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Risk-Based vs Traditional Aviation Security Models Essay

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Updated: Nov 21st, 2020


Aviation is of paramount importance for the proper functioning of the modern world. Every year, aircraft carry millions of people and tremendous amounts of cargo across the earth, substantially reducing the time that their transportation would otherwise require.

However, due to certain specifics of the aviation industry, aircraft may be attacked by a range of malefactors for the purpose of terrorism. Because of this, aviation security, which is aimed at protecting aircraft from such malefactors, plays a key role in aviation. Highly effective aviation security personnel and procedures are pivotal if the health and lives of aircraft passengers are to be protected, and the cargo carried by planes is to be kept safe.

In this respect, it should be observed that the traditional model of aviation security relies on the principle that rules for ensuring aviation safety are determined by some type of governmental agency, and airports are in turn expected to comply with these rules (Price & Forrest 2016). On the other hand, an alternative model of aviation security has also emerged recently.

The proponents of the alternative model maintain that aviation security should be based on such factors as forecasts and risk assessments, and that aviation security should focus on outcomes rather than on the implementation of particular procedures or protocols. Therefore, in this paper, each of the two main approaches to aviation security will be defined, and attention will be paid to both the advantages and disadvantages of each approach. After that, a discussion will follow so as to decide which one of the approaches seems better for maintaining appropriate security levels in the aviation industry.

The Risk-Based, Outcomes-Focused Approach to Airport Security


The risk-based, outcomes-focused model of airport security is different from the traditional model in that it is aimed not at providing regulations and rules with which airports have to comply, but rather at setting the desired levels of security and safety that the airports would have to meet by utilizing the means and methods they view as appropriate (Hammond 2011).

It is therefore proposed that governments would withdraw most of the regulations pertaining to airport safety so that airports would be able to enact the security measures that would enable airlines to reach the minimal permitted level of safety by employing methods that are designed by the airports themselves so as to better meet the needs of their clients, also allowing for a greater amount of flexibility and for implementing innovative technology when needed (Hammond 2011).

Thus it is necessary to consider the potential risks and benefits of such an approach. However, it should be pointed out that, in contrast to the traditional, prescriptive approach to airport security, the proposed methods have not been tested in practice, and their potential pros and cons are, to a certain degree, based on the assumptions and predictions rather than on the available evidence pertaining to their implementation by airlines.

Possible Positive Aspects of the New Approach

On the whole, it is hypothesised that the implementation of the risk-based, outcomes-focused approach to aviation security will allow for attaining a considerable advantage in comparison to the traditional, prescriptive aviation security model. For example, according to IATA (2013), the implementation of such an approach in airports will bring about a strengthening of the levels of security thanks to the possibility of concentrating the utilisation of resources on the areas which most require them, i.e., based on the actual risk levels rather than on prescriptive regulations.

The level of security is also likely to be enhanced because the airports will be permitted to decide how to use existing technologies on their own, as well as to introduce new, innovative technologies for providing security and safety when they believe that these technologies will lead to a positive change in this field (IATA 2013).

In addition, it has been proposed that the implementation of this new approach will also increase the operational efficiency of airports (IATA 2013). In particular, some researchers assert that a considerable amount of the security efforts currently undertaken in airports are redundant (Stewart & Mueller 2014); in other words, the risks to safety would need to be much higher than they are now to justify the efforts currently being made to maintain airport security. This redundancy leads to a decreased throughput of passengers through airports, for instance, due to the need to thoroughly scan them and their possessions, which is a rather time-consuming process (Stewart & Mueller 2014).

These experts argue that a risk-based, outcomes-focused approach will in contrast allow for eliminating numerous redundant procedures which are currently carried out in airports and replacing them with more time-efficient ones, which should lead to an increased passenger throughput, a decreased workload for airport security personnel, and an enhanced level of customer satisfaction thanks to lower wait times and simplified procedures in airports (IATA 2013).

The new approach can be called deregulatory, for according to it, the government would cancel most of its regulations and place the issues of airport security into the “hands” of the airports themselves. It can be assumed that the implementation of the new approach would allow for reducing security spending in airports (IATA 2013).

One apparent assumption is that airlines will be able to choose only the most effective measures for providing security, and to eliminate those measures which are overly complex and require excessive effort from security personnel (Stewart & Mueller 2014), thus reducing spending on airport security and the amount of effort previously required, while also improving the effectiveness of security measures.

Finally, a logical hypothesis is that the free market should encourage maintaining the proper levels of security in airports, because the airlines themselves will be interested in providing an adequate level of safety for their clients, or else they will lose a considerable number of their customers and suffer monetary losses as a result.

Possible Negative Aspects of the New Approach

There are also a number of concerns pertaining to the possible adverse aspects of the implementation of the new risk-based, outcomes-focused approach to aviation security. For instance, it may be unclear how to standardise the requirements for airport safety when setting the desired minimal levels of airport security (IATA 2013). When using the compliance approach, the government provides a set of rules and regulations that are based on many years of international experience related to airport security, and appropriate levels of compliance with these regulations should allow for maintaining at least minimal levels of security in airports.

On the other hand, in the proposed innovative model, airports will have to choose the methods for providing security on their own, which could mean that untested procedures and methods will be utilised, leading to an actual lowering of security levels, and potentially endangering the airport personnel and passengers. In addition, it may be methodologically difficult and unclear how to measure the levels of security in an airport, which means that deciding what security procedures to implement will also be difficult; in addition, the human factor (Kirschenbaum 2013) may also play a considerable disruptive role in this situation. Problems pertaining to this approach, therefore, are related not only to defining common standards for safety levels (IATA 2013), but also to following them.

Another potential concern is related to the high costs associated with the implementation of the new approach (IATA 2013). On the whole, it will not always be clear which safety procedures to implement, and testing them will require additional financial resources. In addition, the spending on the safety procedures will probably become the burden of the airports, or, in the end, their customers; as a result, the airports may risk losing a considerable amount of money due to losing clients, or facing the need to lower the level of security in an attempt to reduce ticket prices.

The Traditional Compliance Model of Aviation Security


The traditional model of aviation security is based on the hypothesis that the risks related to aviation can be minimised and even mitigated by creating certain safety rules and enforcing compliance with them (Kirschenbaum 2015). As a result, in most current cases, the methods for maintaining safety and security of airports are defined by certain regulations that are created by various governmental institutions and agencies.

These agencies or institutions can be either national (e.g., the United States Department of Homeland Security) or international (for instance, the International Civil Aviation Organisation). To give an example of the above-mentioned regulations, it can be noted that in the European Union, there are numerous regulatory acts which define the basic notions pertaining to aviation security as well as impose certain minimal standards that ought to be met by any airport.

For instance, such a document as Regulations: Commission implementing regulation (2015), which was adopted by the European Commission in 1998 and revised in 2015, provides a detailed account of measures to be implemented for the purpose of maintaining basic levels of aviation safety. Another example: the implementation of aviation security measures in some countries is determined by a document created by the European Commission (2015), which is also updated on a regular basis.

Generally speaking, it should be stressed that such acts and regulations allow for maintaining established standards of safety and security at any airport (Benny 2013), but they may require frequent updates due to the fact that the methods which could potentially be utilised by various malefactors are growing more and more diverse and sophisticated over time.

Negative Aspects of the Traditional Model

On the whole, the traditional model of airport security, which demands compliance with a number of regulations that are imposed by state or international organisations, has several disadvantages; most of these disadvantages are related to the claims that such regulations are often cumbersome, require a considerable investment of a variety of resources and efforts in order to be upheld, are inconvenient to airport personnel and passengers, cost too much money, and are redundant (Figure 1) (Hammond 2011; IATA 2013; Stewart & Mueller 2014). In addition, it has been asserted that the safety regulations are not updated frequently enough, which leads to airports implementing obsolete measures to prevent security breaches.

Complying with all the regulations pertaining to airport security checks may result in long lines, where passengers have to wait for hours
Figure 1: Complying with all the regulations pertaining to airport security checks may result in long lines, where passengers have to wait for hours (Vasel 2016).

As has been noted, one of the possible disadvantages of the traditional model of airport security is that the regulations imposed by governments are very cumbersome, and may be redundant (Stewart & Mueller 2014).

Due to the fact that governmental regulations demand a complete scan of the passengers and their baggage as well as the carrying out of other checks, the staff of an airport are required to put a large amount of effort into executing the security protocols, which may potentially result in burnout for the airport personnel; it also tires out the customers and consumes their temporal resources in large amounts (Baeriswyl, Krause & Schwaninger 2016). Given that some have stated that these measures are too thorough (Stewart & Mueller 2014), the claim may be justified that they only lead to the exhaustion of the staff and the dissatisfaction of the clients, which leads to the conclusion that these measures should be partially reduced or completely replaced with a different system of aviation security.

Another problem that is associated with the traditional compliance model of airport security pertains to the high cost of implementing all the required security protocols, measures, and so on (Stewart & Mueller 2014). Complete implementation not only necessitates a large number of personnel for carrying out the protocol, but it also requires that costly scanning equipment is purchased and maintained. It might be argued that financial resources spent on buying such equipment could be utilised with greater effect for other purposes, such as enhancing the quality of client service.

Apart from that, it has been argued that the traditional security models make a set of assumptions pertaining to the behaviours of both the security personnel and clients, and that these assumptions do not take into account a large proportion of behaviours that are frequently displayed by all parties involved in the scanning and security processes which take place in airports (Kirschenbaum 2015).

For instance, rule compliance may be impacted by social factors such as the friendships or family relationships of the airport personnel. Having such a relationship with an airport co-worker may have a great impact on the personnel’s perceptions pertaining to the safety of a certain passenger or group of passengers, the staff’s behaviours when it comes to evacuation decisions, and so on (Kirschenbaum 2015). Another problem is racial bias; it is known that a person of colour is significantly more probable to attract additional attention from security guards, so such people suffer from racial profiling; simultaneously, White individuals draw less attention, from which it follows that it is easier for them to participate in illegal activities (Lum et al. 2015).

This means that security protocols and regulations imposed by governmental organisations are often breached due to social factors that are not taken into account by these protocols and regulations (Kirschenbaum 2015), which is a major disadvantage of the currently existing prescriptive security systems.

In addition, it should be noted that there is a probability of false alarms when scanning passengers and cargo for safety purposes. Although having a false alarm appears safer than missing a threat, it must be emphasized that in certain situations, especially when social factors such as the ones which were discussed above are present, the security personnel of airports may tend to evaluate most if not all threats as false alarms, which means that de facto use of these safety systems falls far from the prescribed actions as defined by the safety regulations imposed on the airports by governmental organisations (Kirschenbaum 2015).

The traditional model furthermore assumes that passengers are passive entities while undergoing the screening process (Kirschenbaum 2013). However, this is not so; although many passengers prove to be compliant and cooperative, some customers may engage in adversarial or uncooperative behaviours; these passengers often tend to require a considerable amount of time and effort from the airport personnel (Kirschenbaum 2013). It is therefore clear that security measures often do not take into account the human factor, which can result in a flawed interpretation of these measures in particular airports.

Positive Aspects of the Traditional Model

In spite of the fact that there are numerous problems related to the prescriptive model of airport security, it should be noted that there are multiple arguments for why this model should be preserved and utilised. These arguments are mainly related to the possible negative impact of cancelling most of the safety measures imposed by state regulations, potentially leading to unacceptably low airport safety levels; however, certain authors also provide an economic justification for state regulations, even though these regulations may appear to be too costly, excessive, or cumbersome.

It must be pointed out that the issue of airport security is of paramount importance because not only the safety of airports property, but also the lives of airline passengers may depend heavily on measures undertake to ensure aviation security (Figure 2) (Sakano, Obeng & Fuller 2016). In cases where safety regulations are not imposed on airports by governmental organisations, the airlines may decide to lower the amount of money spent on security measures, which would allow them to decrease the price of tickets and attract a higher number of customers.

However, decreased security efforts would mean that the airports would likely be risking the lives of passengers due to the implementation of relaxed or untested safety measures. It is also noteworthy that the lower ticket prices would potentially make it easier to identify an airport with poorer security and make it the target of an attack. Furthermore, the lowered prices of tickets would potentially be able to attract more customers to the airports with relaxed safety measures, thus also making them more attractive targets for malefactors of various types.

The lives of numerous passengers may be at stake if aviation security measures are not sufficient
Figure 2: The lives of numerous passengers may be at stake if aviation security measures are not sufficient (The future of aviation security 2016).

Another advantage of the involvement of the state in matters of airport security is actually the lower cost of tickets and the greater viability of the airports whose security is financed by governmental organisations. At first glance, from the point of view of those who strongly favour free markets, it may appear that privately funded security would be more financially efficient because the companies would attempt to reduce spending and implement innovation, which would permit them to get rid of redundant security practices and retain only those practices which would plausibly contribute to ensuring compliance with governmental demands related to the minimally acceptable levels of security.

However, practice shows that the deregulation of security, which is also accompanied by the reduction of state spending on airport security, is economically harmful for all the parties involved. This can be demonstrated by the example of Canada. In Canada, airport security is not financed by the government; instead, the spending associated with safety is included in the price of plane tickets (Prentice 2015). This results in prices which are too costly for many passengers, leading many of them to travel to the neighbouring United States, where airport security is partially financed by the government, and use the services of American airlines (Prentice 2015).

Canadian airports have therefore suffered from a greatly reduced number of passengers, and the customers are forced to spend additional time and effort to travel in order to save money. Furthermore, Prentice (2015) estimated that the government of Canada would spend less money than it loses due to the fact that many Canadians use the services of American airlines and do not pay taxes on tickets into the Canadian treasury.

In spite of the fact that deregulation and abolition of state control (and, consequently, financing) is viewed as highly desirable and economically effective and efficient by proponents of market-based approaches to aviation security, the example of Canada leads to the conclusion that such deregulation and the absence of state financing of security matters only leads to losses for all parties involved: air travel companies, their passengers, and the government.


On the whole, it can be seen that the proponents of the new, risk-based, outcomes-focused model of aviation security insist that the implementation of this model would allow for attaining a much greater degree of flexibility. The increased flexibility should let airports define for themselves the methods and procedures to be utilised in order to establish and maintain a level of safety in airports similar to what has been prescribed by the government.

It is also been argued that the use of this new approach will permit airlines to better manage the costs associated with efforts to improve airport safety as well as to implement innovative technologies and approaches to airport security, while at the same time eliminating cumbersome and redundant procedures prescribed by the government.

On the other hand, it may be difficult to standardise the requirements for airport security and safety, to measure the existing levels of safety, and to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of the procedures implemented by particular airports (Benny 2013). This means that if the new approach to airport security is implemented, it may be unclear whether the safety levels in a particular airport are high enough, which may put the lives of the passengers and of the staff of the airport and its aircraft at risk.

In addition to that, it must be remembered that the problem of airport security is not a matter which only pertains to the affairs of an airport. Terrorist attacks involving aircraft can take place for a wide range of reasons, including political ones; they might affect the image of a country in the international community or diplomatic relationships between the countries involved in air flights, and so on (Price & Forrest 2016). And, of course, a large number of lives may be at risk. This leads to the conclusion that the problem of airport security is not a private issue of the airline industry, but rather a matter of public safety, which extends beyond the “jurisdiction” of airports (Benny 2013).

This, in turn, justifies the claim that the state, at least as an entity that has the monopoly on the use of force, must be involved in matters of airport security. The fact that the state has a monopoly on the utilisation of force (police, military, and otherwise) also means that at least in most cases, the agents of private security companies will not be permitted to take the required actions towards potential or actual violators of the law who threaten the safety of an airport, and private security officers will be forced to wait until state agents (such as the police) arrive at the scene, which in certain cases may place peaceful civilians and airline personnel at additional risk (Leese 2016).

It is therefore necessary for the agents of the state to at least maintain a presence in airports and take part in matters pertaining to aviation security so as to avoid additional risk to airport safety, which justifies the involvement of the state in airport security issues. It is also clear that the agents of the state would not be obligated to follow the orders of the management of airport companies, or any private companies responsible for security, which means that these state agents will have to follow their own regulations and protocols.

Finally, it should not be forgotten that the situation in which airport security is financed by the government, in practice, turns out to be more profitable and/or convenient for all the parties involved (Prentice 2015). It is also clear that if the government provides funding for security measures, it will also have to monitor and control its use, which may also serve as an additional argument for the traditional compliance approach.

Although the new, risk-based, outcomes-focused approach to aviation security may promise a number of potential benefits, it thus appears to be better to utilise the traditional approach in which the government defines the procedures that are to be followed so as to meet the established safety standards, rather than simply providing a requirement to reach a certain level of safety within an airport. It might be possible to adopt some elements of the new approach, for instance, to permit airports to also use their own safety procedures, in addition to the (perhaps slightly relaxed) prescriptions of the government, but state regulations should not be relaxed to a substantial degree, and the government should still be able to prescribe procedures allowing for effectually maintaining safety in the airports.


On the whole, it has been found that while the new, risk-based, outcomes-focused approach to aviation security might entail a number of potential benefits to airports, it appears that its adverse aspects outweigh these potential benefits too much for this approach to be recommended for implementation in airports.

The use of the traditional, compliance-based approach to aviation safety would appear to provide greater security levels than measures implemented by the companies themselves, so the traditional approach should be recommended for utilisation in airports. Maintaining appropriate levels of security in airports is of paramount importance, perhaps even regardless of what critics may say about the “cost-benefit” approach, for any mistakes related to aviation security might cost human lives.

Reference List

Baeriswyl, S, Krause, A & Schwaninger, A 2016, ‘Emotional exhaustion and job satisfaction in airport security officers: work–family conflict as mediator in the job demands–resources model’, Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 7, no. 663, pp. 1-13.

Benny, DJ 2013, General aviation security: aircraft, hangars, fixed-base operations, flight schools, and airports, CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL.

European Commission 2015, Commission implementing decision of 16.11.2015 laying down detailed measures for the implementation of the common basic standards on aviation security containing information, as referred to in point (a) of Article 18 of Regulation (EC) No 300/2008, EC no. C(2015) 8005 final, Publications Office of the European Union, Brussels.

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Hammond, P 2011, Written statement to Parliament: regulation of aviation security. Web.

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Kirschenbaum, A 2013, ‘The cost of airport security: the passenger dilemma’, Journal of Air Transport Management, vol. 30, pp. 39-45.

Kirschenbaum, A 2015, ‘The social foundations of airport security’, Journal of Air Transport Management, vol. 48, pp. 34-41.

Leese, M 2016, ‘Governing airport security between the market and the public good’, Criminology & Criminal Justice, vol. 16, no. 2, pp. 158-175.

Lum, C, Crafton, PZ, Parsons, R, Beech, D, Smarr, T & Connors, M 2015, ‘ Discretion and fairness in airport security screening’, Security Journal, vol. 28, no. 4, pp. 352-373.

Prentice, BE 2015, ‘Canadian airport security: the privatization of a public good’, Journal of Air Transport Management, vol. 48, pp. 52-59.

Price, JC & Forrest, JS 2016, Practical aviation security: predicting and preventing future threats, 3rd edn, Elsevier, Cambridge, MA.

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Sakano, R, Obeng, K & Fuller, K 2016, ‘Airport security and screening satisfaction: a case study of U.S.’, Journal of Air Transport Management, vol. 55, pp. 129-138.

Stewart, MG & Mueller, J 2014, ‘Cost-benefit analysis of airport security: are airports too safe?’ Journal of Air Transport Management, vol. 35, pp. 19-28.

Vasel, K 2016, ‘‘, CNN Money. Web.

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