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Aviotec - Reducing Airport Landside Terrorist Threats

Security breaches continued to be a problem at major international airports in 2016, including terror attacks at Brussels and Istanbul-Atatürk airports and protesters occupying the runway at London City Airport. The public accessibility, the high density gathering of people, the high profile nature of airports, and the opportunity to create a major operational disruption, all make an airport's landside area an attractive target for terrorism.

The primary means to counter an airport security threat has and will continue to be intelligence gathering, information sharing, and traditional surveillance (by way of visible patrols and behind-the-scenes monitoring). However, there are a number of other measures and facility design features that can mitigate these security threats.

Key Principals to Airport Counter Terrorism

Although the approaches used by countries and airports to combat terrorism differ, there are two key principals for an effective airport counter terrorist program:

  • Seek out the terrorist and not the tools of terror (i.e., explosive). Although not popular with civil libertarians, this involves profiling, targeted interrogation and observing for abnormalities. In the Brussels Airport attack, security video revealed that at least two of the bombers were wearing a single glove. These measures require well thought-out procedures and intensive training to a level that many countries have not yet achieved.

  • Use concentric layers of security as far out from the potential target as possible. People and vehicles traveling to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport are first security checked at the entrance to the airport complex (kilometres out from the terminal), an approach that would not necessarily be practical in some large, built-up cities, but is very effective.

Curb Front Passenger & Public Screening

It is not uncommon in some parts of the world to experience the security screening of passengers and the public prior to entering a terminal building, such as in the Middle East, Turkey and India. In some cases, the public (those without a boarding pass) are even excluded from entry into the terminal building. Depending on a country's specific risk profile, security checks at terminal entrances can range from baggage x-ray screening to passport checks to full-on interrogation. In many cases, the interrogation is used to assign each passenger a threat level which will determine the level of surveillance and control they will receive. In Israel, prior to check-in, a passenger's passport and baggage are given a sticker with a printed number and bar code. This number alerts other airline and security personnel of the perceived threat risk that a passenger poses (e.g., numbers starting with a "6" signifies a very high risk). Future terminal designs will need to carefully consider how entrance screening, checks and interrogation can occur without creating long queues within the curb front area.

Reinforcing and Controlling the Terminal Frontage Areas

Airports for many years have used physical barriers and procedures to prevent rogue suicide bombers from attacking terminal landside areas. However, the recent attacks in Nice (July 2016) and Berlin (December 2016) only underscore the vulnerability of these areas. The materials, standards and practices exist to sufficiently fortify the terminal landside, but it should be implementation in a way that does not give a terminal the appearance of being under siege.

Nevertheless, there are a myriad of other approaches that should be exploited by airports to control the types of vehicle, and their numbers and duration of stay in the terminal landside area. These include using:

  • Vehicle height restriction barriers;

  • Controlling the duration of stay along the curb front;

  • Separating passenger drop-off and pick-up zones further from terminals by using pedestrian concourses; and

  • Use of mobile phone or vehicle holding lots.

In the latter case, these holding lots have sprung up at many North American airports over the past 10 years, including LAX, SFO and YYZ, but their success has been marginal. The lots need to well positioned, designed for efficient entry and egress, and should take full advance of information sharing. For example, airport mobile apps should include the ability to notify meeters/greeters when a specific aircraft has landed, parked at the gate (chocks-on) and first bag arrived at the carousel. When reliable, real-time information is available, vehicle drivers are more apt to use the lots and to minimize the amount of random circulation along the terminal curb front areas.

Reducing the Density of People in Terminal Landside Areas

Not surprisingly, reducing the attractiveness of a target should be the primary objective when dealing with terminal landside terrorist threats. While check-in and arrival halls will be an important part of terminals for the foreseeable future, without crowds of people and queues, terrorist attacks cannot cause mass casualties or target specific groups. The efficient movement of passengers through terminal's landside area buildings to reduce gatherings and crowds can therefore be of significant benefit. There have been many industry improvements since 2001 which have helped facilitate the rapid movement of passengers through a terminal's landside area (both check-in and arrivals areas), including remote check-in, self-service kiosks, checked baggage drop, and the shift of retail and concessions post-security (airside). Nevertheless, many airports still lag in adopting best practices and embracing new technology to process passengers and baggage.

There are a myriad of current measures and technologies that airports can implement in order to improve the flow of passengers through terminal landside areas, which in turn will significantly reduce the numbers of persons and queues in landside areas. Some of these include:

  • Improvements to the clarity of terminal signage and availability of information kiosks and roaming airport customer representatives;

  • Pushing terminal information via text and smartphone apps (e.g., airline check-in counter directions, security screening wait times, etc.);

  • Continued deployment of remote and on-airport passenger self-service solutions (e.g., check-in, bag drop, self-tagging, re-booking and boarding processes);

  • Greater use of automated processes (e.g., automated document verification, collection of biometrics, and payment of departure taxes);

  • Reducing or eliminating redundant processes (e.g., outbound government passport control);

  • Reducing the number of non-essential visitors to landside areas;

  • Separating some meeter/greeter areas away from the terminal landside;

  • Improving the dispatch of ground transportation services, and positioning them away from terminal landside areas; and

  • Automating the pre-booking of taxis, limos, and hotel shuttles so that real-time arrival times are pushed to arriving passengers.

Multi-stakeholder Collaboration

Many of the approaches presented in this article are not necessarily under the control of the individual airports, and require the involvement and support of government ministries and agencies, and other airport stakeholders. In fact, some may require changes to national acts and regulations. For this reason, it is crucial for government, airport authority and industry stakeholders (airlines, security services, etc.) to work collaboratively to identify and deploy measures that can mitigate airport terrorist risks. Countries and individual airports should also strive to coordinate/harmonize with standards and best practices endorsed by International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), International Air Transport Association (IATA), Airports Council International (ACI) and others.

Lastly, it has been proven out that the effective and efficient exchange of information between all airport stakeholders can and will thwart terrorist attacks. Therefore, it is crucial that this collaboration continue to be fostered and encouraged among all.

By John Dejak, President, Aviotec International Inc.

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