Free Airport Security, Good or Bad? Essay Sample

Airport security can be defined as the techniques and methods that are used in reinforcing security in airports and aircrafts from incidents associated with crime. Because airports serve as a passage for a large number of people, this makes it a potential target that terrorists and other criminals can exploit to initiate terrorist and criminal acts. Reinforcement of airport security aims at preventing dangerous situations from being witnessed in the country. The principal objectives of airport security include protecting the country and the airport from potential threats, reassuring the safety of the public and protecting the people of the country. National security and counter-terrorism are the core foundations that can be used to determine whether the present airport security is good or bad. Despite the intense efforts that have been directed towards enhancing aviation security, especially after September 11, little has been implemented to ensure the safety of the skies in the wake of the huge expenditures. The situation is worsened by the fact the security policies implemented after September 11 attacks have only served to increase the inconveniences during flights. This paper argues that airport security has gone bad because of the wrong risk model, inconveniences caused by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) policies, old layout designs of the airports and lessons not learned as a result of past failures. The integration of these factors results in an unpromising future with regard to airport security.

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The reinforcement of airport security makes use of a wrong risk model. The United States Congress passed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which resulted to the establishment of the TSA. One of the most significant provisions of the ATSA is that it resulted to the federalization of the airport security under the TSA, which resulted to the creation of a large federal workforce deployed in the screening of passengers and luggage. This was a replacement of the private contractors that were initially used by the airports. The federalization of the airport security resulted to the creation of a wrong risk model, which resulted to the establishment of airport security framework that was based on two primary assumptions including the view that all passengers were considered as similarly suspicious and were required to be subjected to the same scrutiny. Another false assumption that makes airport security a wrong risk model is that the fact it has the main objective of keeping only dangerous objects from the airplanes. It is through these assumptions that resulted to the formation of the TSA, which is a federal bureaucracy that only consumed a relatively high amount of tax payer’s money without enhancing airport security to a considerable level. The US Congress imposed tight implementation deadlines coupled with extremely large investments in equipment used for screening baggage, the limited space found in the terminals used to expand the checkpoint lanes and the limits in relation to the number of baggage screeners played an integral role in increasing inefficiencies at the airport. The expenditure on the checked baggage screening was approximately $ 2.5 billion during September 2004; irrespective of these huge expenditures on safety equipments, there have been cases of low throughput and high incidences of error rates associated with the relatively expensive explosive detection system machines. Since the United States imposed the implementation deadlines, only a limited number of airports had the capacity of reconfiguring their systems for baggage processing in order to facilitate the installation of explosive detection systems within the baggage areas. As an alternative, most of the airports opted to install the EDS within their ticket lobbies. The most troubling of this is that the high expenditure and energy has yielded minimal improvements in enhancing the security. During the early 2005, numerous reports by the Department of Homeland Security and Government Accountability Office (GAO) have concluded that this investment has resulted in minimal improvements in airport security. Basing on the testing conducted by the testing conducted on the airport screening operations, there is no evidence that indicates that performance has improved before and after the implementation of the screeners on the airports by the TSA. The TSA devotes approximately 50 percent of its budget, which is approximately $ 6 billion, towards the screening of passengers and baggage. This has not considerably improved the security airplanes from dangerous objects. The only accomplishment at a greater cost that has been observed is the shift from the screening by private sectors to the federal employees.

The efforts of the TSA would have been better if the high start-up costs would have at least resulted to efficient screening of passengers. This is not the case since the forecast is bleak. The rationale for the federalization of airport security had the main aim of offering high level of security on a national scope irrespective of the numerous variations in terms of the functions and sizes of the airports. This was generally a bad approach because the variations in the operations of airports impose a critical effect on the manner in which the passengers and baggage are processed. The one-size-fits-all approach increased inefficiencies in airport operations, which in turn increases the security loopholes that terrorists and criminals can exploit. The Congress imposed a standardization approach, which is a significant hindrance towards handing airport-specific differences. The inefficiencies associated with the TSA strategies are not effective in handling the ever growing and dynamic commercial aviation industry. For instance, in scenarios where airports expand their scope, functions and operations, the TSA takes at least six months to keep pace with the changes. During this period, airports usually operate with few screeners. The fundamental inference from this observation bases on the conventional view that governments fail to adapt promptly when compared to the private sector. Irrespective of the fact that the ATSA has provisions for alternatives that are likely to result to an increased dependence on the private sector for screening of passengers, the probability for the realization of the efficiencies is extremely minimal. An example of this is the use of TSA-certified security firms, which was allowed in five airports. Whilst, a number of security firms was certified during the initial program, it did not give the airports the permission to issue a request for proposal, choose their preferred bidder or engage in a contractual agreement; rather, the TSA engaged in a contractual agreement with firms and supervised the airport operations that they were assigned. The private screening program by TSA was a flop, and few airports are willing to participate in the program. Reports by GAO indicate that the private screening contractors were not given the authority to decide on the levels of staffing and hiring, this implies that any staff added needed authorization from the TSA, which takes a number of months for approval. The fundamental argument is that the privatization provision ATSA has been ineffective in preventing the TSA from transforming into a government agency that is inflexible and bureaucratic.

A lesson that can be learnt from the above observation is that the federalization of airport security is not any better compared to the security provided by the private sector. A fact is that the use of government screeners in other countries has resulted to a similar conclusion. Europeans airports make use of performance contracting model, whereby the government only has the prime role of setting up high performance standards that are to be observed by the security firms. An analysis conducted by GAO on the airport security screening practices of Poland, UK, Netherlands, France and Canada revealed that they all deploy the performance-contracting model. GAO concluded that the airport security of those countries is better in terms of the security system design, higher qualifications and the skills and expertise requirements for the screening personnel and that screening responsibility are vested in the airport and government, and not the airline companies. During the enacting of the ATSA, the US Congress did not take into consideration the fact that almost all European airports make use of the performance contracting because of the high standards established and monitoring by the government.

The future of airport security is unpromising; this is because the US Congress addressed the September 11 security loophole by allocating the TSA both the responsibilities associated regulation and the provision of airport security screening services. Instead, the Congress should have charged each airport with the responsibility of enhancing its airport security using a national regulatory supervision, which is a model deployed in other countries to reinforce airport security. The TSA has the responsibility of both serving as a regulator and operator of the screening of baggage and passengers, whilst operations such as access controls, patrolling the airport perimeters and law enforcement operations are left to the airports under the regulation of FSDs. John Lehman, a September 11 commissioner notes that the dual role played by the TSA poses a significant conflict of interest. The inherent problem associated with federalized screening is that the federal agency is placed in the terminal and is not answerable to anyone, which is contrary to the private sector screeners.

Another reason why airport security is not good is because most airports use the same old designs despite the fact that criminal and terrorists tactics have evolved. Evan Futterman, who is a chairman of aviation services at design firm HNTB, asserts that the design layout of American airports facilitates quick and free movement of people. For example, in the case of Tampa International Airport, layout planners initially aimed at placing the walking distances from the care to the airplane at under about 700 feet, implying that the parking lot was placed on the roof of the terminal. This is can be great for passengers, but not suitable for security. The old layouts of the airports results to congestion in the lobbies, which in turn creates a potential for new threats.


Irrespective of the steps implemented to boost airport security, it is arguably evident that there are notable flaws in the operational elements of airport security. An implication is that airport security is more of reactive, rather than being proactive; the outcome of this is that airport security measures can fail to detect new trends in initiating attacks on the airport and airplane. The paper has argued that airport security has gone bad because of the wrong risk model, inconveniences caused by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) policies, old layout designs of the airports and lessons not learned as a result of past failures. The integration of these factors results to an unpromising future with regard to airport security.


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