Airport Security

Since the earliest days of civil aviation one of the greatest concerns has been the safety of the aircraft and passengers. The 1930 hijacking of a Pan-Am mail plane by Peruvian activists not only shocked the world but raised serious concerns within the aviation industry about its vulnerability to terrorism and a need for strategies to combat air crime. Over the following 50 years, hundreds of hijackings and airport bomb incidents were reported; as a result, security issues had become a significant concern, and created the need for congressional action. (Wells & Young, 20042).

Airport security procedures are designed to deter, and respond to criminal acts that may affect the safety and security of aviation. Most users of commercial service airports are set their safety priority within the airport terminal area, however, airport security is not limited to the terminal area, it concerns all areas and all users of the airport. Many effective security methods have been designed and used in the modern aviation to minimize the occurrence of terrorism incident and damage, those methods included both technology and human using. (Wells & Young, 20042)

The development of Airport Security

On March 18, 1972, the first airport security regulations were made effective, later fomalised within the FAA as Federal Aviation Regulation Part 107-Airport security 6 years later in 1978. Under this regulation, airport operators were required to prepare and submit to the FAA a security program, it should contain several compulsory elements, stated as below:
1. a listing of each air operations area (AOA), that is, those areas used or intended to be used for landing, takeoff, or surface maneuvering of aircraft;
2. identification of those areas with little or no protection against unauthorized access because of a lack of adequate fencing, gates, doors with locking means, or vehicular pedestrian controls;
3. a plan to upgrade the security of air operations with a time schedule for each improvement project. (Wells & Young, 20042)

FAA issued an emergency rule making inspection of carry-on baggage and scanning of all passengers by airlines mandatory at the beginning of 1973, because they have noticed that the terrorism attacks have had changed the targets from the ground to the air. Throughout the 1990s and into the twenty-first century, the FAA sponsored research on new bombs and weapons detection equipment and upgraded the effectiveness of screening personnel at airports. And airport security also started to efforts to reduce the amount of theft of passenger property and efforts to reduce smuggling of contraband on commercial aircraft were increased. (Wells & Young, 20042)

Nowadays, at commercial service airports, airport security normally included passenger screening, baggage screening, employee identification, and controlled access and perimeter security. (Wells & Young, 20042)

Airport Security Technology

After 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S, the Transport Security Administration (TSA) has implemented a number of new security systems, in order to increase the security levels at the U.S. airports (Wikipedia, 2009 4).

The examples of the recent airport security systems are:
1. Body Scanners
2. Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)
3. Explosive Detection System (EDS)
4. Dogs

Body Scanner

Passenger screening is critical to the security of the commercial service airports, especially after the incident of September 11, 2001. This process is managed and operated by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). But the airport managers and planners should also be clearly aware of the security processes; the process has the most important impacts on airport terminal planning and operations in recent years. (Wells & Young, 20042)

Passenger screening procedures today focus on finding passengers carrying metallic weapons which could possibly become a threat to the crew, and use it as a hijacking tool to force the plane change the destinations. To provide better information to security screening personnel on the type and location of potential weapons on individuals who trigger metal-detection portal alarms; and increasing the detection capabilities of existing systems by adding the ability to detect a broader spectrum of metals and alloys, plastic explosives, and other threat materials. (Airline Passenger Security Screening, 19965)

The current body scanners are more advanced explosive detection machines used for checked baggage to detect hidden weapons and explosives on passengers. These devices use Compton_scattering which require that the passenger stand close to a flat panel and produce a high resolution image (Wikipedia, 20093).

Health Risks

Because these scanners expose the human body to radiation there has been concern over any potential health risks posed. Any risk would also be increased for frequent flyers or airport/airline staff required to be scanned. The machine produces low-dose X-rays and the concern is that either these could damage cells in the skin or the machine could malfunction and produce higher radiation levels unintentionally. Despite concerns health experts state that radiation received is almost insignificant and is equivalent to the radiation a person is exposed to from two minutes of flying at cruising altitude. (Walker, 20106)

New Body Scanner Machine (Picture embeded from therawfeed on 1 April 2009)
Body Image developed by New Body Scanner(Picture embeded from therawfeed on 1 April 2009)

Advantages and Disadvantages between Body Scanner and Hand Scanner

Video embedded from YouTube on 1April 2009


The ESTA has been enforced from January 2009 by the U.S. Homeland Security. Passengers have to fill up the application form on the internet if they wish to travel to the U.S. destinations by ship or airplanes. This system is a new type of passenger pre-screening system for Secure Flight. It helps the U.S. government agency to judge any potential risk from individual persons who are in terrorist watch lists or No Fly lists before the person catches a flight from overseas.

ESTA entry website image (//Picture embeded from arukikata on //)

What is ESTA?

Video embedded from YouTube on 1 April 2009


Apart from the passenger screening, passenger’s carry on baggage are required to go through screening for explosives at the airports, this requirement was made by the TSA on January 1st, 2003, to have every piece of checked baggage screened by certified explosive detection equipment prior to being loaded onto air carrier aircraft. There are five main inspection methods have been used at the airports for explosives detection in the checked baggage. They are: hand search, explosive-sniffing dogs, automated X-ray machines, ETD systems, and EDS machines. They can be used individually or combination at some airports. (Butler & Poole, 2002((bibcite e))

The explosive detection system (EDS) uses computed tomography technology, which is similar to the technology used in medical CT scan machines, to detect and identify metal and trace explosive that hidden in baggage. But sometimes, the EDS equipment can be restricted to baggage shapes and sizes, when they cannot fit into the equipment; checked baggage is screened by the electronic trace detection (ETD) systems, these machines can detect minute traces of explosive residue picked up on a swab. The swab is inserted into the machine, which heats it and samples the vapors for specific chemicals. Trace detection has been in use on a random basis at passenger screening checkpoints, to check the outside of selected carry-on bags. (Butler & Poole, 20025)

Explosive Detection System

(Picture embeded from the Boston Blobe on 7 August 2009)

Airport Checkpoint "Stop Disasters" detect EXPLOSIVES

Video embedded from YouTube on 7 August 2009


Animals such as dogs are also used as a popular method for airport security. The FAA provided 175 trained explosive-sniffing dogs to operate at 39 U.S. airports at the beginning of 2002. Those trained dogs can work for up to two hours at one time, but take breaks every 20 minutes to rest and recover their sensing ability from the duty routine. The sniffing dogs are preferred to use for checking an aircraft or terminal for bomb threats, or for a bag which needs further inspection, they have the ability to detect both plastic and non-plastic explosives, but there is the need for operators to know which bag contained an explosive and then provide cues to the dogs. Sniffing dogs are usually used as a second tier inspection after a bag is suspected to contain dangerous devices by the operators. (Butler & Poole, 20025)

Airport Security Dog

Video embedded from YouTube on 7 August 2009

Airport Security Issues

Although the Government Homeland Security brought new technology to increase the level of airport security nationwide, they have yet left problems which are happening at the parts of the terminal building. Some examples are showed below:

AirUndercover Security Checks – Some Screeners Tipped Off

Video embedded from YouTube on 1 April 2009

TSA Losses Airport Security’s Access Badges & Uniforms

Video embedded from YouTube on 1 April 2009

Solutions for Airport Security Issues

The TSA regulations require only identified persons have the access to an airport’s security identification display area (SIDA). The identified persons must display appropriate identification, which known typically as a SIDA badge which has a photograph and name of the badge holder, all airport employees, air carrier employees, concessionaires, contractors, and government employees such as air traffic controllers and airport security staff are required to wear SIDA badges. The badge may be colour coded or marked to identify the areas within the airport the holder may access, at some airports, it could be in other formats readable by electronic that carry detailed data regarding access authority of the badge holder. It restricted any other unauthorized persons to enter the air operation areas. Keep the employee groups simple and also record employees’ movements and monitor any unexpected access. (Wells & Young, 20042)

Controlled access is used at airports to prevent and control the moments of persons and vehicles to and from security sensitive areas of the airport property. Controlled access are used through doors at secure areas, sterile areas, employee only restricted areas and any sensitive places. In many cases, a person’s SIDA badge contains the pass codes to the controlled access, but it also could combine with other groups of pass codes to gain access. (Wells & Young, 20042)

Airport Security Tips for Travelers

Fool Proof Guide for "How To Get Through Airport Security Quickly"

Video embedded from YouTube on 7 August 2009

You can check out more travel packing tips at seniorliving

1. WELLS, A. T., & YOUNG, S. B. (2004). Airport planning & Management (5th.ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
2. WIKIPEDIA. (2009). Airport security. Retrieved from
Wikipedia on 1 April 2009.
3. WIKIPEDIA. (2009). Transportation Security Administration. Retrieved from
Wikipedia on 1 April 2009.
4. Airline passenger security screening. (1996). New technology and implementation issues. National Academy press, Washington, D.C.
5. Butler, V. & Poole, R. (2002). Rethinking-checked baggage screening. The Reason Foundation, Los Angles, CA.
6. Walker, E. P. (2010). Experts Assess Health Risks of Airport Full-Body Scanners. Retrieved from Medpagetoday on 12 September 2012.

Want to know more?

Transportation Security Administration
The TSA website offers more articles related to Airport Security.
Forbes - Europe Bans Airport Body Scanners
An article highlighting the health and safety controversy over body scanners.

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