Airport security

From Academic Kids

Airport security refers to the techniques and methods used in protecting airports from crime and terrorism. Most large airports have their own police force backed up by security guards. In some countries and during wars, paramilitary forces or even soldiers protect airports from threats.

Large numbers of people pass through an airport every day. Such a large gathering of persons presents in itself a natural target for terrorism due to the number of people crowded into a small area.

Past tragedies have resulted in travelers allowed to carry weapons aboard aircraft so that they can hijack the plane. Therefore, travelers must be quickly but efficiently searched. Baggage must be screened to prevent the carrying of bombs aboard an aircraft. X-ray machines are often used to speed this process.

The world's worst failure of airport security was the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center and The Pentagon using hijacked jetliners which killed nearly 3000 people. The deadliest airline catastrophe resulting from an onboard bomb was Air India Flight 182, which killed 329 people.

Another notable failure was the 1994 bombing of Philippine Airlines Flight 434, which turned out to be a test run for a planned terrorist attack called Operation Bojinka. The explosion was small, killing one person, and the plane made an emergency landing. Operation Bojinka was discovered and foiled by Manila police in 1995.


Airport Security by Country


All restrictions involving airport security are determined by the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA). Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, airport security has tightened in Canada in order to prevent any attacks on Canadian soil.


French security has been stepped up since the terrorist attacks in France in 1986. In response France established the Vigipirate program. After a brief drop of the program it was reinstated in 1991. The program involves using troops to reinforce local security. The program increases requirements in screenings and ID checks.


India stepped up its airport security after the 1999 Kandahar hijacking. The Central Industrial Security Force, a paramilitary organisation is in charge of airport security. Terrorist threats and narcotics are the main threats in Indian airports. Another problem that some airports face is the profilaration of slums around the airport boundaries in places like Mumbai.

United Kingdom

The Department for Transport ( (DfT) is the heart of airport security in the United Kingdom. Along with the Home Office in September 2004, it started an initiative called the Multi Agency Threat and Risk Assessment (MATRA), currently being piloted in 5 of the United Kingdom's major airports - Heathrow, Birmingham, East Midlands, Newcastle and Glasgow.

Since the September 11th atrocities in New York, the United Kingdom has been assessed as a high risk country due to its support of the United States both in its invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. As yet no terrorist attacks have been successfully executed.

Currently there are limits as to the weight of hand luggage (regardless of what it contains), and the amount of hand luggage that can be taken on board. All bags are screened via X-ray before being put on the plane. All passengers must walk through metal detectors. Human airport security has also been increased. There is also the usual checks of passports.

There are a number of routes being considered to further improve airport security:

  • Biometrics - The use of bodily features to identify a person (fingerprints, eye scans, face scans).
  • Advanced CCTV cameras - Programmed to detect "odd behaviour", for example, someone running through usually calm areas of an airport or jumping over barriers.
  • Advanced X-Ray machines - Further developments in X-ray technology have meant that an entire 360 degree X-ray can be done of a person and can see under clothes, right down to the skin and bones.

Various criticisms have been brought up about these methods. Biometrics is extremely unreliable and, in some cases, easily faked, and biometrics incorporated into CCTV cameras which detect odd behaviour have raised the question "What exactly is odd behaviour?" - Many people run in an airport, as do excited children display what would be considered odd behaviour. The latest X-Ray machines (Backscatters) are planned to be tested in several U.S. airports through 2005 and at London's Heathrow Airport (ext. link ( Due to their accuracy in looking under someone's clothes genitalia have been displayed during tests, meaning it would be equal to that of a strip search - which cannot be carried out by someone of the opposite sex, and there are also strict rules as to when these can be carried out on someone. Certainly not everyone going through an airport would be liable to a strip search.

United States

Prior to the 1970s American airports had no security arrangements to prevent hijacking. Security measures were introduced following several high-profile hijackings starting in the late 1960s. The most notable was the attempted simultaneous hijacking in September 1970 by the PFLP of four airliners (of which two were American) and the subsequent destruction of three of them on the ground in Jordan and Egypt.

Sky marshals were introduced in 1970 but there were insufficient numbers to protect every flight and hijackings continued to take place. Consequently in late 1972, the FAA demanded that all airlines begin searching passengers and their carry-on baggage by January 5, 1973. The 11 September attack prompted even tougher regulations, such as prohibiting the carrying of more items aboard aircraft by passengers and requiring all passengers to prove their identity (though many 9/11 hijackers simply used false ID).

Airport security in the United States is now provided by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) of the Department of Homeland Security. The Aviation and Transportation Security Act required that from 19 November 2002 all passenger screening must be conducted by Federal employees. Prior to that date, passenger screening was provided by security guard companies; however, some people think that private security companies in America were not able to provide the same service level as US Federal employees. It was not uncommon that the lowest-paid employee in the airport was a security guard.

As of March, 2004 in the United States, a controversial plan called the Computer-Assisted Airline Passenger Screening System or CAPPS II, was being promoted by the TSA. The proposed program would force the booking agent or airline to record your name, address, phone number, date of birth and travel destination at the time you purchase a ticket. The data goes from there to the TSA, which forwards it to a contractor for verification. Government officials then would run computer programs that supposedly generate an accurate risk assessment, allowing security to focus their time on high-risk individuals. CAPPS II has come under attack from groups that believe it undermines both privacy and safety (because terrorists allegedly could use it to their advantage), and may be unconstitutional.

See also

External links

External links on CAPPS II



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