Aviation terrorism attacks have gone through various transformations because of the innovative nature of the attackers. The 2001 September 11 attack marked the start of a new era in the modern history of aviation security. The increase in attacks indicates the existence of a number of terrorist organization’s ability and motivation to execute terror attacks against the civil aviation sector; most considered to be an attractive target for extremist groups. Despite significant nature of this area, very has been done in both academic research practices to get a lasting solution. In this regard, the current study investigated the trend and problems terrorism on the aviation security. The study adopted a descriptive research design with mixed methodology using both qualitative and quantitative data. Closed-ended questionnaires and open-ended interview guides were used as the tools for data collection. The study findings revealed that new technologies are shaping the current aviation security landscape, and that the threats of terrorists have negatively impacted on the aviation security system as well as general public as a whole. The study recommended that security operation should think like attackers, and not as defenders, cooperates on aviation security issues; both in cyber and physical domain. The study also recommends that there is need to rethink deployment of border security mechanisms for the digital age.
Aviation terrorism attacks have gone through various transformations because of the innovative nature of the attackers. The 2001 September 11 attack by terrorists marked the start of a new period in the current history aviation security. This represents the period characterised by instability, unpredictability, as well as the redesigning of complex security systems, involving both new and traditional types of challenges and threats in aviation transport system. Significantly, was evident that terrorism emergence is indeed a worldwide threat on aviation transport (Arasly, 2005). Since then, various studies have documented several arguments on the trends and problems facing aviation security sector. However, there is lack of consensus on the best approach of controlling the impacts of terrorism on aviation transport. This is because, in the 21st century, terrorism threats have evolved into a key geopolitical element which can cause a systematic crisis at both local and global levels.
Commercial aviation sector remains an attractive attack area for extremists and militants. According to Karoly (2017), the public side of an airport curbside to security screening is considered vulnerable to various terrorist attacks, which include, weaponized drones, active shooting, luggage filled with explosives, as well cases of vehicle ramming. Many militants, ideologically motivated and technically proficient, returning from failing ISIS caliphate may at time regroup under new flags, act independently, or join al Qaeda affiliates. Credible intelligence reveals that extremist groups will continue developing plans targeting the overall aviation security system. For instance, in 2016, terrorist group conducted more than 200 terrorist attacks on transportation assents globally (Karoly, 2017). Although this may appear to present a reduction in the rates of attacks on transportation sector since 2015, the attacks on the aviation transport have significantly increased (Karoly, 2017).
The increase in attacks indicates the existence of a number of terrorist organization’s ability and motivation to execute terror attacks against the civil aviation sector; most considered to be an attractive target. These attacks often create anxiety and fear among the population, and may paralyze the entire transportation sector at large, both at national and international level. Therefore, the mission to protect aviation transport remains imperative to all nations. In fact, securing commercial aviation as well as the protection of the traveling public from threats, including hijacking, smuggling of explosives or weapons on board the aircraft, and ground based attacks forms the basis for the current study. In this regard, the main aim of the current was to determine the trends and problems of terrorists on the aviation security system. The study variables were; general trends in aviation security, the problems of terrorism on aviation sector, as well as the improvement recommendations.
Aviation security has received a lot of attention in both academic research and practice. For instance, while recommending the best practices necessary for a comprehensive and thorough analysis, Arasly’s (2005) study considers concerns related with the security experts’ struggle against the threats of terrorists from the civil aviation perspectives, and recommended the most appropriate action to be undertaken. The author posits that the establishment of preventive approaches focused on preventing terrorism acts, for instance, making a database on the potentially dangerous passengers is an efficient way of dealing with the threats of terrorism within the aviation sector. Furthermore, the author argues that there is need for more comprehensive pre-screening approaches for individuals from radical political organizations, religious sects, criminal groups, as well as the groups likely to be intoxicated. Hence, there should be more intensive vetting mechanisms for the flied crew and other technical personnel employed in a particular airline (Arasly, 2005).
Coughlin et al. (2002) analysed economic impacts associated with airline and airport security within USA. The study recommended that property, passengers, and airlines must be protected by preventing the potential perpetrators of terrorism acts from the checkpoints’ security breaches, access to the aircraft, as well as ensuring that the aircraft areas are “secured”. Because of the fact that airport areas are often interconnected, the entire system should be provided with an efficiently high level security approaches (Coughlin et al., 2002). In addition, the study appeals for incentives to be provided to security regulators and providers to enhance the aviation security and the implementation of proper policies. In agreement to these assertions, Seidenstat (2004) posits that costs related to security provision should be integrated in the decision making process by weighing against essential benefits.
Wilkinson and Jenkins (2013) investigated the changing nature of the activities of terrorism in the aviation security system. In their analysis, the authors found that there are still insufficient x-ray machines with the capability to detect dangerous explosive. The available equipment are unable to operate a comprehensive and effective system of positive baggage recognition, the linchpin of an effective security system against the sabotage bombs. Moreover, the authors found that since 1966, the aviation sector has encountered more than 70 unknown threats attempts of planting on different board airlines, leading to 15 deadly crashes, whereby 1,732 passengers died. The study analysis further indicates that the shift in terrorists’ emphasis from passenger plane hijacking to sabotage bombing shows a well-established trends in terrorism “toward large-scale indiscriminate violence” (Wilkinson & Jenkins, 2013, p. 4).
Oster Jr, Strong and Zorn (2013) analysed the economic literature related to aviation safety, and reviewed aviation security as a key dimension in aviation safety. The authors posit that the main challenges in the improvement of aviation security include: focusing on the identification of terrorists rather than the identification of the techniques they might utilize to execute an attack; responding to terrorism threats; and examining public versus private roles in offering aviation security. Nonetheless, the authors offer a gap in aviation security implementation because the next generation aviation safety challenges need the understanding and development of new set of information to enhance safety in other commercial aviation segments, and moving away from reactive, incident based approach to a more systematic and proactive based approach.
Gillen and Morrison (2015) examined the current concerns and the future aspects of the aviation security system from an economic point of view. The authors argued that in the 1970s, the attacks on aircrafts were mainly focused on the hijackings; however, these kinds of attacks have relatively reduced both in quantity as well as in the relative importance. The main trend exhibited by the authors indicates a significant increase in the number of bomb attacks in 1980s, and reduced again in the subsequent decades (Gillen & Morrison, 2015). This indicates that there exists an evolutionary nature in aviation security; as experts in the security implement specific security mechanisms in a specific mode of attack, terrorists often adapt their approaches, leading to evolution in the mode of attacks by the terrorists.
Furthermore, Gillen and Morrison (2015) further reveal that until recently, different aviation security systems operate under the assumption that every passenger in the airport is perceived a potential terrorist, until it is proven otherwise. Based on this guideline, all passengers in the airport should get the same screening and attention as they undergo checking at various security checkpoints. Consequently, this has led to the heightened line-ups that lead to delays, which is a reality in the current air travels around the world. However, recently, there are recommendations to adopt measures which are risk-based aviation security approach, which include establishment of trusted traveller programs. In this program, passengers are often grouped into different risk groups, with relatively large segment of travelling grouped as low-risk, thereby requiring low levels of ambiguity, and which are less time consuming during security screening (Gillen & Morrison, 2015).
The key challenge which might face the future security technology in the aviation technology is how to create technologies that are able to effectively assess and measure the malignant terrorists’ intentions without many errors. According to Jacobson and Lee (2010), once this milestone is achieved, there is proliferation of the shift of focus from threat item investigation to the identification of bad intention. Indeed, the intent-oriented measurement technologies may likely lead to various changes to the airport operation. Therefore, it is clear that in such security arrangements, it becomes unwarranted to carry out screening exercise on pilots and other flight crew personnel for different threat items. Jacobson and Lee (2010) further argues that screening policies for different security checkpoints reaches the point where pilots and other flight crew personnel are not included in all threat screening. This indicates that there is paradigm shift in the aviation security operation, and which may have significant impacts in future aviation security. In addition, as identity-matching and intent measurement technologies improve, a large number of passengers will be allowed to travel without going through many cases of threat item screening.
The study adopted a descriptive research design. The research design was employed in describing the characteristics related to the problems and trends of terrorism on the aviation security. It also used a mixed methodology in the process of data collection. The design employed both quantitative and qualitative methods. According to Creswell and Clark (2017), quantitative data involves the data obtained from the attitude, behaviour, or the performance instruments. The data collection process in this method involves the use of closed ended research survey. In contrast, qualitative data incorporates the use of open-ended surveys that the researcher gathers through interviewing the participants. Generally, open-ended surveys asked during interviews enables the participants to provide responses in their words (Creswell & Clark, 2017). The main reason why it was necessary to use mixed methodology was that the approach provides the strengths which offsets the limitations presented by both quantitative and qualitative methods if used in isolation. Some arguments present that quantitative research is weak in providing understanding of the context where individuals are able to express themselves by talking. Similarly, qualitative research is considered to be weak because personal interpretations by the researcher may introduce bias, as well as the limitations in generalizing the results of the study to a relatively large group of participants. This is because in most cases, the number of participants is often limited.
The target population of the study were aviation employees, pilots, as well as other aircraft crew personnel. This was because the researcher assumed this population segment had first-hand information concerning the perceived terrorist attacks in the aviation sector. The quantitative data involved the utilization of closed-ended surveys that was filled by the sampled population. On the other hand, the qualitative research was obtained from open-ended interview guides. The study interviews were conducted on the airport security personnel in sampled airports. The sampling procedure for the used airports was by use of a purposive sampling technique. Consequently, 100 participants were selected to take in quantitative research, whereas 15 participants were sampled purposively to take in the study interviews.
The data collection procedure begun with quantitative research, where the researcher presented surveys to the participants to be filled and then collected later. Two research assistants were trained on data collection process and incorporated during data collection. Every questionnaire was designed to take 5 minutes to be completely filled by the respondents. This was subsequently followed by the administration of structured interviews for qualitative research purposes and took approximately 25 minutes for each interview session.
The collected data was then checked for the incomplete information and errors which might have been offered by the study respondents. Quantitative data was coded in the SPESS version 20 software for descriptive analysis, while incorporating the excel software for generation of figures. The analysed data was then presented in form of frequencies and percentages, and interpreted using tables and figures. On the other hand, qualitative data was analysed by narrative methods by use of tape recorders which extracted the opinion of the respondents in its original form without alteration.
The study sought to determine the gender distribution of respondents who took part in the study. The study findings as shown in Figure 4.1 reveals that 41(59%) were male, whereas 29(41%) were female.
The study sought to determine the age distribution of
the respondents who took part in the study. The study findings reveals that
23(32.9%) were aged 18-30 years, 30(42.9%) were aged between 31-40 years,
14(20%) were aged between 41-50 years, whereas 3(4.2%) were aged above 51 years
as shown in Figure 4.2.
The study further sought to determine the level of education of the respondents who took part in the study. The level of education in any working environment determines the skills and competence of particular employees. The study findings revealed that 7(10%) had only basic education, 32(45.7%) had college certificates, 26(37.1%) had university degrees, whereas 5(7.1%) had post graduate degrees as shown in the Figure 4.3.
The study sought to determine the level of occurrence of security breaches in the airport. The findings from the study revealed that 6(8.6%) said it occurs always, 17(24.3%) said it occurs very often, 21(30.0%) said it occurs sometimes, 17(24.3%) said it occurs rarely, whereas 9(12.9%) said it never occurs as shown in the Figure 4.4.
The study further sought to determine the level of occurrence security breaches in the aviation sector. The findings from the study revealed that 17(24.3%) said improvised explosives were key threats, 15(21.4%) said it was insider threats, 28(40.0%) said it was cyber security threats, whereas 10(14.3%) said the key threat was hijacking of passenger airplanes, as shown in the Figure 4.5.
The study sought to determine the key trends in aviation terrorism and security. The responses were measured on Linkert scale 1-5 (where 1-strongly disagree, 2- disagree, 3-moderate, 4-agree, 5- strongly agree). The findings from the study revealed that 40% of the respondents agreed that new technologies are changing the security landscape at the airport, whereas 11.4% strongly agreed, 17.1% were moderate, 18.6% disagreed, and 12.9% strongly disagreed. The finding also indicate that 27.1% of the respondents strongly agreed that the airport runs remote security screening programs, 28.6% agreed, 17.1% were moderate, 22.9% disagreed, whereas 4.3% strongly disagreed. It was further revealed that 40.0% of the respondents agreed that the computers are now being used to select passengers who are thought to be high security threat based on ethnic origin, 25.7% strongly agreed, 14.3% were moderate, 15.7 disagreed, whereas 4.3% strongly disagreed as shown in the Table 4.1.
|Table 4.1. The key trends in aviation terrorism and security|
|The respondents’ opinion||1||2||3||4||5|
|new technologies are changing the security landscape at the airport||12.9||18.6||17.1||40.0||11.4|
|the airport runs remote security screening programs||4.3||22.9||17.1||28.6||27.1|
|the computers are now being used to select passengers who are thought to be high security threat based on ethnic origin||4.3||15.7||14.3||40.0||25.7|
The study further sought to determine the impacts of the threats of terrorism on the airport security system. The findings from the study revealed that 37(53%) said social-economic impacts were greatly encountered, 20(28%) indicated political impacts, whereas 13(19%), said there were no impacts recently reported with relation to the threats of terrorism as shown in the Figure 4.6.
The study sought to determine the problems caused by the threats of terrorism on the aviation security. The responses were measured on a Linkert scale 1-5 (where 1-strongly disagree, 2- disagree, 3-moderate, 4-agree, 5- strongly agree). The study findings indicate that 32.9% of the respondents strongly disagreed that terrorism leads to the increased use of technology, which is embedded in the machines that emit radiations, hence causing harm to the people’s health, 11.4% strongly agreed, 8.6% were moderate, 20.0% disagreed, whereas 27.1% agreed. The study further indicates that 28.6% of the respondents disagreed that the increased use of technology violates people’s privacy, subsequently leading to legal law suits against the airport security operation, 5.7% strongly disagreed, 20.0% were moderate, 22.9% agreed, whereas 22.9% strongly agreed. Also, the study findings revealed that 45.7% of the respondents agreed that the threats of terrorism cause fear and anxiety among passengers and the general public, 5.7% strongly disagreed, 17.1 disagreed, 15.7 were of the respondents were moderate, and 15.7% strongly agreed as shown in the Table 4.2.
Table 4.2. Problems of Terrorism on Aviation
|The respondents’ opinion||1||2||3||4||5|
|Terrorism has led to the increase in the use of technology, which is embedded in the machines that emit radiations, hence causing harm on people’s health||32.9||20.0||8.6||27.1||11.4|
|The increased use of technology could violate one’s privacy that lead to legal suits against the airport security operations||5.7||28.6||20.0||22.9||22.9|
|The threats of terrorism causes fear and anxiety to passengers||5.7||17.1||15.7||45.7||15.7|
The study sought to find out the recommendations for recommendations for aviation security improvement. The responses were measured on Linkert scale 1-5 (where 1-strongly disagree, 2- disagree, 3-moderate, 4-agree, 5- strongly agree). The findings from the study indicate that 40.0% of the respondents strongly agreed that installation of infrastructures that separate screened and non-screened airport employees can help improve modern airport security system, 30.0% agreed, 12.9% were moderate, 12.9% disagreed, whereas 4.2% strongly disagreed. The findings also revealed that 45.7% of the respondents said that companies should think like attackers and not as defenders, 28.6% strongly agreed, 7.1% were moderate, 15.7% disagreed, whereas 2.9% strongly disagreed. The study further revealed that 38.6% of the respondents strongly agreed that the cooperation on security concerns in both physical and cyber domain makes everyone one stronger, 31.4% agreed, 11.4% were moderate, 12.9% disagreed, whereas 5.7% strongly disagreed. Moreover, the study findings indicate that 44.3% of the respondents agreed that there is need to rethink boarder security for digital age, 25.7% strongly agreed, 5.7% were moderate, 15.7% disagreed, whereas 8.6% strongly disagreed. Also, the findings the study revealed that 43.3% of the respondents strongly agreed that there is need to integrate stand-off screening, CCTV cameras, behavioural detection officers and dogs in order to create an efficient and effective security system, 32.9% agreed, 10.0% were moderate, 17.1% disagreed, whereas 5.7 strongly disagreed as shown in the Table 5.3.
|Table 5.3 Recommendation for improvement of modern security system|
|The respondents’ opinion||1||2||3||4||5|
|Installing infrastructure that separate screened and non-screened employees||4.2||12.9||12.9||30.0||40.0|
|Companies should think like attackers and not defendants||2.9||15.7||7.1||45.7||28.6|
|Cooperation on security concerns in both physical and cyber domain makes everyone stronger||5.7||12.9||11.4||31.4||38.6|
|We need to rethink boarder security for the digital age||8.6||15.7||5.7||44.3||25.7|
|The stand-off screening, CCTV, behavioural detection officers and dogs be integrated in order to create an efficient and effective security system||5.7||17.1||10.0||32.9||43.3|
The interviews were conducted on airport security personnel within the airport. The study sought to determine the challenges facing aviation security sector. The findings indicate that there are challenges in the integration of security systems in aviation sector. Also, there is need for better understanding on how different screening, processes, technologies, as well as skills should be integrated together for better results one respondent said:-
“We are facing challenging at all levels. At organizational level, for instance, the introduction of new technologies has implications on the workforce structure, training and recruitment. At wider security perspective, there are challenges in physical and cyber security integration”.
The study further sought to determine the current security trends in the airport sector. The findings from the study indicate that new technologies are shaping the aviation security landscape. One of the respondents said:-
“Our station has experienced different changes in security operation. It is currently running remote security screening, which is quite efficient. Also, the stand-off screening systems, for example, the QinetiQ SPO-NX have been deployed to cater for events”.
Moreover, the study sought to investigate how the airport security is progressing into the future. The study findings indicate a positive development in the airport security sector, with greater cooperation from all stakeholders. One of the respondents said:-
“I see greater integration of suppliers and systems; however, this tends to be highly focused on technology as well as the integration of different pieces of technology. I am hoping that there shall come a time when we shall focus on the outcomes of security rather than the physical inputs currently in place”.
Another respondent said:-
“I see us entering a very challenging period as machines seem to be better at detecting threats. This is because we will need to specifically understand where human element is still needed and how we can maintain their engagement and vigilance within the systems that need less intervention”.
Based on the study findings, the following are conclusions made based on the study’s research questions.
The study concluded that new technologies are shaping the current aviation security landscape. The majority of the respondents indicated that the airport runs remote security screening programs, and that computers are now being used to select passengers who are thought to be high security threat based on ethnic origin. Therefore, the revolution of the future aviation security system is expected to reduce the threats of terrorism, hence eliminate fear and anxiety among passengers and the general public. However, these initiatives faces challenges since terrorists are aware of these technological advancements and they have been observed to ahead of technological innovations than the airport security operations.
The study concluded the threats of terrorists have negatively impacted on the aviation security system. Such impacts include social-economic as well as political impacts. The majority of the respondents indicated that terrorism leads to the increased use of technology, which is embedded in the machines that emit radiations, hence causing harm to the people’s health, and privacy concerns. Also, majority of the respondents revealed that the threats of terrorism cause fear and anxiety among passengers and the general public. These impacts are expected to increase in the future if necessary terrorist-counterterrorist mechanisms are not introduced immediately. This is because aviation transport is perceived be an attractive target for terrorists to achieve their ideological objectives.
Based on the findings, the study concluded that the best way to prepare for the future attacks is to think like attackers, and not as defenders. In this case, too much still focus on the experience, and very little attention on the real scenarios.
The study further recommends that the cooperation on aviation security issues, in both cyber and physical domain, makes everyone stronger. Therefore, individual aviation companies should not see their own resilience against that of the attackers as the main competitive advantage. This is creates the potential for people with malicious intentions to investigate the weakest link, hence any successful attack may undermine the entire sector. It is also important for aviation stakeholders to be knowledgeable on the need to share their discoveries about the previously unknown vulnerabilities, as well as the best practices to counter them, particularly, within the cyber domain. Nonetheless, there is need for better approaches to enhance this collaboration.
Moreover, the study recommends the need to rethink
border security for the digital age. Although terrorists might increasingly be
controlled remotely, aviation security can still be enhanced by having better
knowledge with regards to the passengers. Therefore, much can be achieved in
the management of aviation security threats by creating a more seamless travel
experience through facilitation of the so called a “global trusted traveller
programme” in order to expedite a secure cross boarder movement. It should also
establish the standards regarding sharing and utilization of information, traveller
analytics, as well as border controls such as ensuring universal and speedy
flagging of travel documents that are reported as lost or stolen.
Arasly, J. (2005). Terrorism and Civil Aviation Security: Problems and Trends. Connections, 4(1), 75-90.
Coughlin, C. C., Cohen, J. P., & Khan, S. R. (2002). Aviation security and terrorism: a review of the economic issues. Research Department, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
Creswell, J. W., & Clark, V. L. P. (2017). Designing and conducting mixed methods research. Sage publications.
Gillen, D., & Morrison, W. G. (2015). Aviation security: Costing, pricing, finance and performance. Journal of Air Transport Management, 48, 1-12.
Jacobson, S. H., & Lee, A. J. (2010). Aviation security in 2030: A glimpse into the future. ORMS Today, 37(6), 14-16.
Karoly, S. (2017, November). Technologies to counter aviation security threats. In AIP Conference Proceedings (Vol. 1898, No. 1, p. 050002). AIP Publishing.
Oster Jr, C. V., Strong, J. S., & Zorn, C. K. (2013). Analyzing aviation safety: problems, challenges, opportunities. Research in transportation economics, 43(1), 148-164.
Seidenstat, P. (2004). Terrorism, airport security, and the private sector. Review of Policy Research, 21(3), 275-291.
Wilkinson, P., & Jenkins, B. (2013). Aviation terrorism and
Thank you for accepting to take part in the survey. Kindly note that the information provided by you in this survey will only be used for the academic purposes and will remain confidential. Your contribution in survey is voluntary; hence you can withdraw from the exercise at any time. Thank you.
Section A: General Information
1. Kindly indicate your gender
( ) male
( ) female
2. What is your age (range)?
( ) 18-30 years
( ) 30-40 years
( ) 40-50 years
( ) >51 years
3. What is your level of education?
( ) basic education
( ) college certificate
( ) university degree
( ) post graduate degree
Section B: The General Trends in Aviation Transport Security System
4. How often have you experienced security threats?
( ) always
( ) very often
( ) sometimes
( ) rarely
( ) never
5. Which of the following are the key threats to aviation industry?
( ) improvised explosive devises
( ) insider threats
( ) cyber attacks
( ) hijacking passenger airplanes
6. To what extent do agree or disagree with the following statements concerning the trends in the modern terrorism in aviation security? Use the scale 1-5 (where 1-strongly disagree, 2- disagree, 3-moderate, 4-agree, 5- strongly agree)
|New technologies are changing the security landscape at this airport facility|
|My airport is running remote security screening|
|Computers in my airport are now selecting passengers who are thought to be high security threat based on ethnic origin|
Section C: Problems of Terrorism on Aviation Security
7. Which impacts have recently affected your airport security system?
( ) social-economic
( ) political impacts
( ) none
8. To what extent do agree or disagree with the following statements on the problems caused by terrorism on the aviation security? Use the scale 1-5 (where 1-strongly disagree, 2- disagree, 3-moderate, 4-agree, 5- strongly agree)
|Terrorism has led to increased use of technology that are embedded in machines that emit radiations, which might cause harm on one’s health|
|The increased use of technology could violate one’s privacy that lead to legal suits against the airport security operations|
|It causes fear and anxiety among passengers and the nationals at large|
Section D: Recommendations for Aviation Security Improvement
9. To what extent do agree or disagree with the following statements on the recommendations for the improvement of modern aviation security? Use the scale 1-5 (where 1-strongly disagree, 2- disagree, 3-moderate, 4-agree, 5- strongly agree)
|Installing infrastructure that separate screened and non-screened employees|
|Companies should think like attacker, not defendants|
|Cooperation on security concerns, in the physical and cyber domain, makes everyone stronger|
|We need to rethink boarder security for the digital age|
|The stand-off screening, CCTV, behavioural detection officers and dogs should be integrated in order to create an efficient and effective system|
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