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As air transport becomes more popular, tremendous numbers of people use the services of the aviation industry when travelling each year. However, aircraft are advanced and highly complex pieces of technology which are rather expensive and require constant and thorough maintenance. In addition, accidents in the aviation industry often tend to be lethal. This combination of factors makes the issue of aviation security paramount. In this paper, a literature review will be conducted to identify potential issues in aviation security. After that, these problems will be further discussed and recommendations will be provided so as to address these issues and further increase the effectiveness of aviation security measures.
Nowadays, the aviation industry has become a target for a variety of terrorist attacks due to the fact that it plays a critical role in the economies of countries around the world (Cole & Kuhlmann 2012). In addition, although civil aviation is estimated to be the safest type of transport available today, it is often feared by passengers because of its height above the ground; people tend to be afraid that the plane will malfunction and fall out of the sky, even though the highest levels of danger are usually present during take-off or landing (Price & Forrest 2016).
Indeed, the fear of being a passenger on an airplane involved in an accident (see Figure 1 below) can considerably reduce the number of airline customers. Also, building aircraft requires an extremely large amount of resources and effort; therefore, planes are exceptionally expensive, which makes them a more attractive target for terrorist attacks.
Given the interest that malicious actors have taken in aircraft, maintaining an appropriate level of security when it comes to air transport is paramount (Schouten 2014)—not only because of the extreme costs associated with the destruction of an airplane but also due to the highly adverse impact of such events on the economies of countries and, of course, the safety of the passengers on board (Baker & Benny 2012).
Thus, aviation security remains an important international issue. Numerous international and regional organisations—such as the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the Arab Civil Aviation Commission (ACAC), the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), and the Latin American Civil Aviation Commission (LACAC)—oversee the creation of safety legislation and protocols which are supposed to maximise the level of security in the field of aviation (International Civil Aviation Organization n.d.).
However, because technologies in the contemporary world are developing rapidly, which provides malefactors with a variety of opportunities to cause aviation-related harm, simply complying with safety regulations and legislation created according to the demands of international aviation security organisations does not necessarily prevent terrorism as effectively as possible. This fact can be explained by the rate at which these regulations and pieces of legislation are adopted; such laws and documents are usually created retrospectively and thus lag behind the emerging methods of attack instead of outrunning them (Kaspersen 2016).
The current aviation security system is based on a number of assumptions, one of which is that strict compliance with rules and regulations will maximise the level of safety in the field of aviation (Johnstone 2015); another tacit assumption is that passengers are passive agents, while airport security personnel are active agents who perform acts aimed at safeguarding passengers and their property (Kirschenbaum 2013; Kirschenbaum 2015).
The literature discusses numerous threats to aviation security which exist nowadays. One such danger is related to the increased use of computers and communication technologies in the sphere of aviation; the need for precise communication and the increased reliance on communication technology makes aviation particularly vulnerable to cyber-attacks (Strohmeier et al. 2016). The electronic systems used in aviation that are potentially vulnerable to cyber-attacks include, but are not limited to, flight management systems, air traffic control systems, cargo management, on-board navigation systems and computers, and more (Paganini 2014).
On the whole, remote electronic attacks on aviation systems are capable of causing severe damage or even serious aircraft accidents (Strohmeier et al. 2016). Moreover, cyber attackers may target aircraft which are used to transport, for instance, hazardous materials; in this case, the potential damage caused by a cyber disruption increases to exceptional levels. In addition, when compared to well-known methods of aviation terrorism like hijacking, it is relatively easy to carry out cyber-attacks. All of these factors make it pivotal to implement effective measures to safeguard the aviation industry from cyber-attacks (Paganini 2014). However, the current defence systems in the cyber sphere are mainly reactive, as cyber defence personnel seek ways to respond to the threats that have already emerged (Cole & Kuhlmann 2012; Strohmeier et al. 2016).
Another problem pertaining to aviation security is the issue of luggage and passenger screening in the airport (Lum et al. 2015). On the one hand, it is crucial to carry out a complete scan of both baggage and passengers in case there is an attempt to carry a forbidden item on board the aircraft. On the other hand, malefactors are still sometimes able to smuggle items on board that can be utilised to cause a disruption or an act of terrorism; for instance, an attempt may be made to carry a chemical liquid bomb or a flammable liquid (Price & Forrest 2016).
These items are considerably harder to detect, and thus they present a serious danger to aviation security. In addition, there exists another important issue related to the screening of passengers and their cargo: the time such screening takes. The fact that every passenger needs to be individually scanned prior to being allowed to board the plane seriously slows down the flow of traffic in the airport (Lum et al. 2015).
To maintain a viable speed of customer flow through the airport, only so much time can be spent screening each passenger. This constraint also means that airports are forced to purchase costly equipment and regularly innovate and upgrade their scanners when models which allow for faster scanning become available; of course, this required expenditure means that airports sometimes have to increase the price of plane tickets to cover the costs of screening equipment, which makes the tickets less attractive to potential customers. In addition, airports are forced to find the right balance between thorough screening and speed of traffic; indeed, an excessively slow passenger flow and overcrowding, apart from making the airport less comfortable and attractive to passengers, pose a significant security threat themselves (Kaspersen 2016).
One more problem related to aviation security pertains to the increasing mechanisation and automation of processes which take place in the airport and on the plane (Price & Forrest 2016). Although the use of innovative technologies and computers to do the work which has previously been done by hand allows for an increase in the speed and efficacy of the processes, these pieces of technology are usually still operated by individuals.
Unfortunately, this means that staff members tend to over-rely on machines and electronics, losing their vigilance and awareness of potential safety and security hazards. In addition, because the greater part of the work is done by a machine or a piece of electronic equipment, the personnel may gradually lose their skills (in case of older, more experienced workers) or not learn these skills at all (in case of new, inexperienced workers). It is clear that both the erosion of skills and the decrease in vigilance compromise the safety of the airport and the aviation industry at large (Price & Forrest 2016).
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In addition, there currently exists a kind of malpractice in the field of private aviation which results from the desire of airport management to stay profitable and not share their secrets with their business rivals. Unfortunately, such a desire means that the managers of the airports sometimes decide to keep the most effective and efficient methods, which allow for a considerable increase in the level of aviation security and safety, to themselves, rather than share them with the management teams of other airports (Kaspersen 2016). Clearly, refusing to share the most effective methods for safeguarding airports and aircraft results in a situation in which many airports use less effective security measures than could be utilised, which means greater risks for both passengers and cargo. In addition, when each airport has to invent its own security measures rather than use shared knowledge, the amount of spending that is required for developing such measures increases.
On the whole, it is clear that there exists a large number of problems in the system of aviation security which is currently used in airports today. Because aviation security is crucial for the safety of passengers and for the normal functioning of economies around the world, it is pivotal to further discuss these problems and the possible ways of addressing them so as to enhance the level of safety of airports and aircraft (Price & Forrest 2016).
First of all, it is necessary to consider the current framework of assumptions under which the security systems of contemporary airports operate. As previously noted, the current aviation security system is primarily aimed at providing regulations, such as legislation, with which the airports are supposed to comply; it is believed that such regulations will allow for maximising the level of security. However, because regulations are usually adopted only in response to adverse events, it is possible to call such a system a reactive one (Cole & Kuhlmann 2012).
The author of this paper disagrees with the opinion that such a system is capable of providing the optimal level of aviation safety. Indeed, adopting a proactive stance, one in which airports not only comply with regulations but also engage in the modelling of potential events and in the active monitoring of airport areas that are susceptible to a security breach, would appear to be a more effective tactic for enhancing the levels of aviation safety (Cole & Kuhlmann 2012).
In particular, when it comes to cyber safety, it is clear that hacker attacks on airports can cause a significant amount of damage and that no legislation is capable of anticipating all possible avenues of attack which can be targeted at the computers and electronic systems used to control aircraft and manage flights (Strohmeier et al. 2016). Therefore, airports should also adopt a proactive stance with respect to cyber security (Cole & Kuhlmann 2012) and engage in constant screening of their cyber security systems for any vulnerable elements which could become the target of a hack.
As for luggage and passenger screening at the airports, these processes may take considerable amounts of time because an airport has to screen each passenger individually along with every single piece of baggage. Sometimes the need for thorough screening leads to situations in which the passengers have to wait for hours in queues for screening, which also poses a security threat (Kaspersen 2016). In addition, there exists the issue of race; representatives of certain races are considerably more likely to attract attention from security personnel and be additionally searched (Lum et al. 2015).
Therefore, it is paramount to find the right balance between searching and screening and establishing an appropriate speed of passenger flow. It is also necessary to address the issue of additional suspicion towards representatives of non-White races; apart from the unfair treatment of the representatives of those races, such bias might also result in compromised security due to a false conviction that a White person would not engage in a terrorist attack (Lum et al. 2015).
When it comes to the increased automation and mechanisation, it is necessary to take measures aimed at prompting the security personnel to remain wary of possible problems, even in cases where they rely on innovative equipment (Price & Forrest 2016). As stressed above, it might still be possible to smuggle dangerous materials through security scanners. Therefore, it is clear that scanners should not be completely depended upon (Lum et al. 2015).
Finally, the author of this paper disagrees with the opinion that keeping effective ways of dealing with security and safety problems secret from aviation rivals is rational or beneficial. Even though such secrecy might give some companies a competitive advantage, it is a harmful practice to put the profits of a corporation above everything else, including the lives of people (even if these people are customers of a rival company). In addition, by keeping ways of dealing with security issues secret, aviation companies harm not only their competitors but also themselves because open collaboration in this sphere might allow them to increase their own levels of security as well (Kaspersen 2016).
Based on the literature review and the discussion provided above, it is possible to make a number of recommendations for airports aimed at increasing the levels of aviation security and mitigating the existing security threats. First of all, it is necessary to replace the framework which assumes that complying with safety and security regulations such as legislation and recommendations provided by national, regional or international aviation organisations allows for maximal levels of security (Johnstone 2015); indeed, such compliance is only the bare minimum required to achieve acceptable levels of aviation security.
The airports should take a proactive stance when it comes to the issue of safety and security of airports and aircraft (Cole & Kuhlmann 2012). It can also be advised that each airport management team should make more of an effort aimed at identifying the areas which are weak and potentially vulnerable to a security breach. It is also possible to consider the inclusion of additional agents into safety procedures—for instance, the passengers.
While passengers are often perceived as passive consumers of air transportation services, they are in fact interested in maximising the levels of aircraft safety, and it has been stated that they often take an active stance with respect to security issues (Kirschenbaum 2013; Kirschenbaum 2015). Therefore, it is only necessary to consider the areas in which the desire of passengers to help with security problems may be used in such a manner that their voluntary contributions would be useful.
When it comes to the issue of cyber security (Paganini 2014), it is recommended for airport management to take a proactive stance towards the danger of cyber-attacks, not only attempting to react to the problems that have emerged but also proactively identifying the weak points in cyber security and strengthening them (Cole & Kuhlmann 2012; Strohmeier et al. 2016). In particular, it may be advised to hire the services of the so-called ‘white hackers’—professionals in the area of cyber security who would deliberately try to hack the defence system of an airport with the sole purpose of identifying its weaknesses and taking measures to address them (Kaspersen 2016).
Even though it may be difficult to control the effort of such white hackers (e.g., real hackers would probably be more motivated to breach the system), it may be worth hiring their services, especially if one takes into account the amount of potential damage that would be caused by a real cyber security breach (Paganini 2014).
When it comes to luggage and passenger screening, apart from recommending the use of innovative technologies permitting faster screening of passengers and their cargo, it may be advised to adopt a different approach to screening altogether. Instead of only looking for bombs, weapons, hazardous materials and metal objects (see Figure 2 below), the security personnel may also want to start looking for terrorists themselves (Price & Forrest 2016; Rae 2012).
For instance, people who are about to commit a dangerous and unlawful act may feel very worried or uneasy; consequently, it may be possible to employ technologies which, for instance, allow for the detection of people who are in a state of anxiety or worry and then signal for additional screening or searching (Rae 2012). Of course, the downside of such technology is the potentially high risk of a false alarm, but a false alarm is still better than an airplane crash; in addition, the technologies and techniques for detecting potential malefactors may be refined over time.
Also, as noted previously, the automation and mechanisation of processes should not be a reason for security personnel to lose vigilance (Baker & Benny 2012). It is recommended to better train the personnel to take adequate measures in case of situations in which the technologies fail (Baker & Benny 2012). For this purpose, it may be advised to hire people who would work in secret and try to smuggle illegal items on board.
Such people should be specifically hired and trained, and the scenarios for smuggling items or performing other security breaches should be carefully developed for each particular airport. This undercover system would allow for both testing the existing defences and keeping the security personnel vigilant, especially in the case of a successful (undetected) action.
Finally, it may also be recommended that airports willingly participate in cooperation and the sharing of all information pertaining to aviation security (Kaspersen 2016). As previously stressed, this shared knowledge may save innocent lives and decrease potential damage to property. On the whole, it would be best if legal mechanisms were created to require airports to share their so-called trade secrets in the sphere of security with their competitors.
There are potential downsides to this recommendation, however; for instance, shared information might be leaked, in which case the security system of multiple airports would be compromised; this possibility means that the process of sharing itself needs to be well-defended, which may make it difficult to control and legally enforce. Another potential disadvantage is that rival airports might use the shared information as an unfair means of competition; however, in the modern world of business, when companies engage in stiff competition, using unfair means to beat rivals is always a possibility.
In conclusion, there currently exist several issues related to aviation security. These pertain to the general approach to security, the risk of cyber-attacks, the effectiveness of security scans, and so on. To improve the levels of security in aviation, it is recommended for airport management to take a more proactive stance towards security, to continuously test the existing defences (e.g., by using white hackers and hoax smugglers), and to share all relevant information related to security in spite of the fact that different airports are often business rivals.
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