Airport security refers to the techniques and methods used in protecting airports from crime and terrorism. Most large airports have their own police force backed up by security guards. In some countries and during wars, paramilitary forces or even soldiers protect airports from threats.
Large numbers of people pass through an airport every day. Such a large gathering of persons presents in itself a natural target for terrorism due to the number of people crowded into a small area.
Past tragedies have resulted in travelers allowed to carry weapons aboard aircraft so that they can hijack the plane. Therefore, travelers must be quickly but efficiently searched. Baggage must be screened to prevent the carrying of bombs aboard an aircraft. X-ray machines are often used to speed this process.
The world's worst failure of airport security was the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center and The Pentagon using hijacked jetliners which killed nearly 3000 people. The deadliest airline catastrophe resulting from an onboard bomb was Air India Flight 182, which killed 329 people.
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.
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Airport security in the United States
Prior to the 1970s American airports had no security arrangements to prevent hijacking. Security measures were introduced following several high-profile hijackings starting in the late 1960s. The most notable was the attempted simultaneous hijacking in September 1970 by the PLFP of four airliners (of which two were American) and the subsequent destruction of three of them on the ground in Jordan and Egypt.
Sky marshals were introduced in 1970 but there were insufficient numbers to protect every flight and hijackings continued to take place. Consequently in late 1972, the FAA demanded that all airlines begin searching passengers and their carry-on baggage by January 5, 1973. The September 11th attack prompted even tougher regulations, such as prohibiting the carrying of more items aboard aircraft by passengers and requiring all passengers to prove their identity (though many 9/11 hijackers simply used false ID).
Airport security in the United States is now provided by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) of the Department of Homeland Security. The Aviation and Transportation Security Act required that from 19 November 2002 all passenger screening must be conducted by Federal employees. Prior to that date, passenger screening was provided by security guard companies; however, some people think that private security companies in America are not able to provide the same service level as US Federal employees. It was not uncommon that the lowest-paid employee in the airport was a security guard.
As of March, 2004 in the United States, a controversial plan called the Computer-Assisted Airline Passenger Screening System or CAPPS II, was being promoted by the TSA. The proposed program would force the booking agent or airline to record your name, address, phone number, date of birth and travel destination at the time you purchase a ticket. The data goes from there to the TSA, which forwards it to a contractor for verification. Government officials then would run computer programs that supposedly generate an accurate risk assessment, allowing security to focus their time on high-risk individuals. CAPPS II has come under attack from groups that believe it undermines both privacy and safety (because terrorists allegedly could use it to their advantage), and may be unconstitutional.
- Federal Aviation Administration Official Website
- Transportation Security Administration
- Crypto-Gram newsletter – September 30, 2001