The Air Line Pilots Association have a point. In their recently released White Paper on “Meeting Today’s Aviation Security Needs: A Call to Action for a Trust-Based Security System” ALPA calls for a risk-based assessment of passengers as a security methodology, rather than a religious reliance on technology.
This is exactly what every aviation security expert worth their salt has been calling for and it’s time to start paying attention. Otherwise, attacks will continue, aviation will lose more of its benefit, and it will cost everyone more and more money — and it doesn’t need to.
In the early 1970’s, legislation was passed that pretty effectively curtailed the types of attacks on aviation that were occurring. However, the game changed in the 1980s with the widespread use of plastic explosives instead of dynamite. It was a game-changing moment, yet we continued to play the old games. The game changed hugely on 9/11, and again in 2006 (liquids), and again in 2009 (Christmas bomber), but the government continued and continues to place it’s reliance on more and more technology, with only a slight nod to the effective security measures.
While technology is one necessary layer within the aviation security system, it is just that, a layer. It’s not the silver bullet. What needs to happen is we need to reduce the number of people going through the system so we’re just looking at people who require additional scrutiny.
ALPA proposes just such a methodology.
ALPA sees the threat:
Our adversaries are intelligent, determined, creative, adaptive to countermeasures, and are becoming increasingly bold in their probing and testing of the aviation system’s defenses.
Not only have the types of attackers changed over time, so have their chosen weapons. It’s time to quit relying on the strategies of the past and start embracing new, effective, strategies. Here is ALPA’s summary:
Our security screening philosophy must be altered to embrace two principles: (1) the vast majority of passengers are trustworthy and pose very little or no threat to the flight, and (2) the only means of providing genuine security is to positively identify known, trustworthy passengers, process them in an expeditious manner, and concentrate our finite high-technology and behavioral screening resources on the small percentage of passengers whose trustworthiness is unknown or in doubt.
ALPA goes on to suggest some methods of screening under this new paradigm. It is my belief that these methods, if implemented, would (a) reduce the number of individuals going through the screening checkpoint, (b) reduce the number of individuals having to be subjected to the same security measures and (c) more effectively use the expensive and limited technical resources that are available.
Their strategy for screening falls in line with what most aviation security experts advocate. Use available information on passengers and employees to make a clear identification of who’s who, subject passengers and employees to various levels of behavioral screening, security questioning if appropriate and finally, channel passengers into the appropriate security checkpoint line based on their assigned level of risk.
Sadly, I’m not sure what it will take for us to make this mode shift. We’ve been attacked over and over and continue to rely on what is only slightly effective.