Aviation security and the continued terrorist threats on our Nations airports, airlines and infrastructure


Degree:            Master of Science in Public Safety

Year:               2009

The purpose of this study is to investigate whether the air carriers, airports, and the various governmental agencies are accomplishing their assigned duties in accordance with the applicable governmental directives; that are these agencies are providing the level of security necessary to protect the traveler, the air carrier, and infrastructure from potential terrorists attacks that is crucial to this nations’ economic success as well as its very survival. Furthermore, this report will analyze and report on how successful the Transportation Security Administration is in accomplishing there assigned duties and responsibilities in accordance with the current Transportation and Security Act.




Terrorist acts have been waged against a variety of domestic, civil authority and invading armies for centuries. We as a nation must come to the conclusion that we cannot prevent every act of terrorism, even under the best of conditions [INVESTIGATION OF SEPT 11. (n.d.)].

The key issue that we as a nation must understand and acknowledge, that for decades several organizations and countries that sponsored terrorism have been conducting surveillance and plotting terrorist acts that were specifically directed towards aviation security for many years prior to September 11th, 2001. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued recurring warnings to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the airline industry concerning potential terrorist acts, right up to September 11, 2001 [INVESTIGATION OF SEPT 11. (n.d.)].

The protection of civil aviation from a potential terrorist attack has been for years an urgent and national matter. In September 1996, a General Accounting Office report (GAO) came to a conclusion that “nearly every major aspect of the aviation system ranging from the screening of passengers, checked and carry-on baggage, to mail and cargo as well as access to protected areas within airports and aircraft have potential weaknesses that terrorists could easily exploit [INVESTIGATION OF SEPT 11. (n.d.).]”

Unfortunately security at most of the nations’ airports prior to September 11, 2001 were chaotic at best, the air carriers were directly responsible for providing security services (i.e., passenger, baggage, and carry-on screening). Unfortunately, the security provided was substandard, the air carriers were more concerned with profits rather than providing a level of security that would ensure all travelers were properly screened prior to boarding.

Researcher’s Work Setting and Role

This researcher is a former member of the military with over 20-years experience and fully understands the importance of maintaining security of the base, the facilities, materiel, personnel, and documents. As a security specialist this researcher fully understands the importance of security and the ramifications of failure in this area.

Statement of the Problem

This report will delve into the vulnerability of this nations airport’s and infrastructure due in part to the lack of support by this nations airlines to provide adequate security and the complacency of the United States government and the American people the further away we get from September 11, 2001.

Statement of Research Question

With the sweeping changes in laws and enforcement actions, have this country and its

citizens been any safer?

The Importance of the Study

With the heightened tensions around the world and the threat of another terrorist act on everyone’s mind, it is imperative that security is not taken lightly by or government, the air carriers, or passengers. Today at any given moment on any given day there are over 100,000 U.S. flights; along those same lines there are over 3,000,000 passengers traveling both domestic and international. Thus it is imperative that we as a nation ensure that the airports and the aircraft are as safe and secure as humanly possible.

Limitations and Assumptions

The key focus of this research is a two part question, (1) if replacing the private security organizations prior to September 11, 2001 would have prevented the terrorist attacks, and (2) since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 are we as travelers any safer?

Feasibility of the project

 The project is feasible; there is a vast body of research regarding aviation and airport security that lays the foundation for this researcher. The information gleaned from the research conducted would allow this researcher to make sound logical recommendations to upper level management regarding suggested changes to security programs and policies.

Validity and credibility of published research

The external validity or transferability of the study in terms of what population and setting the results could justifiably is generalized too. This should be tied to the sampling or selection method used. The external benefit would be by reducing or if possible eliminating travel delays throughout the system, improvements in security screening at a single airport can be seen as a “good” (technically speaking, a service) with spillover benefits. Furthermore, security enhancements at one location in the network can result in an increased feeling of safety perceived by passengers at other locations. In fact, this additional safety may accrue to those who are not even traveling, such as those individuals who work in high rise office structures or in any other potential target of an airline terrorist attack.

The internal validity of the quantitative study and the extent to which cause-and-effect

relationships between variables could be inferred. Prior to September 11, 2001 several studies

 concluded that aviation security was inadequate at best, however, at the conclusion of the study the results still do not prove that aviation security is any better. The results of the study do not quantify the numerous pieces of legislation and billions of dollars spent annually on aviation security. The longer lines and billions of dollars spent annually do not readily transfer to a safer environment.

Ethical and legal issues

Ethical and legal issues, since experiments will not be conducted ethical issues will not be the primary concern (however, the ethical related to this study is too remain unbiased) however, the primary concern is to receive Internal Review Board approval (IRB) regarding the use of a questionnaire and approval to contact airport management in an effort to receive feedback via the questionnaire.



Security issues in general prior to September 11, 2001

In the past, the responsible parties for ensuring aviation security fell upon the air carriers, airports and finally the FAA. In general, the air carriers and the airports have been the responsible parties for providing aviation security. The government on the other hand, through the FAA, performed primarily a regulatory function. The air carriers were directly responsible for the screening of passengers, carry-on and checked baggage; these duties and responsibilities were contracted out to private security organizations (Coughlin, Cohen & Khan, 2002).

The one significant problem noted was the lack of standardization and consistency between the air carriers and the security organizations that were contracted to provide screening of passengers, and both checked and carry-on luggage. Employee training provided by the private security companies barely met the minimum requirements based on FAA directives. These and other deficiencies set the stage for what occurred on September 11, 2001 (Coughlin, Cohen & Khan, 2002).

Air carrier duties and responsibilities

Following deregulation of the air carrier industry in 1978, several major U.S. air carriers developed a “hub and spoke” system that is still employed today. Within this configuration, passengers on flights from smaller airports (nodes) would all converge on a single larger airport (hub) refer to Figure 1 for an example (Coughlin, Cohen & Khan, 2002).

Unfortunately, this hub and spoke system leads to interdependency that provides for several probable externalities. That is to say, delays at one node (small airport) would often trigger additional delays throughout the whole system. Consequently, if you experience delays in one specific city due to a security breach this can cause additional delays at other nodes Coughlin, Cohen & Khan, 2002).

Figure 1.

The Lambert St. Louis International Airport

Hub and Spoke System as of 12/12/01

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of

Transportation Statistics.

The causes of substandard security

A study conducted based on 993 screeners trained at one airport over a one-year period, only 142 (or 14 per cent) were still employed at the conclusion of the study. The results of this study clearly point out a severe problem the airlines and contract security was experiencing (Hainmüller, & Lemnitzer, 2003).

Several tests have confirmed that three vital factors weaken or impede screening operations they are (Hainmüller, & Lemnitzer, 2003):

·         High turnover rates,

·         Low pay, and

·         Poor training

Table 1 depicts the annual average turnover rates for the United States and selected European countries from 1998 through 1999 (Hainmüller, & Lemnitzer, 2003).

Table 1. Turnover rate among screeners 1998-1999

Europe versus the United States

Country (%)Turnover rate*United States126%France> 50%Germany11%United Kingdom> 50%Netherlands>50%Belgium>4%Source: GAO, Airport Safety and Security Journal, EU

*In some European countries officials were reluctant to release exact turn-over rates, but data was provided in the “less than” form. (Unweighted) annual average turnover rates among screeners at 35 major U.S. airports.

The second key component vital to any civil aviation security system is the matching and screening of checked baggage; two indicators can be used to evaluate performance. The first indicator is the screening rate; here you are determining the percentage of bags that actually runs through the conventional x-ray machines or Explosive Detection Systems (EDS) before being loaded on the aircraft. The second key indicator is the matching of checked baggage (Hainmüller, & Lemnitzer, 2003).

At the close of 2001, there were only 142 EDS machines at US airports. Based on available data 2000-3500 machines (costing approximately $2.3 billion) would be required to meet European standards (Hainmüller, & Lemnitzer, 2003).

Federal government responsibilities and legislative acts

The FAA as an agency remained a reactionary organization which acted irregularly in ways intended to prevent certain types of attacks that had been carried out successfully in the past. The first threat the United States (US) government and the air carriers confronted both in the U S and abroad were hijackings, this threat was countered by the development and installation of passenger screening devices and procedures at all major airports (Szyliowicz, 2004).

“The Aviation Security Improvement Act (ATSA) of 1990,” came about from public protest that followed the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103, this disaster created many changes, especially within the FAA; however, this Act failed to make significant changes within the agency. The FAA appeared more concerned with the economic viability of the airlines instead of enforcing the rules. Lapses in security were still apparent; noted in a GAO report “the FAA oversight division of airport security systems was not aggressive in enforcing rules and regulations” (Szyliowicz, 2004).

By September 11, 2001 a limited number of the thirty-one recommendations had never been implemented, including the more sophisticated profiling (behavior profile recognition techniques), passenger-bag matching, improved screening company performance requirements, enhanced background checks for screeners and airport employees, and other necessary measures to deal with the myriad of cargo threats. (Szyliowicz, 2004).

New security measures in place to help prevent future terrorist acts

As of 1996, the Computer Aided Passenger Pre-screening (CAPPS) system has been analyzing ticket purchasing behavior of travelers to help identify air travelers who may pose a threat. The problem was the means and methods of identifying suspicious passengers using the current CAPPS program has been in large part compromised by information publicly discussed following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. As a result of the compromise, TSA has contracted with Lockheed Martin to develop the next-generation CAPPS II system (Elias, 2004).

TSA’s efforts to launch the test phase of CAPPS II have met with delays; air carriers are unwilling to provide passenger data for system testing. Air carrier lack of enthusiasm stems from recent incidents in which public disapproval and legal actions resulted from air carriers voluntarily providing passenger data to various governmental agencies without their consent. Regardless of these setbacks, TSA anticipates beginning the test phase of CAPPS II in the spring of 2004 and implementation by the summer of 2004 (Elias, 2004).

Federal government responsibilities and new legislation

“The current ATSA was signed into law (Public Law 107-71) on November 19, 2001, by President Bush.” The goal of the Act was to improve security at all airports, and achieve a safer travel environment for the traveler. The enactment of the ATSA significantly changed the aviation security responsibilities of air carriers, airports, and the federal government. The act established the TSA in the DOT. On February 17, 2002, the TSA took control of the civil aviation security functions and responsibilities once controlled by the FAA. The most controversial feature of the legislation was the requirement to have the US Attorney General and the Secretary of Transportation develop a program that ensured the screening of all passengers and baggage for contraband and hazardous and potential dangerous substances (Coughlin, Cohen & Khan, 2002).

New Technology

Besides the workforce issues that are required to detect dangerous materials and objects, there are technology issues. The technical performances of existing machines which scan for metal objects, have reached their usefulness and may no longer be acceptable to detect the numerous dangerous objects that do not contain metal. Many critics have stated those who provide aviation security have failed to utilize available technology and resources. Atkinson (2001) has stated that a wide range of superior information technologies must be applied to improve and increase aviation security. At the same time, however, the consideration of technical solutions requires the consideration of many nontechnical issues that can affect whether the technology can be implemented successfully. New scanning technology can do a better job than the existing machines that scan only for metal. Many security experts are pushing for the use of screening machines capable of detecting a broader range of metals and alloys, plastic explosives, and other materials (Atkinson, 2001).

In addition to the personnel issues involved in detecting dangerous objects, there are technology issues. The technical performance of existing machines, which scan for metal objects, might not be adequate to detect the numerous dangerous objects that do not contain metal. Critics have went on record stating those entities whom are providing aviation security have failed to utilize available technology. Atkinson (2001) has gone on record stating that numerous advanced information technologies could and should be used to improve aviation security. Prior to the installation or implementation of these new technologies consideration of these technical solutions requires the deliberation of many non-technical issues that may impact whether the technology can be implemented effectively. With the advent of new scanning technology, the older machines have reached the end of their life-cycle and should be replaced; these newer machines have greater capacity and greater capabilities. According to Atkinson (2001), these new machines have a wider range and have the capability to detect a broader range of metals, alloys, plastic explosives, and other materials (Atkinson, 2001).

Today, the use of biometrics can be extended beyond the preceding examples. For example, facial recognition biometric systems can scan individuals in a crowd or as they pass through a security checkpoint. Within seconds, a person’s face that was just scanned can be compared with a database of criminals or suspected terrorists. Clearly, the creation of such a data-base would require the cooperation of numerous law enforcement agencies both nationally as well as internationally (Atkinson, 2001).

The cost of security in post 9/11

The cost of security in a post 9-11 environment is estimated at $9.4 billion by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) for the expenses of the federal government. The focus here is on the preliminary changes in spending that are subject to appropriation for 2002-2004. The funds if appropriated by Congress would be used for paying expenses depicted in the following categories (Coughlin, Cohen & Khan, 2002):

·         passenger and baggage screening,

·         air marshals, airport security measures,

·         reimbursements to airports stemming from the additional security expenses due to 9/11,

·         general aviation aircraft security,

·         research and development on chemical and biological weapons, and

·         research and development on aviation security technology.



Quantitative methodological approach

Since this topic encompasses many aspects and or areas of security the ideal method this researcher will utilize will be “quantitative methodology. The idea of reviewing previous research will provide the foundation upon which this researcher will base this study on. The gathering and use of statistical data will greatly aid in understanding material. The following are a few examples:

·         Secondary analysis, like content analysis, makes use of already existing sources of data. However, secondary analysis typically refers to the re-analysis of quantitative data rather than text; utilizing credible research aids in answering the researchers questions and adds credibility and validity to the research.

·         The aim is to classify features, count them, and construct statistical models in an attempt to explain what is observed.

·         All aspects of the study are carefully designed before data is collected.

·         Quantitative data is more efficient, able to test hypotheses, but may miss contextual detail.

The intended purpose of the quantitative approach

The information gleaned from the research will provide insight into statistical data regarding the cost of security both before September 11, 2001 (airline managed) and post September 11, 2001 (government managed).

Qualitative methodological approach

The content analysis study is ideal for studying or identifying specific characteristics of a program. This concept would be ideal for studying aviation security since this researcher will be focusing on several programs that directly impact how secure our nation’s airports and airlines really are.

The use of qualitative method is subjective – individuals’ interpretation of events is important (e.g., uses participant observation, in-depth interviews etc.) to gain knowledge of the subject. Qualitative data is more ‘rich’, time consuming, and less able to be generalized.

The intended purpose of the qualitative approach

The intended purpose is to discover why security failed to discover the terrorists prior to boarding the aircraft that crashed into the Pentagon, the twin towers in New York City and the field located in Pennsylvania. Through qualitative approach the other goal is to correct those deficiencies in security and make recommendations so this will never happen again.



In general, whenever responsibility for security is passed on to the air carrier, security cannot be expected to be truly professional. Air carriers do not have, nor can they obtain on a regular basis the capabilities that are necessary to cope effectively with sophisticated terrorist groups or state sponsored terrorism. To obtain and maintain the necessary capabilities would most certainly bankrupt any of today’s air carrier.

For this and other reasons the federal government has assumed responsibility for all aspects of passenger, checked baggage, carry-on, and cargo screening. However, gaps still remain in the security system that must be resolved if this nation’s airports and airlines are to be secure from future terrorist threats. The following recommendations will improve security and are easy to implement and should be done so immediately:

1.      Eliminate curbside check-in

2.      Match all bags to passengers

3.      Train security personnel to ask questions and observe for suspicious persons

4.      Mark each bag after it passes through security

5.      Keep all non-passengers out of the concourse

6.      Isolate passengers on connecting flights from weak security areas and send those individuals through security

7.      Have one security system for the entire airport

8.      Continuously train your security personnel

9.      X-ray all baggage, and finally

10.  Have a security director with the authority to postpone or cancel any flight

11.  Further study is required.



First and foremost a researcher cannot make final and conclusive arguments without first completing the research study. For a researcher to be able to make solid arguments the study must be finalized and reviewed to ensure the study is complete and accurate.

Based on the research thus far this researcher can make the following statement; the air carriers made some phenomenal mistakes, what I mean by this comment, the air carriers were more concerned with profits over security of the traveler, the aircrew, and the aircraft. This disturbing discovery was what caused the September 11, 2001 disaster. These terrorists conducted several surveillance flights to note the weaknesses and use those weaknesses against employees who accomplished the daily task of screening the passengers, their baggage as well as their checked baggage.

The most troublesome thing I discovered was that the air carriers were concerned with the bottom line and not with security. These executives would contract out the security to the lowest bidder. Once awarded the contract the employer would provide substandard training and pay, it was obvious from the research that no one from the air carrier to the contract cared about security or their employees. There was no incentive to stay since pay and benefits were non-existent, thus turnover was extremely high.

The answer to this problem was the Transportation and Security Act which federalized all screeners, the standup of the following organizations: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the TSA.

The answer to the question is we any safer today than we were on September 11, 2001, the answer is maybe. The dilemma is you cannot stop all terrorist acts.

Annotated Bibliography

Atkinson, Robert D. “How Technology Can Help Make Air Travel Safe Again.” Policy

Report, Progressive Policy Institute September 2001. Retrieved February 5, 2009, from

Policy Report, Progressive Policy Institute. This article discusses that new technologies, including better scanning and biometric authentication and identification are not a panacea to airport security problems. However, correctly deployed, they can play a key role in enhancing airport security, along with working to minimize the added inconvenience that new security measures will involve.

Coughlin, C., Cohen, J., & Khan, S. (2002, September). Aviation Security and Terrorism:

A Review of the Economic Issues. Review, 84(5), 9. Retrieved February 2, 2009, from International Security & Counter Terrorism Reference Center database. This article examines the economic issues relevant to airline and airport security in the United States, a topic that has received little attention from economists.

Elias, B. (2004, February 6). Aviation Security: Issues Before Congress Since September 11,

2001: RL31969. Congressional Research Service: Report, Retrieved February 20, 2009

from International Security & Counter Terrorism Reference Center database. This report highlights the tragic events of September 11, 2001 and focuses on the lack of aviation security within the United States. Furthermore, the article discusses the Homeland Security Act of 2002 that establishes the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), placing the TSA within DHS, and establishment of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Frederickson, H., & LaPorte, T. (2002, Jul2002 Special Edition). Airport Security, High

Reliability, and the Problem of Rationality. Public Administration Review, 62(4), 33-43. Retrieved February 3, 2009, from International Security & Counter Terrorism Reference Center database. This article applies the concepts and logic of high-reliability organizations to airport security operations. These concepts are used to inform early-stage issues being faced by both local airports and the newly established Transportation Security Administration.

Hainmüller, J., & Lemnitzer, J. (2003, Winter2003). WHY DO EUROPEANS FLY


US. Terrorism & Political Violence, 15(4), 1-36. Retrieved February 3, 2009,

from International Security & Counter Terrorism Reference Center database.

Hainmüller and Lemnitzer discuss the differences and performance factors between that of the American and German airport security regimes before September 11, 2001; they attributed those differences to institutional factors. The article compares US and German responsibilities with regard to security.

Haque, M. (2002, Jul2002 Special Edition). Government Responses to Terrorism: Critical

            Views of Their Impacts on People and Public Administration. Public

Administration Review, 62(4), 170-180. Retrieved February 3, 2009, from

International Security & Counter Terrorism Reference Center database. This article examines the critical impact of new anti-terrorist initiatives on the fundamental rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizens and others, with special r