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Aviation Security and Personnel


There is a long-lasting debate on the benefits and shortcomings of extensive automation in aviation security. Contemporary technologies allow the security staff to perform most of the operations without any specialized knowledge. On the one hand, such an approach results in much more convenient passenger experience. However, on the other hand, some people argue that technology is associated with the reduction of skills. It should be noted that there is no clear answer to whether excessive dependence on technology is favorable or disrupting. Studies suggest that it is not possible to isolate the positive influence of technology from its negative effects. Instead, the professionals in the industry should develop ways of mitigating some of the unfavorable consequences by integrating new approaches to security technology, such as adaptable automation. Technology will always have adverse effects, but it is up to the industry professionals to alleviate disadvantageous impacts.

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Due to increasing levels of risk and threats, airports around the world and aviation companies are forced to invest in the development of advanced ways of ensuring safety and security. Because the primary purpose of airports and flight carriers is to serve passengers, contemporary security solutions are taking a customer-centric approach. They are all designed to speed up the inspection process while delivering accurate results. However, due to substantial automation, some people claim that security officers will be adversely affected because the new machines will take away many of the responsibilities, and the professionals will lose their skills over time. This paper provides information on the motivation behind automated security systems, how they affect personnel expertise, and whether there is a way to make technology and human expertise complement each other.

Motivation Behind New Security Technologies

The introduction of new technologies to the airport and aviation security is not motivated only by a thirst for technological development, but also by security requirements that are to counter new security threats. Much of the innovations are aligned with the concept of usable security – customer experience is viewed to be the most critical, and new devices are designed to take a customer-centric approach to safety (Nowacki and Paszukow, 2018). The reason is that points of passport control and security screening are the most distressing environments for passengers (Nowacki and Paszukow, 2018). While legal requirements call for more security and vigilance, passenger convenience should not be neglected (Nowacki and Paszukow, 2018). Therefore, both airports and aviation companies are continuously looking for ways to improve the customer experience while maintaining the required level of security. Without advancements in security technology, it is not possible.

Passenger screening is among the most critical pieces of aviation and airport security. At the time being, all customers must be screened before they are admitted to exit gates (Skorupski and Uchroński, 2019). This requirement assumes that all security personnel is acquainted with the procedures (Skorupski and Uchroński, 2019). However, some advancements in security technology may ease the demands (Korbelak et al., 2018). For instance, trusted traveler programs exist that allow low-risk passengers to pass through expedited screening (Nowacki and Paszukow, 2018). Not only it improves the customer experience, but it takes away some amount of pressure from security officials. In turn, individuals with a low qualification will be able to handle the load (Nowacki and Paszukow, 2018). The introduction of CCTV powered by artificial intelligence may further lead to the degradation of skills because many of the responsibilities, such as identifying people with weapons, will be accomplished by the automated system (Nowacki and Paszukow, 2018). However, advocates for advanced security technology claim that new enhancements not only increase employee effectiveness but also improve customer convenience.

Current Technologies

To understand how new technology affects employee skill set, it is reasonable to discuss some of the most critical elements of today’s airport security. In the early days of aviation, passengers were screened with metal detectors (Karoly, 2017). Security officials were responsible for all other work, such as inspecting the customers for the presence of prohibited non-metallic items. Today, however, Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) allows officials to detect hidden objects without any physical contact (Karoly, 2017). AIT uses non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation and processes the reflected signals to construct the image (Karoly, 2017). Manual screening may be omitted entirely if no anomalies are found.

Advanced Technology X-ray is the primary means for inspecting personal and checked bags. Electromagnetic radiation is used to enter the inside of containers and to detect prohibited items (Karoly, 2017). These X-rays used to construct an image that security officials needed to inspect carefully. It required alertness and the knowledge of shapes of potentially dangerous objects (Karoly, 2017). Contemporary systems, however, outline the potential threat using a different color (Karoly, 2017). Explosives Trace Detection (ETD) machines, as the name suggests, help identify explosive substances. These machines require human expertise because they are not easy to operate (Karoly, 2017). However, new Explosives Detection Systems may entirely replace ETD machines because they are fully automated and do not require any expertise on behalf of a security official.

Risks of Automation

Complete autonomy in operations is not always beneficial despite introducing many advantages for security and convenience. However, contradictive as it may sound, too much automation inevitably leads to security risks. That is because any automated system heavily depends on some piece of software, and software is never perfect (Neumann, 2016). Such systems will always be a potential target for hackers and terrorists (Neumann, 2016). Therefore, systems need intensive monitoring, and despite taking away many of the responsibilities of security officers, maintenance of such systems requires other people with more sophisticated skill sets.

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The importance of the fact that the automation of security components leads to skill degradation should be emphasized. People with no appropriate qualifications will not be able to conduct quality security screening if there is a breach or failure (Chavaillaz et al., 2019a). Therefore, automation may sometimes harm instead of enhancing security (Chavaillaz et al., 2019a). However, contemporary systems rarely fail and jeopardize the safety of the airport (Karoly, 2017). Another source of concern is how well computer networks are protected (Karoly, 2017). This point is critical because much of the infotainment equipment resides on the same network as aircraft controls (Karoly, 2017). In this context, the security of the network becomes vital. One way of mitigating the risk is to protect the network by all means (Karoly, 2017). A more favorable approach would be to isolate infotainment and aircraft controls from each other by putting them into different subnets.

Automation Failures

One of the most vital aspects of aviation security is the interaction of humans with automated systems. Despite the fact that security systems are designed to protect the safety of passengers, dangerous circumstances may be caused if systems fail (Vidulich and Tsang, 2016). A crash may lead to a situation where a security officer is required to react immediately to new conditions (Vidulich and Tsang, 2016). Such pressure can only be overcome by mastery of necessary skills (Vidulich and Tsang, 2016). However, it is discovered that time pressure may have a significant adverse impact, even on extremely high-level experts (Vidulich and Tsang, 2016). A 2009 crash of the Air France plane heading from Rio de Janeiro to Paris is an example of an automated system component failure along with the inability of the responsible personnel to mitigate the consequences of the fault (Vidulich and Tsang, 2016). Due to storms, the plane’s automated flight control system ceased to function, and the pilots had to switch to manual control (Vidulich and Tsang, 2016). However, as it was later noted, because of shock, the crew could not conduct a proper analysis of the situation (Vidulich and Tsang, 2016). Approximately after four and a half minutes from the moment the autopilot stopped working, the plane crashed into the ocean.

The described situation can be transferred to aviation and airport security because security officials more and more have to interact with automated systems. Despite the consistent performance, these systems may fail, and humans will need to take responsibility and control (Vidulich and Tsang, 2016). Without proper training, expertise, and experience, it is almost impossible for an individual to react adequately and timely to critical situations.

Degradation of Skills and Ways for Improvement

Human Factors

Skills and expertise are only a part of what affects the performance of security personnel in critical circumstances. Human errors are primarily contributed by repetitive jobs, neglected work procedures, and monotonous activities (Arcúrio, Nakamura and Armborst, 2018). Prior to massive automation, work as a security officer at an airport used to be repetitive, but due to the dynamics of the work, it was not monotonous (Arcúrio, Nakamura and Armborst, 2018). However, with recent advancements in technology, previously existing high dynamics are becoming non-existent (Arcúrio, Nakamura and Armborst, 2018). Therefore, it can be supposed that automation leads to a higher percentage of human mistakes, which can jeopardize the whole aviation security system.

Attention is also critical for people working as security officers. Depending on circumstances, automation may have positive effects on human performance or may not have any impact at all (Arcúrio, Nakamura and Armborst, 2018). Manual work requires more attention and focus from employees, and if there are many items that should be tracked simultaneously, performance level decreases (Arcúrio, Nakamura and Armborst, 2018). Automation generally solves this problem, but concurrent activities may negatively impact the worker’s performance. It is an interesting fact that experienced security officers make more errors than other professionals (Arcúrio, Nakamura and Armborst, 2018). The primary reason is complacency and neglect of the procedures (Arcúrio, Nakamura and Armborst, 2018). In summary, it can be argued that a significant portion of human errors is a result of automation. New technologies make the job of security personnel easier but also more monotonous, leading to a more considerable number of mistakes.

Trust and Expertise

Opportunities that automated systems provide affect novices differently than experienced workers. On the one hand, beginners, benefit more from the system because their experience level does not allow them to perform well without some aid tool (Chavaillaz et al., 2019a). On the other hand, more experienced individuals show consistent results, both with and without an automated detection system (Chavaillaz et al., 2019a). These results support the claim that automation systems do not adversely impact the skill levels of security personnel (Chavaillaz et al., 2019a). This proposal can be supported by the fact that more experienced individuals that had worked with automated diagnostic aid tools for a substantial amount of time demonstrate better compliance and reliance. However, it is not true for all automated systems, as the majority of them, as was discussed earlier, negatively impact a worker’s attention.

Automated diagnostic aid tools serve different purposes for varying expertise levels. They are designed to teach novices, as they are inclined to rely on the recommendations of the device significantly (Chavaillaz et al., 2019a). They also provide an opportunity for more skilled workers to confirm their opinions based on the system’s results. However, the way professionals use these machines is entirely based on trust. Should the system make a mistake, it can negatively impact professionals with little experience who cannot yet rely on their own expertise.

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Adaptable Automation

The notion of adaptable automation can be an effective way of solving many of the problems introduced by the automated system in regard to worker skill sets and expertise. The term represents the idea that a security professional is able to adjust the level of automation he or she wishes to receive (Chavaillaz et al., 2019b). For instance, the majority of security professionals prefer to be guided by the system instead of being directed. It is more favorable for a system to hint at the potential location of a prohibited item instead of explicitly pointing at the exact position (Crespo, 2019). When professionals are tired, they may want to switch to a higher level of automation. Systems should be flexible in terms of the level of automation not to harm the workers’ development and not to contribute to the degradation of workers’ skills (Filippov, Elisov and Ovchenkov, 2019). Operator autonomy has significant benefits; therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that full automation without any opportunities for adjustments is harmful to security officials.


There are many benefits of automation, such as faster inspection times, lower pressure on security personnel, and customer convenience. However, in the event of device failure, security professionals will need to take the entire responsibility and respond in a timely manner. Therefore, expertise is critical, but personnel skills are lessened when automation takes away all of their responsibilities. There should be a balance between the level of automation and skills level of workers and their condition. Adaptable automation is a significant attribute of contemporary security systems because it allows security officers to adjust the level of automation according to their needs. Such an approach not only facilitates more effective inspection but also personnel skill retention.

Reference List

Arcúrio, M. S., Nakamura, E. S. and Armborst, T. (2018) ‘Human factors and errors in security aviation: an ergonomic perspective’, Journal of Advanced Transportation, 2018(1), pp. 1-9.

Chavaillaz, A. et al. (2019a) ‘Expertise, automation and trust in X-ray screening of cabin baggage’, Frontiers in Psychology, 10(1), pp. 1-11.

Chavaillaz, A. et al. (2019b) ‘Work design for airport security officers: effects of rest break schedules and adaptable automation’, Applied Ergonomics, 79(1), pp. 66-75.

Crespo, A. M. F. (2019) ‘Less automation and full autonomy in aviation, dilemma or conundrum?’, 2019 IEEE International Conference on Systems, Man and Cybernetics (SMC). The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Bari, Italy, 6-9 October. Bari: IEEE, pp. 4245-4250.

Filippov, V. L., Elisov, L. N. and Ovchenkov, N. I. (2019) ‘A new approach to the human factor’s assessment in the automated control system of aviation security in the airport’, Security & Future, 3(2), pp. 41-42.

Karoly, S. (2017) ‘Technologies to counter aviation security threats’, AIP Conference Proceedings. AIP, Washington, USA, 21-22 April. Washington: AIP Publishing LLC, pp. 1-7.

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Korbelak, K. et al. (2018) ‘Teaming with technology at the TSA: practical methods for enhancing human performance with automation in operational environments’, Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting, Los Angeles, USA, 25-27 September. Los Angeles: SAGE, pp. 639-640.

Neumann, P. G. (2016) ‘Risks of automation: a cautionary total-system perspective of our cyberfuture’, Communications of the ACM, 59(10), pp. 26-30.

Nowacki, G. and Paszukow, B. (2018) ‘Security requirements for new threats at international airports’, TransNav: International Journal on Marine Navigation and Safety of Sea Transportation, 12(1), pp 187-192.

Skorupski, J. and Uchroński, P. (2019) ‘An analysis of the cabin baggage security screening process incorporating automation elements’, Archives of Transport System Telematics, 12(1), pp. 42-48.

Vidulich, M.A. and Tsang, P. (2016) Expert performance and time pressure: implications for automation failures in aviation. Web.

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