How are security risks perceived and handled in aviation

Nicholas Ratledge by Nicholas Ratledge | Nov 27, 2020

When people tackle their daily routines, do they ever sit back and evaluate the risks they are taking, consciously or not? For example, a simple task like driving a car. Driving is a risky activity with the possibility of getting into an accident, resulting in serious consequences. As a driver, people make decisions everyday about risks based on different variables.

This same mentality needs to be applied in aviation security, but on a more granular and conscious level.

In aviation security, airports must be able to adapt to the evolving threat environment.  Airports must be able to meet security standards while managing security effectively in an environment of limited resources, including funding, staff, space, and time.  In most cases, airports are advised by their respective regulator on the security regulations with which they must comply. 

What is a security risk

In security, it is important to understand what risk is and ultimately determine what level of risk an airport is willing to accept. 

Risk is defined as: The probability of an act of unlawful interference being successfully carried out on a specific target, based on an assessment of threat, consequence, and vulnerability.

Using the example of driving, we know there will never be zero risks in life and the same applies within aviation. Airport operators need to be aware 24/7/365 that there is a possibility an act of unlawful interference could occur. It is key that these risks are assessed formally to allow airports to prioritize the measures needed to address the risks and that the risk of a specific act can be managed to an acceptable level

How airports can address security risks and threats

Based on data received from ACI APEX in Security peer reviews, security risk assessments have been identified as an area of support where airports could benefit from training and guidance to implement a systematic and consistent approach to risk. Although baseline security measures are defined by regulation,  airport operators might consider moving beyond baseline compliance and establish mitigations for the risks that matter most to the airport.

The airport’s management team would need to consider these elements when assessing it security risk:

  • Detailed analysis of realistic threat scenarios including how likely these threats are and what are the consequences of a specific scenario occurring
  • A look at the current measures or mitigations in place to determine how vulnerable the airport assets are to the specific scenario
  • Determine the residual risk of the scenario and possibly recommend further measures if the operator deems the risk unacceptable

The benefits of risk assessments

Aviation security has experienced numerous changes over the last ten years.  With new emerging threats and the evolution of existing threats, as well as the current COVID-19 pandemic, airports and screening authorities need to be flexible with the ability to adapt.  

New technologies to screen passengers and baggage, heightened awareness of security through positive security culture, and increased training on human factors all provide effective mitigation for security risks. 

It is also increasingly important that security risk assessment is not done in isolation.  Security operators need to adopt management system approaches to risk and integrate with other management systems such as financial and safety – a holistic approach. This holistic approach includes a deeper focus on improving security by managing costs more efficiently, creating more positive customer experiences, and increased motivation by staff.

With continual looming changes in aviation due to the impact of COVID, it is important that security measures are not relaxed rather adapted where necessary to ensure relevant risk assessments and efficient security outcomes are maintained globally.  

Airport Security Risk Assessment Handbook – First Edition 2020
Nicholas Ratledge

Nicholas Ratledge

Senior Manager, Security, Safety, and Operations at Airports Council International (ACI) World
Nicholas Ratledge joined ACI World in March 2015. As Senior Manager, Security, Safety, and Operations at Airports Council International he is responsible for providing guidance and best practice with airport security standards and recommended best practices.
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