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Photo by Michał Parzuchowski​​

Four Challenges Facing Aviation Security

​Anthony McGinty, CPP, is a Senior Intelligence Analyst with CSRA Inc., contracted to Los Angeles International Airport. He is a member of the ASIS Global Terrorism, Political Instability, and International Crime Council. 

1. Airports as cities. Traditional city problems are finding their way into airports—the homeless, the mentally ill, drug abuse, petty and complex crime, and civil disobedience. For law enforcement and security agencies, the challenge is to simultaneously perform first-responder duties while identifying high-consequence threats to aviation operations. Both require specific, distinct skill sets. Security directors need to balance assets, personnel, and operations to mitigate both public disorder and homeland security risks.

2. International terrorism. Commercial aviation will remain an attractive target for militant groups and extremists. The public side of airports—curbside to security screening—is vulnerable to an array of terrorist attacks, including active shooters, luggage filled with explosives, weaponized drones, and vehicle ramming. Thousands of militants, technically proficient and ideologically motivated, who are returning from the failing ISIS caliphate may regroup under new flags, join al Qaeda affiliates, or act independently.

3. In-flight disruptions. On a weekly basis, media reports and Internet videos display the latest outrage inside aircraft cabins—brawling, drunken rants, sexual assaults, and defying flight attendants. This trend of in-flight disputes and violence at 35,000 feet is potentially dangerous. Short of placing a security officer on board, solutions may involve institutional changes in the flight crew-to-passenger relationship. For example, instances of human traffickers using commercial airlines are so common now that flight crews are being trained to spot indicators and act. This is a further example of the changing role of flight crews from comforters to enforcers.

4. Insider threat. Terrorist groups may enlist airport employees to circumvent security screening—especially employees with direct access to aircraft. Employees have also smuggled drugs, weapons, and other contraband. Just one radicalized or disgruntled employee can commit an act that leads to a catastrophic incident, which makes addressing insider threats a priority. Airports and airlines are implementing their own strategies to mitigate this threat. Mostly, this effort has involved security screening of all—or select—employees prior to entering restricted zones. Technology may support this effort as well. New analytics capabilities embedded in video and access control systems can provide a sophisticated surveillance tool. Self-policing with a rigorous, internal "See Something, Say Something" effort is essential.   ​