Protecting Aircraft: long overshadowed by a focus on screening

by Philip Baum

Aviation security, as a subject matter, is about analysing, and responding to, the broad range of threats which the industry faces with the aim of preventing acts of criminal interference taking place in the first place or, worst case scenario, enabling a response to incidents which limits the potential for loss of life or serious injury.

Given the extremely limited number of terrorist incidents which do occur, one could argue that the screening regime we all have to endure is disproportionate to the threat. After all, should two men with explosives in their shoes, or one failed plot utilising liquid explosives, result in millions of passengers around the world having to dispose of valuable perfumes and alcoholic beverages inadvertently carried or divest themselves of footwear before transiting the archway metal detector? Of course, the counter argument is that the measures we implement are mild inconveniences, ones better suffered than being blown out of the skies. After all, let’s err on the side of caution…

However, it seems to me that what is disproportionate is the focus the industry places on examining passengers in comparison with the efforts expended on protecting aircraft at airports or in the skies.
Whilst incidents of suicidal terrorists boarding flights are, thankfully, a rarity, violations of airside security protocols are a regular occurrence. So rather than continually harping on about data privacy, explosive detection capability and checkpoint ergonomics, is it not time for the industry to re-focus its attention on how to ensure the integrity of aircraft in flight and the resilience of airport terminals to front-of-house attacks? Why, for example, do conference producers dedicate the bulk of their programmes to passenger, baggage and cargo screening and so little to airfield surveillance, the deployment of MANPADS countermeasures and perimeter intrusion detection?

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