternately, the passengers step fully shoed onto a device which scans in under 1.2 seconds for objects as small as a razor blade.[5]

Generally people are screened through airport security into the concourses, where the exit gates to the aircraft are located. This area is often called a secure or sterile area, and is referred to as airside. Passengers are discharged from airliners into the sterile area so that they usually will not have to be re-screened if disembarking from a domestic flight; however they are still subject to search at any time. Eating establishments have started using plastic glasses and utensils as opposed to glasses made out of glass and utensils made out of metal to reduce the usefulness of such items as weapons.

In the United States non-passengers were once allowed on the concourses to meet arriving friends or relatives at their gates, but this is greatly restricted now in the United States. Non-passengers must obtain a gate pass to enter the secure area of the airport. The most common reasons that a non-passenger may obtain a gate pass is to assist children and the elderly as well as for attending business meetings that take place in the secure area of the airport. In the United States, at least 24 hours notice is generally required for those planning to attend a business meeting inside the secure area of the airport.[citation needed] Other countries, such as Australia do not yet restrict non-travellers from accessing the airside area, however non-travellers are typically subject to the same security scans as travellers.[6].

Sensitive areas in airports, including airport ramps and operational spaces, are restricted from the general public. Called a SIDA (Security Identification Display Area), these spaces require special qualifications to enter.

In some countries, specially trained individuals may engage passengers in a conversation to detect threats rather than solely relying on equipment to find threats. In the United States the TSA has run several dummy tests in several major airports to measure the success of catching people with bombs. In 2002, the TSA reported that roughly 60% of fake bombs or component parts to bombs were missed by covert screeners. In 2007, that percentage rose to 75%, although this increase alone is misleading[7]. The tests are done by using undercover agents to carry fake bombs/parts in their carry on luggage and counting how many are successful with getting through security checkpoints. The TSA runs covert tests every day and when a screener misses an undercover agent carrying dangerous items, they are immediately sent to remedial training[citation needed].

Throughout the world, there have been a few dozen airports that have instituted a version of a "trusted traveler program". Proponents argue that security screening can be made more efficient by detecting the people that are threats, and then searching them. They argue that searching trusted, verified individuals should not take the amount of time it does. Critics argue that such programs decrease security by providing an easier path to carry contraband through.[8][9]

New to airport security systems are perimeter defenses. These systems are designed to minimize unauthorized intrusions from personnel or vehicles originating from outside airport property at far distances from where most authorized personnel are located. An excellent perimeter security system for defense against vehicles is a traffic spike[10] or Tiger Teeth system[11]. These defense systems are designed to rupture the tires of vehicles traveling in an unauthorized direction, onto airport property. If a vehicle travels from the airport outward, such as an airplane that overshoots the runway, the spikes or teeth fold down to reduce the chance of a ruptured tire. These systems are less than 3" in height, meeting FAA regulations for objects located in areas with FOD controls. Typical anti-personnel perimeter security systems include security fences and security camera systems.

Notable incidents

The world's first terrorist attack intending to indiscriminately kill civilians while in flight was Cubana Flight 455. It was a Cubana flight from Barbados to Jamaica that was brought down by a terrorist attack on October 6, 1976, killing 73 people. Evidence implicated several Central Intelligence Agency-linked anti-Castro Cuban exiles and members of the Venezuelan secret police DISIP, including Luis Posada Carriles.

The single deadliest airline catastrophe resulting from the failure of airport security to detect an on board bomb was Air India Flight 182 in 1985, which killed 329 people.

Another notable failure was the 1994 bombing of Philippine Airlines Flight 434, which turned out to be a test run for a planned terrorist attack called Operation Bojinka. The explosion was small, killing one person, and the plane made an emergency landing. Operation Bojinka was discovered and foiled by Manila police in 1995.

On May 30, 1972 three members of the Japanese Red Army undertook a terrorist attack, popularly called the Lod Airport massacre, at the Lod Airport, now known as the Ben Gurion International Airport, in Tel Aviv. Firing indiscriminately with automatic firearms and throwing grenades, they managed to kill 24 people and injure 78 others before being neutralized (one of them through suicide). One of the three terrorists, Kozo Okamoto, survived the incident.

The Rome and Vienna airport attacks in December 1985 were two more instances of airport security failures. The attacks left 20 people dead when gunmen threw grenades and opened fire on travelers at El Al airline ticket counters. On July 5, 2002, a gunman opened fire at Los Angeles International Airport (Israel's El Al Ticket Counter). The shooter killed two people and injured four. On August 10, 2006, security at airports in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States was raised significantly due to the uncovering by British authorities of a terror plot aimed at detonating liquid explosives on flights originating from these countries. This is also notable as it was the first time the US Terror Alert Level ever reached "red". The incident also led to tighter restrictions on carrying liquids and gels in hand luggage in the EU, Canada, and the United States.[12]

Airport security by country


All restrictions involving airport security are determined by Transport Canada and are enforced by the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA). Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, as well as the Air India bombing in 1985 and other incidents, airport security has tightened in Canada in order to prevent any attacks in Canadian Airspace.

CATSA uses x-ray machines to verify the contents of all carry-ons as well as metal detectors, explosive trace detection (EDT) equipment and random physical searches of passengers at the pre-board screening points. X-ray machines, CTX machines, high-resolution x-rays and EDTs are also used to scan checked bags. All checked baggage is always x-rayed at all major commercial airports.

CATSA also completed the first phase of its Restricted Area Identity Credential (RAIC) program in January 2007. This program replaces the old Airport Restricted Area Passes issued to airport employees after security checks by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Transport Canada with new cards (issued after the same checks are conducted) that contain biometric information (fingerprints and iris scans) belonging to the person issued the RAIC.

The RAIC has yet to be extended to the security perimeter of Canadian airports for vehicles and persons entering from checkpoints not within airport terminals.

While CATSA is responsible for pre-board passenger and random non-passenger screening, they contract out to third-party "service providers" such as Aeroguard and Garda to train, manage and employ the screening officers. In addition, individual airport authorities which were privatized in the 1990s by the Canadian Government are responsible for general airport security rather than CATSA and normally contract out to private companies and in the case of large airports, pay for a small contingent of local police officers to remain on site as well.

Safety and security at Canada's airports are provided by local police forces. The RCMP once used to provide this service at most airports, but remains so for a few today:

Hong Kong

An armed police officer at Hong Kong International Airport

The Hong Kong International Airport is secured by the Hong Kong Police Force and Aviation Security Company (AVSECO). Within the police force, the Airport District is responsible for the safety and security of the airport island. Airport Security Unit (ASU) members are deployed around the airport and are armed with H&K MP5 A3 Submachine Gun. The security of the restricted area is the responsibility of the police and AVSECO.

While the airport is under the control of the Airport Authority Hong Kong (AAHK), the security power has been delegated to the AVSECO staffs. All persons and baggages carried by them must be X-Rayed and checked at the security screening points of the AVSECO (with a few exceptions at the Tenant Restricted Area).

The Customs and Excise Department will check passengers and crews' luggage to discourage smuggling of drugs and contraband from entering Hong Kong. New regulations have been made similar to Europe as of April 2007, no liquids can be brought onto a plane which exceed 100ml.


French security has been stepped up since terrorist attacks in France in 1986. In response France established the Vigipirate program. The program uses troops to reinforce local security and increases requirements in screenings and ID checks. Since 1996 security check-points have transferred from the Police Nationale/Gendarmerie de l'Air to private companies hired by the airport authorities.


India stepped up its airport security after the 1999 Kandahar hijacking. The Central Industrial Security Force, a paramilitary organisation is in charge of airport security under the regulatory frame work of the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security ( Ministry of Civil Aviation Security). CISF formed an Airport Security Group to protect Indian airports. Every airport has now been given an APSU (Airport Security Unit), a trained unit to counter unlawful interference with civil aviation. Apart from the CISF every airline has an aviation security force which is a separate department.

Terrorist threats and narcotics are the main threats in Indian airports. Another problem that some airports face is the proliferation of slums around the airport boundaries in places like Mumbai. Before boarding, additional searching of hand luggage is likely.


El Al Airlines is headquartered in Israel. The last hijacking occurred on July 23, 1969,[13] and no plane departing Ben Gurion Airport, just outside Tel Aviv, has ever been hijacked.[14]

It was in 1972 that terrorists from the Japanese Red Army launched an attack that led to the deaths of at least 24 people at Ben Gurion. Since then, security at the airport relies on a number of fundamentals, including a heavy focus on what Raphael Ron, former director of security at Ben Gurion, terms the "human factor", which may be generalized as "the inescapable fact that terrorist attacks are carried out by people who can be found and stopped by an effective security methodology."[15]

On December 27, 1985, terrorists simultaneously attacked El Al ticket counters at the Rome, Italy and Vienna, Austria airports using machine guns and hand grenades. Nineteen civilians were killed and many wounded. In response, Israel developed further methods to stop such massacres and drastically improved security measures around Israeli airports and even promised to provide plainclothes armed guards at each foreign airport.[16] The last successful airline-related terrorist attack was in 1986, when a security agent found a suitcase full of explosives during the initial screening process. While the bag did not make it on board, it did injure 13 after detonating in the terminal.[16]

As part of its focus on this so-called "human factor," Israeli security officers interrogate travelers using racial profiling, singling out those who appear to be Arab based on name or physical appearance.[17] Additionally, all passengers, even those who do not appear to be of Arab descent, are questioned as to why they are traveling to Israel, followed by several general questions about the trip in order to search for inconsistencies.[13] Although numerous civil rights groups have demanded an end to the profiling, Israel maintains that it is both effective and unavoidable. As stated by Ariel Merari, an Israeli terrorism expert, "it would be foolish not to use profiling when everyone knows that most terrorists come from certain ethnic groups. They are likely to be Muslim and young, and the potential threat justifies inconveniencing a certain ethnic group."[18]

Passengers leaving Israel are checked against a computerized list. The computers, maintained by the Israeli Ministry of Interior, are connected to the Israeli police and Interpol in order to catch suspects or others leaving the country illegally.[19]

Despite such tight security, an incident occurred on November 17, 2002 in which a man apparently slipped through airport security at Ben Gurion Airport with a pocketknife and attempted to storm the cockpit of El Al Flight 581 en route from Tel Aviv to Istanbul, Turkey. While no injuries were reported and the attacker was subdued by guards hidden among the passengers 15 minutes before the plane landed safely in Turkey, authorities did shut down Ben Gurion for some time after the attack to reassess the security situation and an investigation was opened to determine how the man, an Israeli Arab, managed to smuggle the knife past the airport security.[20]

At a conference in May 2008, the United States Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told Reuters interviewers that the United States will seek to adopt some of the Israeli security measures at domestic airports. He left his post in January of 2009, a mere 6 months after this statement, which may or may not have been enough time to implement them. [21]

On a more limited focus, American airports have been turning to the Israeli government and Israeli-run firms to help upgrade security in the post-9/11 world. Israeli officials toured Los Angeles Airport in November 2008 to re-evaluate the airport after making security upgrade recommendations in 2006, and Ron's company, New Age Security Solutions, based in Washington, D.C., consults on aviation security at Boston's Logan International Airport.[15][22] Calling Ben Gurion "the world’s safest airport," Antonio Villaraigosa, mayor of Los Angeles, has implemented the Israeli review in order to bring state-of-the-art technology and other tactical measures to help secure LAX, considered to be the state’s primary terrorist target and singled out by the Al Qaeda network.[23]

Other US airports to incorporate Israeli tactics and systems include Port of Oakland and the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. "The Israelis are legendary for their security, and this is an opportunity to see firsthand what they do, how they do it and, as importantly, the theory behind it," said Steven Grossman, director of aviation at the Port of Oakland. He was so impressed with a briefing presented by the Israelis that he suggested a trip to Israel to the U.S. branch of Airports Council International in order to gain a deeper understanding of the methods employed by Israeli airport security and law enforcement.[24]


An Aetos auxiliary police officer outside the Departure Hall of Terminal 2, Singapore Changi Airport

Security for the country's two international passenger airports comes under the purview of the Airport Police Division of the Singapore Police Force, although resources are concentrated at Singapore Changi Airport where scheduled passenger traffic dominate. Seletar Airport, which specializes in handling non-scheduled and training flights, is seen as posing less of a security issue. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, and the naming of Changi Airport as a terrorism target by the Jemaah Islamiyah, the airport's security has been stepped up. Roving patrol teams comprising of two soldiers and a police officer armed with machine guns patrol the terminals at random. Departing passengers are checked at the entrance of the gate rather than after immigration clearance like Hong Kong International Airport. This security measure is easily noticed by the presence of X-Ray machines and metal detectors at every gate which is not normally seen at other airports.

Assisting the state organizations, are the security services provided by the ground handlers, namely that of the ((Certis CISCO)),Singapore Airport Terminal Services's SATS Security Services, and the Aetos Security Management Private Limited, formed from a merger of the Changi International Airport Services's airport security unit and that of other companies to become a single island-wide auxiliary police company. These officers duties include screening luggage and controlling movement into restricted areas.

Since 2005, an upgrade in screening technology and rising security concerns led to all luggage-screening processes to be conducted behind closed-doors. Plans are also in place to install over 400 cameras to monitor the airport, to discourage bomb attacks similar to the 2005 Songkhla bombings in Southern Thailand where Hat Yai International Airport was targeted. Tenders to incorporate such a system were called in late September 2005.[25]


Airport security in Spain is provided by police forces, as well as private security guards. The Policía Nacional provides general security as well as passport (in international airports) and documentation checking. In Catalonia and Basque Country, the Mossos d'Esquadra and the Ertzaintza, respectively, have replaced the Policía Nacional except for documentation functions. The Guardia Civil handles the security and customs checking, often aided by private security guards. Local police provide security and traffic control outside the airport building.

Safety measures are controlled by the state owned company Aena, and are bound to European Commission Regulations, as in other European Union countries [12][26].

United Kingdom

Terminal 2 at Birmingham International Airport, England. The row of concrete security barriers makes close approach by vehicles difficult.

The Department for Transport (DFT) is the heart of airport security in the United Kingdom. In September 2004, with the Home Office, DFT started an initiative called the "Multi Agency Threat and Risk Assessment" (MATRA), which was piloted at five of the United Kingdom's major airports - Heathrow, Birmingham, East Midlands, Newcastle and Glasgow. Following successful trials, the scheme has now been rolled out across 44 airports.

Since the September 11 attacks in New York, the United Kingdom has been assessed as a high risk country due to its support of the United States both in its invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.

From January 7, 2008, travelers are no longer limited to a single piece of carry-on luggage at most of the UK's major airports[27] Currently, hand luggage is limited to bags that are no larger than 56 cm (22.0 in) tall, 45 cm (17.7 in) wide, 25 cm (9.8 in) deep[28]. Certain airlines have more stringent rules.

Passengers are not permitted to take any liquids over 100 ml past security, although liquids in larger containers purchased in the secure area are allowed on flights. Any liquids under 100 ml must be placed in "a single, transparent, re-sealable plastic bag (about the size of a small freezer bag), which itself must not exceed 1 litre in capacity (approximately 20cm x 20cm)"[29].

All bags are screened via X-ray before being put on the plane. All passengers must walk through metal detectors. Human airport security has also been increased and people are highly likely to be searched. There are also the usual checks of passports and boarding cards.

The UK is considering new methods of screening passengers to further improve airport security, such as advanced X-ray machines that provide a 360-degree view of a person, as well as "see" under clothes, right down to the skin and bones.

United States

Airport security stations at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

Prior to the 1970s American airports had minimal security arrangements to prevent aircraft hijackings. Measures were introduced starting in the late 1960s after several high-profile hijackings.

Sky marshals were introduced in 1970 but there were insufficient numbers to protect every flight and hijackings continued to take place. Consequently in late 1972, the Federal Aviation Administration required that all airlines begin screening passengers and their carry-on baggage by January 5, 1973. This screening was generally contracted to private security companies. Private companies would bid on these contracts. The airline that had operational control of the departure concourse controlled by a given checkpoint would hold that contract. Although an airline would control the operation of a checkpoint, oversight authority was held by the FAA. C.F.R. Title 14 restrictions did not permit a relevant airport authority to exercise any oversight over checkpoint operations.

The September 11, 2001 attacks prompted even tougher regulations, such as limiting the number of and types of items passengers could carry[30] on board aircraft and requiring increased screening for passengers who fail to present a government issued photo ID.

The Aviation and Transportation Security Act generally required that by November 19, 2002 all passenger screening must be conducted by Federal employees. As a result, passenger and baggage screening is now provided by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), part of the Department of Homeland Security. Provisions to improve the technology for detecting explosives were included in the Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. Often, security at category X airports, the U.S. largest and busiest as measured by volume of passenger traffic, are provided by private contractors.[31][32] Because of the high volume of passenger traffic, category X airports are considered vulnerable targets for terrorism.

Noticing the demand for new technology in airport security, General Electric (GE) started to develop the Secure Registered Traveler System. The new system would use newly developed technology such as automated carry-on scanning, automatic biological pathogen detection, millimeter-wave full body scanning and a quadruple resonance carpet that would detect threats in shoes without having to take them off. The SRT program also works with smartcard technology along with fingerprint technology to help verify passengers. The fingerprint scanner also detects for explosive material traces on the person's fingers. These technologies will provide a more detailed search that is less intrusive to the passengers.

With the increase in security screening, some airports saw long queues for security checks. To alleviate this, airports created Premium lines for passengers traveling in First or Business Class, or those who were elite members of a particular airline's Frequent Flyer program.

The "screening passengers by observation techniques" (SPOT) program is operating at some U.S. airports.[33]

United States incidents

On February 27, 2006, at the Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, in an airliner cargo area (accessible only to authorized personnel), threatening graffiti was found.[34][35]

On March 6, 2006 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, an elderly man drove his car onto the runway through two security gates. He made it to an active runway where an Air France aircraft was preparing to land. The man drove around for approximately 23 minutes before being stopped. On the same day a man made it on to the runway by running through a secure gate while it was being opened at Midway International Airport in Chicago. The man made it through one of the three perimeter entrances that did not have a camera, resulting in four different runways being closed down. This incident led to 222 aviation security officers being retrained and a redesign of all perimeter gates.[citation needed] [35]

On March 11, 2006, after four years of continuous security breaches and staffing problems news reports indicated that federal officials removed the head of security at Newark Liberty International Airport.[citation needed] [35]

Category X Airports in the United States

See also


  2. ^
  3. ^ The Industrial Physicist - Safeguarding ports with chemical profiling
  4. ^ Rapiscan Secure 1000
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Australian Government - Passenger Screening Information
  7. ^ The USA Today, October 18, 2007. The 2002 tests had bomb parts in otherwise empty bags while recent tests involve small bomb parts packed into camouflaging materials in normally packed bags, such as toiletry kits.
  8. ^ Bruce Schneier - An Easy Path for Terrorists
  9. ^ Chakrabarti and Strauss - Carnival Booth: An Algorithm for Defeating the Computer-Assisted Passenger Screening System
  10. ^ traffic spike
  11. ^ Tiger Teeth system
  12. ^ a b Commission Regulation (EC) No 1546/2006 of 4 October 2006 amending Regulation (EC) No 622/2003 laying down measures for the implementation of the common basic standards on aviation security Text with EEA relevance
  13. ^ a b Airport Security in Israel, November 27, 2007
  14. ^ Boston Globe What Israeli security could teach us, August 23, 2006
  15. ^ a b What can we learn from Ben Gurion Airport in Israel to help push aviation security in the U.S. to the next level?
  16. ^ a b Washington Times Silly circus or serious airport security?, August 6, 2008
  17. ^ International Herald Tribune, Israeli airport security order dancer to prove identity with dance steps, September 9, 2008
  18. ^ Associated Press Israeli Airport Security Challenged, March 19, 2008
  19. ^ World Press Review Fear of Flying: An Israeli Look at U.S Air Safety, November 2002
  20. ^ The Round Up Israeli airport security foils hijacking attempt, November 18, 2002
  21. ^ Reuters Chertoff keen on Israeli airport security technology, May 29, 2008
  22. ^ Los Angeles Times Improvements in LAX security reported by Israeli consultants, November 8, 2008
  23. ^ LA Times Top airport security expert in Israel to inspect LAX anti-terror measures, June 14, 2008
  24. ^ San Francisco Chronicle, U.S. airport security experts take a look at Israel's methods, May 10, 2007
  25. ^ Radio Australia - News - Singapore to install more security cameras at Changi airport
  26. ^ Commission Regulation (EC) No 68/2004 of 15 January 2004 amending Commission Regulation (EC) No 622/2003 laying down measures for the implementation of the common basic standards on aviation security
  27. ^ "UK Airports where the one bag restriction will no longer apply from 7 January 2008". Department for Transport. 
  28. ^ "Airport Security". Department for Transport. 
  29. ^ "Liquids and air travel - what are the requirements?". Department for Transport. 
  30. ^ *TSA's List of Permitted and Prohibited Items
  31. ^ Leslie Wayne (2004). "Sikh Group Finds Calling in Homeland Security". New York Times. Retrieved August 14, 2009. 
  32. ^ "Akal Security: the Sikh Dharma of Española, New Mexico". Retrieved August 14, 2009. 
  33. ^ "screening passengers by observation techniques (SPOT)"
  34. ^ "Graffiti prompts TSA to cancel jet's flight". The Associated Press. 2006. Retrieved January 1, 2010. 
  35. ^ a b c "Travel Vs. Terrorism", United States Subcommittee on Federal Workforce and Agency Organization, Washington D.C., 2006-11-06 

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