Is it time to reboot aviation security?

Athens, Greece - May 23, 2011: Two police officers in uniform on foot patrol in Athens International Airport, Passengers with trollies passing by.

Dramatic events in the past two years (Bruxelles, Istanbul, Paris, Nice, Copenhagen, Orlando, Ankara, Thalys, etc.) have shown us that even if the security threat in aviation  remains, it is shifting landside, to public areas. These public areas may be a public square, a concert hall, a train station or indeed, an airport terminal.

For several years now, experts have been warning that the security checkpoint as we know it today, has reached its limits. These same experts foresee that the current system will get bogged down if we continue to add more and more layers.

This has led many professionals in our business to think that we are at a turning point and that security, as a whole, is at a watershed moment. It is time to find a better way. It is undeniably time for us to reach beyond what we know…time for a change….but do we even know where to start?

What is the way forward?

There is a school of thought that professes that technology is the solution.  But threats emerge quickly and the terrorists’ new modus operandi is evolving very quickly. To fight, to counter-act this new generation of terrorist, speed is really the key. And, in fact, when a new threat is identified, even if the appropriate technology eventually finds its way to mitigate it, it may take several years and it will be too late.

Shift to investing in the people

Only people can change, evolve, and adapt as quickly as the threat is evolving. We must now change the balance and shift to investing in the people behind our airport operations. We have enough sophisticated technology, we now need to invest in people.

We all know the importance of nurturing a genuine culture of security among the entire airport community – one where everyone working in an airport considers security as part of their work. This is how we can create an environment that is really challenging for terrorists. Let us invest time, energy and money in this.  It will be more efficient than trying to prevent and detect terrorists with more and more technology, processes and physical barriers that make it slower and more difficult for passengers to get where they are going.

Holistic approach

Behaviour analysis, although controversial to some, can be effective and useful as one of a basket of measures that work together holistically.  I recommend we go one step further with this: in addition to security officers specialized in behaviour analysis, we can provide  basic training on abnormal behaviour detection to all staff working landside. Then the Behaviour Analysis Officers would exchange regularly with the people working landside and help them to develop a knack for detecting strange behaviours.

What we are seeing today in the field of security, are the tell-tale signs of a fundamental change in our missions, and, consequently, of our job in terms of operations, but also in terms of perimeter. We really have no choice but to think differently – we must adapt our thinking to the new situation. We cannot apply old recipes to new problems. We must be smarter. And we certainly cannot afford to miss the change – it is a critical moment for the communities who work at our airports and for the people who rely on them to get to where they want to go.

Join me for this discussion and more at the inaugural ICAO Aviation Security Symposium (AVSEC2017) at ICAO Headquarters (  in September.

About the author

Erick BOURAÏ is Chairman of the ACI EUROPE Aviation Security Committee, and has worked in the aviation industry for more than 18 years. Five years ago he was appointed Head of Aviation Security Policy of Groupe ADP. Before that, he worked for more than 13 years in airport operations and ground handling, half of it in Paris – he was the Operation Manager of Paris-Charles de Gaulle Terminals 1 and 3. He spent the other half of his career in Asia (China and Cambodia).

Mr. BOURAÏ  will participate as a panellist in this session:

Session S.1 Innovation at the Security Checkpoint

Today more than ever, airports are tasked with delivering strengthened security measures while providing passengers with a more convenient and less intrusive security screening journey. This session will deliver content from subject matter experts resulting in recommendations to enhance security and operational efficiency at screening checkpoints. Participants will benefit from lessons learned and best practices implemented elsewhere as well as understand how Smart Security guidance material applies to specific locations.

Register now for the Global Aviation Security Symposium (#AVSEC2017), held in collaboration with Airports Council International (ACI). The event will take place from 12-14 September at ICAO Headquarters in Montréal, Canada. It will bring together AVSEC professionals from around the globe to enhance the mind-set towards aviation security. It will also encourage international cooperation and collaboration to address the threat posed by terrorists targeting civil aviation by reinforcing, strengthening and promoting the international framework of aviation security standards.