Reshaping airport security

IATA Checkpoint of the future initiative

© IATA Checkpoint of the future

Piling up multiple layers of security at airports has throughout the last decade become cumbersome for both aviation personnel and passengers. The decision of the US Transport Security Administration (TSA) to allow certain pocket knives on planes is an additional step towards clearing the way for a risk-based security approach and improving standardisation.

Anyone who has been forced to throw away a bottle of water at airport security is probably familiar with the frustration caused by these security measures. For years passengers and crew members have seen the list of prohibited items expand and new rules emerge after each attempted attack on aircraft. The 9/11 terrorist attacks, followed by the ‘Shoe bomber’, the ‘underpants bomber’ and the liquids bomb plot have all revealed a security loophole, which was subsequently covered by a new layer of protection, such as e.g. the 100ml liquid rule or body scanners.

For years, pilots have been calling for a new approach which focusses on threat identification and risk assessment rather than adding yet another security measure. Risk-based security is the understanding that the vast majority of travelers pose little risk to aviation security, and that the one-size-fits-all security model, which has been in place since the attacks of 9/11, needs to be re-shaped. Currently, pilots are screened as regular passengers, disregarding entirely that they are responsible for security on board of their aircrafts. 

The focus on risk assessment and threat identification is in line with several other initiatives of associations of aircrews, airlines, National Authorities and airports. Such is e.g. the “Known Crewmember” program, launched in the US by the TSA and supported by ALPA-I and A4A, that enables TSA security officers to positively verify the identity and employment status of flight-crew members. Similarly, the IATA “Checkpoint of the Future” initiative focusses on modernizing and improving passenger screening based on a risk based approach. Despite limitations of EU legislation not allowing a coordinated EU-wide initiative, some national authorities are already working on projects to open differentiation for pilots in Europe, which will allow them to go through different security screening measures (including ID check) and facilitate the access to their daily working place. ECA has long argued for such a risk based approach, including the introduction of a specific crew identity card based on biometric data and regular background checks. 

TSA’s decision on small knives might be an indication that the approach towards aviation security is shifting. With the prospects of an increase in passenger traffic, it is clear that the current system of airport security is neither viable nor efficient and must change to allow the expected growth of passengers in the near future.