The challenge of preventing aviation security threats efficiently

As those looking to cause harm are getting more creative, and the aviation security regulations to stop them more numerous, the complexity and cost of threat prevention for airport operators expands exponentially. Better technology can help improve security, but it can also have disadvantages. The solution will come from a continuous investment in all the available tools, from new technology to behavioural detection.

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Reactive state

As aviation security threats evolve, new regulations mean subjecting more people to body scans and upgrading hold baggage screening. These increased security checks negatively affect both airport capacity and passenger satisfaction.

Aviation security is also generally more reactive, seeking to prevent known threats, than proactively thinking out of the box like today’s would-be perpetrators. The risk is a pile-up of security regulations that often address obsolete threats.

Technology is not enough

Currently, the primary approach is better detection technology using advanced algorithms to detect threats automatically. Many of the new – and very expensive – technologies were expected to improve checkpoint efficiency, but the reality is more often a slower process. Body scanner imaging is slow. CT scanners have slower belt speeds than x-rays and algorithms that take 1 to 3 seconds to ‘kick in.’ Then there is the human factor: complexity and the ability to view 3D-images from unlimited angles can cause screeners to be less certain, lengthening decision times and increasing searches.

Checkpoints are also not the only place security threat detection is needed, as attacks from land-side and airport insiders in recent years have proven. The use of CCTV, intelligence and behavioural detection (with an emphasis on behaviour rather than discriminatory racial profiling) will all play key roles in better aviation security. Most airports could learn from the successful behavioural approach in use for the high threat levels at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport.

Balanced approach to maintain efficiency and passenger satisfaction

European airport security checkpoints typically process up to 150 passengers per lane per hour. Using valuable airport real estate that could otherwise generate income to add more lanes is a problem. By comparison, the smart security processes at London City, Gatwick and Edinburgh airports consistently achieve rates of 350 to 500 per lane per hour. During my time at London City, we managed to increase flow per lane by over 150% by optimising the security checkpoint process to shave seconds off each touchpoint.

Airports must find a way to reduce threats whilst improving passenger experience, queue times, process efficiency and cost. The goal is moving passengers through security quicker whilst still effectively reducing threats. All parties need to work together and utilise all the available tools – advanced equipment, behavioural detection, CCTV, intelligence, well-trained security screeners – to ensure a more secure aviation industry. And that is something you can’t put a price on.


About To70. To70 is one of the world’s leading aviation consultancies, founded in the Netherlands with offices in Europe, Australia, Asia, and Latin America. To70 believes that society’s growing demand for transport and mobility can be met in a safe, efficient, environmentally friendly and economically viable manner. To achieve this, policy and business decisions have to be based on objective information. With our diverse team of specialists and generalists to70 provides pragmatic solutions and expert advice, based on high-quality data-driven analyses. For more information, please refer to

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