Enhanced Documentation Control: an aviation security perspective19 Jun 2012
Matthew Finn argues the case for greater focus on passenger identity if we truly wish to detect passengers with negative intent rather than just being in the possession of prohibited items.
In the past decade, there has been an unprecedented focus on the security and integrity of the aviation industry, with intense scrutiny on how passengers and crews are screened at the airport security checkpoint. Owing to a number of catastrophic (and near catastrophic) events, such focus and scrutiny is both inevitable and understandable.
However, much of this focus has centred on “detection” – the ability to detect known and emerging threats; the ability to detect components of improvised explosive devices; the detection of weapons, threat items and prohibited articles; and, latterly, the detection of liquid-based explosive compounds. Yet with each new layer of detection technologies and techniques come new threats.
The recent high-profile news story about the foiling by intelligence agents of a new, and allegedly improved, “underwear bomb” with, as reports suggest, a considerably more advanced detonation system than the one used by Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab in December 2009, should give us all cause for concern. Security experts have rightly voiced their concerns that the new device would be exceptionally difficult to detect using current aviation security screening methods. Beyond the calls for a wider adoption of backscatter X-ray and/or passive millimetre wave screening, many experts are already calling for transmission X-ray machines to be deployed to deal with these emerging threats – particularly as a countermeasure for the detection of concealed or internally-carried improvised explosive or incendiary devices.
And in this context, it is often useful to remind ourselves – and certainly those charged with the responsibility of regulating our industry – that metal detectors detect metal; nothing more, nothing less. Their deployment was, at the time, a relatively effective countermeasure to the known and recurring threat of hijack and sabotage in the days when the weapons of choice were guns and grenades, rather than more complex IEDs, and before the aircraft itself was used as a weapon.
Advances in cabin baggage screening equipment will allow for an enhanced detection capability of weapons and potential threat items that could be concealed in a passenger’s carry-on luggage. But as we recognise the growing threat of more sophisticated devices such as the new underwear bomb and more sophisticated concealment techniques, including internal carriage, we will need to recognise the limitations of our current detection capability while we work hard to close identifiable gaps and continue to advance our technologies and procedures.
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