The recent report of an individual stowing away aboard a Hawaiian Airlines flight from San Jose to Maui again brings forth the question of perimeter security at airports.
A couple of years ago with the infamous jet skier at John F. Kennedy Airport along with a few other perimeter breaches that year raised concerns throughout industry about the vulnerabilities of airport perimeters.
Stowing away on a passenger jet is not a new idea, but it is rather new for this decade. There have been stowaways on flights for as long as there has been aviation but up until the last couple of years it has been unheard of here in the United States. Most stowaways stopped with the advent of the jet-age as it was just too dangerous to go up to higher altitudes. In fact, it is a miracle that the this kid survived.
What is really at stake here is the ability for somebody to introduce unauthorized items to an aircraft, via the perimeter of the airport.
Traditionally, bombs have been brought on board by passengers either through baggage or cargo. If someone has the ability to jump a perimeter fence and crawl up into the wheel well, then they certainly have the ability to place a hazardous object or bomb in that same location. This is not to say there are no security measures in place to prevent this however.
Airport perimeter security is regulated by TSA, as is everything else, but it is primarily an airport operator responsibility. Perimeter fencing, airport law enforcement and security patrols, the airports’ access control system, and the requirement for every individual that works on an airfield in a security identification display area to challenge any individual who is not wearing the proper identification, are all effective layers in securing the perimeter of the airport. Airports are not required to have perimeter intrusion detection systems nor is it possible to monitor every foot of a perimeter fence with CCTV and personnel, unless you have such a monitoring system. These systems, known as PIDS, are expensive and one is in place at JFK but for some reason did not trigger an alert when the jet skier came over the perimeter fence.
The reason higher security measures are not in place for airport perimeters is that there just has not been a high threat from individuals coming over the perimeter fence to place a bomb or attempt to board an aircraft. I do not suspect that the regulations on perimeter security will change as a result of this incident however you may see TSA push airports to have a greater emphasis on airfield patrols, and aircraft operators have a greater emphasis on doing a more thorough check of the aircraft prior to departure. It is likely that these measures will reduce perimeter intrusions without increasing costs of personnel or technologies to the airport operator, and ultimately to the passenger.