Is it time to reboot aviation security?

By Erick Bouraï, Chair of the ACI EUROPE Aviation Security Committee

We all know the importance of nurturing a genuine culture of security among the entire airport community – one where everyone working in an airport considers security as part of his/her work. Copyright: Fraport AG

We all know the importance of nurturing a genuine culture of security among the entire airport community – one where everyone working in an airport considers security as part of his/her work. Copyright: Fraport AG

The dramatic events of the past 2 years (Bruxelles, Istanbul, Paris, Nice, Copenhagen, Orlando, Ankara, Thalys, etc…) show us that even if the threat on aviation still remains, it is shifting to landside, to public areas. These public areas might be a public square, a concert hall, a train station or indeed, an airport terminal.

And for several years now, experts have been warning that the security checkpoint, as we know it today, has reached its limits. These same experts foresee that the current system will get bogged down if we carry on adding more and more layers.

All this has led quite a few professionals in our business to think that we are at a turning point and that security, as a whole, is at a watershed moment. Time to find a better way. At a special debate on security organised by ACI EUROPE and AEA earlier this year, there were calls for aviation security to undergo its own digital transformation – like so many other parts of the business already have.

It is undeniably time for us to reach beyond what we know… time for a change. But do we even know where to start?

What is the way forward?

There is a school of thought that professes that technology is the solution. At a recent conference, I heard a regulator say: “…only technology can provide us with a more intelligent, a more efficient means to mitigate the threat.”

Erick Bouraï, Chair of the ACI EUROPE Aviation Security Committee.

Erick Bouraï, Chair of the ACI EUROPE Aviation Security Committee.

The attacks that have permeated our lives over the past year have shown that the new generation of terrorist is aiming at easier targets. After all, with the proliferation and rapidity of communications channels (not least, social media), these targets can now give as much publicity as actions against aviation used to produce as recently as 10 years ago. Threats emerge quickly and the terrorists’ new modus operandi is evolving very quickly. To fight, to counter-act this new generation of terrorist, speed is really the key. But, in fact, when a new threat is identified, even if the appropriate technology eventually finds its way to mitigate it, it may take several years and it will be too late.

Only people can change, can adapt as quickly as the threat is evolving

Therefore, we must now change the balance and shift to investing in the personnel behind our airport operations. We have enough sophisticated technology, we must now invest in people. I firmly believe that this is definitely the way forward!

So, in a concrete manner, what can we do?

I will share just three practical illustrations, but there are many other ways and I am certain that we can imagine even more if we dedicate time and energy to this.

1. Security Culture

We all know the importance of nurturing a genuine culture of security among the entire airport community – one where everyone working in an airport considers security as part of his/her work. This is how we can create an environment really challenging for terrorists. Let us really invest time, energy and money in this. It will be more efficient than trying to prevent and detect terrorists with more and more technology, processes and physical barriers that make it slower and more difficult for passengers to get where they are going.

2. What about Behaviour Analysis?

Behaviour analysis, although controversial to some, can be effective and useful as one of a basket of measures that work together holistically.

I actually recommend we go one step further with this: in addition to security officers specialised in Behaviour Analysis, we can provide a basic training on abnormal behaviour detection to all staff working landside. Then the Behaviour Analysis Officers would exchange regularly with the people working landside and help them to develop a knack for detecting strange behaviours.

Two immediate benefits:

  • The workforce landside involved in security is multiplied by 10, 20, 50 or more since everyone working landside is aware of security issues and feel empowered to do something about a problem he/she sees.
  • This will create real stronger relations between the security staff and other staff. Each one will better understand the challenges faced by the other and that will contribute to the enhancement of the security level and participate to the security culture.

Naturally, this kind of training would need to be carried out in a rigorous way, to avoid too many false positives. It is certainly worth exploring.

3. Deterrence

The logic of deterrence is simple – it is not the fact that we deploy measures that deters, it is the fact that we make it known. Because of that, deterrence is unquestionably the fruit of communication and essentially more produced by people than by technology.

Our resources are finite and we use them to best effect. Equally, even the best security technology needs to be deployed taking human behaviour fully into account. It is time to change the trend: for the past 10 years we have mainly, in security, put our money in technology, it is now time to invest more in staff, in their recruitment, in their training, and in their management.

What we are seeing today, in the field of security, are the telltale signs of a fundamental change of our missions and, consequently, of our job in terms of operations but also in terms of perimeter. That is why we really have no choice but to think different – we must adapt our approach to the new situation.

What we are seeing today, in the field of security, are the telltale signs of a fundamental change of our missions and, consequently, of our job in terms of operations but also in terms of perimeter. That is why we really have no choice but to think different – we must adapt our approach to the new situation.

What we are seeing today, in the field of security, are the telltale signs of a fundamental change of our missions and, consequently, of our job in terms of operations but also in terms of perimeter. That is why we really have no choice but to think different – we must adapt our approach to the new situation. We cannot apply old recipes to new problems. We must be smarter. And we certainly cannot afford to miss this chance – it is a critical moment for the communities who work at our airports and for the people who rely on them to get to where they want to go and back.

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