Airport security refers to the techniques and methods used in protecting passengers, staff and aircraft which use the airports from accidental/malicious harm, crime and other threats.

Large numbers of people pass through airports every day. This presents potential targets for terrorism and other forms of crime because of the number of people located in a particular location.[1] Similarly, the high concentration of people on large airliners, the potential high death rate with attacks on aircraft, and the ability to use a hijacked airplane as a lethal weapon may provide an alluring target for terrorism, whether or not they succeed due their high profile nature following the various attacks and attempts around the globe in recent years.

Airport security attempts to prevent any threats or potentially dangerous situations from arising or entering the country. If airport security does succeed in this, then the chances of any dangerous situations, illegal items or threats entering into both aircraft, country or airport are greatly reduced. As such, airport security serves several purposes: To protect the airport and country from any threatening events, to reassure the traveling public that they are safe and to protect the country and their people.

Monte R. Belger of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration notes "The goal of aviation security is to prevent harm to aircraft, passengers, and crew, as well as support national security and counter-terrorism policy."[2]

Airport enforcement authorityEdit

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While some countries may have an agency that protects all of their airports (such as Australia, where the Australian Federal Police responsible for security at their major airports),[3] in other countries the protection is controlled at the state or local level. The primary personnel will vary and can include:

  • A police force hired and dedicated to the airport e.g. the Irish Airport Police Service
  • A branch (substation) of the local police department stationed at the airport
  • Members of the local police department assigned to the airport as their normal patrol area
  • Members of a country's airport protection service
  • Police dog services for explosive detection, drug detection and other purposes

Other resources may include:

Process and equipmentEdit

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Some incidents have been the result of travelers being permitted to carry either weapons or items that could be used as weapons on board aircraft so that they could hijack the plane. Travelers are screened by metal detectors. Explosive detection machines used include X-ray machines and explosives trace-detection portal machines (a.k.a. "puffer machines"). In the United States the TSA is working on new scanning machines that are still effective searching for objects that aren't allowed in the airplanes but that don't depict the passengers in a state of undress that some find embarrassing. Explosive detection machines can also be used for both carry on and checked baggage. These detect volatile compounds given off from explosives using gas chromatography.[4]

A recent development is the controversial use of backscatter X-rays to detect hidden weapons and explosives on passengers. These devices, which use Compton scattering, require that the passenger stand close to a flat panel and produce a high resolution image.[5] A technology released in Israel in early 2008 allows passengers to pass through metal detectors without removing their shoes, a process required as walk-though gate detectors are not reliable in detecting metal in shoes or on the lower body extremities. Alternately, the passengers step fully shoed onto a device which scans in under 1.2 seconds for objects as small as a razor blade.[6] In some countries, specially trained individuals may engage passengers in a conversation to detect threats rather than solely relying on equipment to find threats.

A single backscatter scan exposes the target to between 0.05 to 0.1 microsievert of radiation. In comparison, the exposure from a standard chest x-ray is almost 100 times higher.[7]

Generally people are screened through airport security into areas where the exit gates to the aircraft are located. These areas are often called "secure", "sterile" and airside. Passengers are discharged from airliners into the sterile area so that they usually will not have to be re-screened if disembarking from a domestic flight; however they are still subject to search at any time. Airport food outlets have started using plastic glasses and utensils as opposed to glasses made out of glass and utensils made out of metal to reduce the usefulness of such items as weapons.

In the United States non-passengers were once allowed on the concourses to meet arriving friends or relatives at their gates, but this is now greatly restricted. Non-passengers must obtain a gate pass to enter the secure area of the airport. The most common reasons that a non-passenger may obtain a gate pass is to assist children and the elderly as well as for attending business meetings that take place in the secure area of the airport. In the United States, at least 24 hours notice is generally required for those planning to attend a business meeting inside the secure area of the airport.Template:Citation needed Other countries, such as Australia do not restrict non-travellers from accessing the airside area, however non-travellers are typically subject to the same security scans as travellers.[8]

Sensitive areas in airports, including airport ramps and operational spaces, are restricted from the general public. Called a SIDA (Security Identification Display Area), these spaces require special qualifications to enter.

Throughout the world, there have been a few dozen airports that have instituted a version of a "trusted traveler program". Proponents argue that security screening can be made more efficient by detecting the people that are threats, and then searching them. They argue that searching trusted, verified individuals should not take the amount of time it does. Critics argue that such programs decrease security by providing an easier path to carry contraband through.[9][10]

Another critical security measure utilised by several regional and international airports is the use of fiber optic perimeter intrusion detection systems. These security systems allow airport security to locate and detect any intrusion on the airport perimeter, ensuring real-time, immediate intrusion notification that allows security personnel to assess the threat and track movement and engage necessary security procedures. This has notably been utilised at Dulles International Airport[11][12] and U.S. Military JFPASS.[13]

Notable incidentsEdit

The world's first terrorist attack intending to indiscriminately kill civilians while in flight was Cubana Flight 455. It was a Cubana flight from Barbados to Jamaica that was brought down by a terrorist attack on October 6, 1976, killing 73 people. Evidence implicated several Central Intelligence Agency-linked anti-Castro Cuban exiles and members of the Venezuelan secret police DISIP, including Luis Posada Carriles.Template:Citation needed

The single deadliest airline catastrophe resulting from the failure of airport security to detect an on board bomb was Air India Flight 182 in 1985, which killed 329 people.

Another on board bomb that slipped through airport security was the one on Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988, which killed 270 people; 259 on the plane, and 11 residents of Lockerbie, Scotland.

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.

On May 30, 1972 three members of the Japanese Red Army undertook a terrorist attack, popularly called the Lod Airport massacre, at the Lod Airport, now known as the Ben Gurion International Airport, in Tel Aviv. Firing indiscriminately with automatic firearms and throwing grenades, they managed to kill 24 people and injure 78 others before being neutralized (one of them through suicide). One of the three terrorists, Kozo Okamoto, survived the incident.

The Rome and Vienna airport attacks in December 1985 were two more instances of airport security failures. The attacks left 20 people dead when gunmen threw grenades and opened fire on travelers at El Al airline ticket counters.

The September 11 Attacks on September 11, 2001 are the most widely recognized terrorist attacks in recent times involving air travel. 19 members of the Islamist terrorist group Al-Qaeda took control of 4 airplanes on the east coast of the United States and deliberately crashed them into both World Trade Center towers in New York City, New York and into The Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia. A fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania, not reaching its intended target. The attacks resulted in the deaths of almost 3,000 people, including the civilians in the airplanes and the hijackers who assumed control of the aircraft.

On July 5, 2002, a gunman opened fire at Los Angeles International Airport (Israel's El Al Ticket Counter). The shooter killed two people and injured four.

On August 10, 2006, security at airports in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States was raised significantly due to the uncovering by British authorities of a terror plot aimed at detonating liquid explosives on flights originating from these countries. This is also notable as it was the first time the U.S. Terror Alert Level ever reached "red". The incident also led to tighter restrictions on carrying liquids and gels in hand luggage in the EU, Canada, and the United States.[14][15]

Airport security by countryEdit


All restrictions involving airport security are determined by Transport Canada and are enforced by the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA). Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, as well as the Air India bombing in 1985 and other incidents, airport security has tightened in Canada in order to prevent any attacks in Canadian Airspace.

CATSA uses x-ray machines to verify the contents of all carry-ons as well as metal detectors, explosive trace detection (ETD) equipment and random physical searches of passengers at the pre-board screening points. X-ray machines, CTX machines, high-resolution x-rays and ETDs are also used to scan checked bags. All checked baggage is always x-rayed at all major commercial airports.

CATSA also completed the first phase of its Restricted Area Identity Card (RAIC) program in January 2007. This program replaces the old Airport Restricted Area Passes issued to airport employees after security checks by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Transport Canada with new cards (issued after the same checks are conducted) that contain biometric information (fingerprints and iris scans) belonging to the person issued the RAIC.

The RAIC has yet to be extended to the security perimeter of Canadian airports for vehicles and persons entering from checkpoints not within airport terminals. As of September 2010 it is being tested at the Vancouver International Airport. Vehicles and personnel entering near the domestic terminals from the YVR cargo and south side must drive through the new CATSA security screening booth.

While CATSA is responsible for pre-board passenger and random non-passenger screening, they contract out to third-party "service providers" such as G4S, Aeroguard and Garda to train, manage and employ the screening officers. In addition, individual airport authorities which were privatized in the 1990s by the Canadian Government are responsible for general airport security rather than CATSA and normally contract out to private companies and in the case of large airports, pay for a small contingent of local police officers to remain on site as well.

Safety and security at Canada's airports are provided by local police forces. The RCMP once used to provide this service at most airports, but remains so for a few today:

European UnionEdit

Regulation (EC) No 300/2008[16] of the European Parliament and of the Council establishes common rules in the European Union to protect civil aviation against acts of unlawful interference. The regulation's provisions apply to all airports or parts of airports located in an EU country that are not used exclusively for military purposes. The provisions also apply to all operators, including air carriers, providing services at the aforementioned airports. It also applies to all entities located inside or outside airport premises providing services to airports.[17]

The standards of regulation 300/2008 are implemented by Commission Regulation (EU) No 185/2010.[18]


Airport security in the Netherlands is provided by the Koninklijke Marechaussee(KMar), Royal Military Constabulary.

File:Koninklijke Marechaussee busje.JPG


Airport security in Spain is provided by police forces, as well as private security guards. The Policía Nacional provides general security as well as passport (in international airports) and documentation checking. In Catalonia and Basque Country, the Mossos d'Esquadra and the Ertzaintza, respectively, have replaced the Policía Nacional except for documentation functions. The Guardia Civil handles the security and customs checking, often aided by private security guards. Local police provide security and traffic control outside the airport building.

Security measures are controlled by the state owned company Aena, and are bound to European Commission Regulations, as in other European Union countries.

United KingdomEdit

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Template:See also The Department for Transport (DFT) is the heart of airport security in the United Kingdom. In September 2004, with the Home Office, DFT started an initiative called the "Multi Agency Threat and Risk Assessment" (MATRA), which was piloted at five of the United Kingdom's major airports — Heathrow, Birmingham, East Midlands Airport, Newcastle and Glasgow. Following successful trials, the scheme has now been rolled out across 44 airports.

Since the September 11 attacks 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.

From January 7, 2000, travelers are no longer limited to a single piece of carry-on luggage at most of the UK's major airports[19] Currently, hand luggage is not limited by size or weight by the DFT, although most airlines do impose their own rules.

The UK is considering controversial new methods of screening passengers to further improve airport security, such as backscatter X-ray machines that provide a 360-degree view of a person, as well as "see" under clothes, right down to the skin and bones.

Current UK Airport Security measures):[20]

  • Visual & electronic checks of passports and boarding cards.
  • All passengers must walk through metal detectors. Human airport security has been increased and people are highly likely to be questioned or searched.
  • All hold luggage is screened via X-ray for prohibited items before being put on the plane.
    • Check in liquids, creams, gels and aerosols exceeding 100ml.
    • Sharp items exceeding 6 cm e.g. scissors or knives.
  • All hand luggage is screened via X-ray for prohibited items before being allowed entry to airside security zone or on to aircraft. Passengers are not permitted to take any liquids over 100 ml past security, any liquids under 100 ml must be placed in "a single, transparent, re-sealable plastic bag (about the size of a small freezer bag), which itself must not exceed 1 litre in capacity (approximately 20cm x 20cm or 8 inches square)".[21] Exceptions: Liquids in larger containers purchased in the secure area. Declared medication and baby food/liquids.

Hong KongEdit

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The Hong Kong International Airport is secured by the Hong Kong Police Force and Aviation Security Company (AVSECO). Within the police force, the Airport District is responsible for the safety and security of the airport region. Airport Security Unit are deployed around the airport and are armed with H&K MP5 A3 sub-machine guns and Glock 17 pistols. The security of the restricted area is the responsibility of the police and AVSECO.

While the airport is under the control of the Airport Authority Hong Kong (AAHK), the security power has been delegated to the AVSECO staffs. All persons and baggages carried by them must be X-Rayed and checked at the security screening points of the AVSECO (with a few exceptions at the Tenant Restricted Area).

The Immigration Department will check incomers passport and other identities, while the Customs and Excise Department will check passengers and crews' luggages to discourage smuggling of drugs and contraband from entering Hong Kong.


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Security for the country's two international passenger airports comes under the purview of the Airport Police Division of the Singapore Police Force, although resources are concentrated at Singapore Changi Airport where scheduled passenger traffic dominate. Seletar Airport, which specializes in handling non-scheduled and training flights, is seen as posing less of a security issue. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, and the naming of Changi Airport as a terrorism target by the Jemaah Islamiyah, the airport's security has been stepped up.

Roving patrol teams of two soldiers and a police officer armed with automatic weapons patrol the terminals at random. Departing passengers are checked at the entrance of the gate rather than after immigration clearance like Hong Kong International Airport. This security measure is easily noticed by the presence of X-ray machines and metal detectors at every gate, which is not normally seen at other airports.

Assisting the state organizations, are the security services provided by the ground handlers, namely that of the Certis CISCO, Singapore Airport Terminal Services's SATS Security Services, and the Aetos Security Management Private Limited, formed from a merger of the Changi International Airport Services's airport security unit and that of other companies to become a single island-wide auxiliary police company. These officers' duties include screening luggage and controlling movement into restricted areas.

Since 2005, an upgrade in screening technology and rising security concerns led to all luggage-screening processes being conducted behind closed doors. Plans are also in place to install over 400 cameras to monitor the airport, to discourage bomb attacks similar to the 2005 Songkhla bombings in Southern Thailand where Hat Yai International Airport was targeted. Tenders to incorporate such a system were called in late September 2005.[22]

Since 8 May 2007, the liquid restrictions of 100 ml cap is enforced, following the 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot. Passengers are advised to check in liquids, gels and aerosols above 100 ml, failing which they will be confiscated by airport security and have to post it back to oneself. Anything that is in the security areas is allowed. In general practice, unacceptable materials are also confiscated and have to post it back to yourself (excluding nail clippers, nail files, umbrellas and racquets).

List of unacceptable items Lifetime prohibited items (cabin/checked in)
  • Firearms
  • Knives
  • Scissors (with blades more than 6 cm). Blades that are shorter than 6 cm are always acceptable.
  • Ammunition - all ammunition must be unloaded from the gun and is not allowed to be fired.
  • Hammers
  • Crow bars
  • Fireworks and fire extinguishers
  • Gunpowders and smoke flares
  • Controlled drugs, and contraband drugs
  • Vehicle airbags
  • Liquid bleach
  • Torch lighters
  • Aerosols which might be more flammable (unless it is urgent)
  • Hand grenades

United StatesEdit

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Prior to the 1970s American airports had minimal security arrangements to prevent aircraft hijackings. Measures were introduced starting in the late 1960s after several high-profile hijackings.

Sky marshals were introduced in 1970, but there were insufficient numbers to protect every flight and hijackings continued to take place. On November 10, 1972 a trio of hijackers threatened to fly Southern Airways Flight 49 into a nuclear reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. As a direct response to this incident,[23] the Federal Aviation Administration required that all airlines begin screening passengers and their carry-on baggage by January 5, 1973.[24] This screening was generally contracted to private security companies. Private companies would bid on these contracts. The airline that had operational control of the departure concourse controlled by a given checkpoint would hold that contract. Although an airline would control the operation of a checkpoint, oversight authority was held by the FAA. C.F.R. Title 14 restrictions did not permit a relevant airport authority to exercise any oversight over checkpoint operations.

The September 11 attacks prompted even tougher regulations, such as limiting the number of and types of items passengers could carry[25] on board aircraft and requiring increased screening for passengers who fail to present a government issued photo ID.

The Aviation and Transportation Security Act generally required that by November 19, 2002 all passenger screening must be conducted by Federal employees. As a result, passenger and baggage screening is now provided by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), part of the Department of Homeland Security. Provisions to improve the technology for detecting explosives were included in the Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. Often, security at category X airports, the U.S. largest and busiest as measured by volume of passenger traffic, are provided by private contractors.[26][27] Because of the high volume of passenger traffic, category X airports are considered vulnerable targets for terrorism.

Noticing the demand for new technology in airport security, General Electric (GE) started to develop the Secure Registered Traveler System. The new system would use newly developed technology such as automated carry-on scanning, automatic biological pathogen detection, millimeter-wave full body scanning and a quadrupole resonance carpet that would detect threats in shoes without having to take them off. The SRT program also works with smartcard technology along with fingerprint technology to help verify passengers. The fingerprint scanner also detects for explosive material traces on the person's fingers.

With the increase in security screening, some airports saw long queues for security checks. To alleviate this, airports created Premium lines for passengers traveling in First or Business Class, or those who were elite members of a particular airline's Frequent Flyer program.

The "screening passengers by observation techniques" (SPOT) program is operating at some U.S. airports.[28][29][30]

United States incidentsEdit

  • On February 27, 2006, at the Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, in an airliner cargo area (accessible only to authorized personnel), threatening graffiti was found.[31][32]
  • On March 6, 2006 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, an elderly man drove his car onto the runway through two security gates. He made it to an active runway where an Air France aircraft was preparing to land. The man drove around for approximately 23 minutes before being stopped. On the same day a man made it on to the runway by running through a secure gate while it was being opened at Midway International Airport in Chicago. The man made it through one of the three perimeter entrances that did not have a camera, resulting in four different runways being closed down. This incident led to 222 aviation security officers being retrained and a redesign of all perimeter gates.[32]
  • On March 11, 2006, after four years of continuous security breaches and staffing problems news reports indicated that federal officials removed the head of security at Newark Liberty International Airport.[32]
  • On November 1, 2013, a gunman named Paul Anthony Ciancia, age 23, shot and killed TSA agent Gerardo I. Hernandez at the Terminal 3 security checkpoint in Los Angeles International Airport. Ciancia then shot 2 other civilians as he passed security. He made it to the food court in the back of the terminal where federal agents tracked him down and shot him. He was then transported to a trauma hospital where he was treated for his injuries and will be released by the end of November 2 to law enforcement, most likely the FBI. The incident called for a complete shut down in the passenger drop off/departure roadways on the upper level of the airport and caused hundred of flight cancelations across the nation, although international flights had no cancelations. Terminals one, two, and three were shut down and so were the nearby runways, 24L and 24R. Flights that were already in the air and were preparing to land at these runways were either directed to land at the south runways or to divert to Ontario International Airport or Long Beach Airport.
Main article: 2013 Los Angeles International Airport shooting

Category X Airports in the United StatesEdit

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See alsoEdit


US specific:


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  7. Radiation Exposure Negligible From Airport Security Scans - Medscape Medical News from the European Congress of Radiology (ECR) 2013. By Pam Harrison. Mar 08, 2013
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  10. Chakrabarti and Strauss — Carnival Booth: An Algorithm for Defeating the Computer-Assisted Passenger Screening System
  11. Adesta Selected to Provide Security Systems for Washington Dulles International Airport, Newswire. Retrieved 2009-23-11.
  12. Dulles Airport being fitted with fiber intrusion detection, Pro Security Zone. Retrieved 2009-25-11.
  13. Future Fibre Technologies Named Exclusive Provider of Fence-Mounted Perimeter Security for JFPASS, Airport Technology. Retrieved 2009-31-08.
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External linksEdit

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