Security by Design: early in the design

With the current growth of capital investment in airports, there is no better time to overhaul the way we approach security in aviation infrastructure design. In an age of relentless uncertainty in the security risk environment and increasingly complex airport operations, security is all too frequently still incorporated in new airport builds and refurbishments as a fit out. The security discipline must influence design in order to avoid the historical error of remedial and ‘bolt-on’ security fixes. Stacey Peel argues that the early inclusion of risk-based security considerations in all airport infrastructure business cases benefits the entire design process and security outcome.

Ever since security was introduced into civil aviation in the 1970s, security measures have predominately been ‘bolt on’ and equipment driven responses to incidents. As innovation and investment pours into the design and implementation of seamless and comfortable passenger terminals, and as business constantly pushes to hasten cargo journeys, the consequences of this bolt on approach are coming home to roost; security has become aviation’s ‘problem child’. With record investment in airport infrastructure and the design of new airports set for the next 30 years, now is the time to at last tackle that problem.

How do we do that? By incorporating aviation security into the business case for infrastructure design – long before the drawings are started – many security risks can be designed out. The necessary risk based security measures are identified early and design and engineering solutions that are aligned to business and security objectives can be found. Moreover, conflicts between security and other design disciplines such as architecture, public realm design and engineering can be avoided.

Threat, Risks and the Operating Environment

Before we look at the solution, let’s explore the catalyst for the aviation security discipline. We know that terrorists identify targets where they can exploit vulnerabilities and aim for mass casualty, high media imagery, increased public anxiety, strong symbolism and adverse economic impact. It is the case that security risks in aviation are complex and challenging, not only because of the capacity of terrorists but also because of the growth in flight and passenger numbers and trends in airport design, infrastructure and business operations.

By 2034 around 7.3 billion people will be flying every day (IATA, November 2014). That is almost double today’s numbers. The aviation industry is responding by increasing the size of terminals, reducing the footprint of processing infrastructure and improving throughput whilst attempting to reduce the walk-time in terminals. This response is challenging our airport planning, architecture and engineering colleagues to become increasingly innovative in their design solutions. Despite this innovation, airports cannot design and build themselves out of the increasing demand on airport infrastructure, and the sheer number of passengers means there will continue to be vulnerable mass gatherings of people and therefore attractive potential terrorist targets.

In civil aviation’s infancy, terminals were simple structures serving solely to protect airport users from the weather. As government and airline requirements for record keeping grew, so too did the number of processes, eventually resulting in the need for a central processing unit – the terminal. Today, however, the purpose of the terminal is no longer solely to process passengers; the terminal has become a destination in itself. Singapore’s Changi Airport is the undisputed pioneer in this space. It is famous for its gardens, entertainment areas, shopping choices, cultural installations, theatre, pool, cleanliness, ambience and passenger comfort. Changi Airport is characteristically Singapore.

Destination terminals have become a global and enduring trend. Terminal designs are increasingly drawing on local culture for inspiration, underscoring the airport’s role as the gateway to the country or region/city in which it is located. Some of the world’s most watched airport developments are evidence of this, with Istanbul’s New Airport taking inspiration from Turkish Islamic art and Turkey’s own colour, turquoise. The winning design of the Chengdu Airport represents Chengdu’s logo, the Golden Sunbird. Looking at an image of Ngurah-Rai Airport’s International Terminal, completed in 2010, leaves you with no doubt of its location with its wave-like roof, carved eaves and the iconic car park emulating the sawas (terraced rice fields); it is undoubtedly Bali’s Airport.

As an actual and metaphoric gateway to a nation, region and culture, an airport’s symbolic value is high.

Airports are also engines of economic activity. The aviation industry as a whole contributes $2.4 trillion to the world economy and supports 58 million jobs (IATA, Annual Review 2015). They generate employment and they facilitate trade and tourism with a 31% increase in passenger air transport forecast between 2013 and 2017 (World Economic Forum, Security in Travel 2016). An attack at an airport, or one facilitated through an airport, can have significant and immediate adverse economic impact.

At the time of writing, Brussels Airport has already been closed for more than a week following the front of house attack on 22 March. The economic impact of this on Belgium and Europe is yet to be determined. Additionally, Egypt is still experiencing the economic backlash of the October 2015 attack on Metrojet Flight 9268. Tourism generated 12% of Egypt’s GDP in 2013, and approximately 30% of Egypt’s tourism was sourced from Russia. Following the Sharm el Sheikh incident in late 2015, flights from the United Kingdom and Russia were halted by the respective States. The economic repercussions are self-evident.

As airports become bigger, their commercial interests more diversified, the numbers of passengers and visitors greater and the volume of cargo increases, so the economic value and attractiveness of airports as potential targets is increased.