The aviation industry has gained massive relevance and popularity in the modern society where the need to move from one part of the world to another has become a necessity to a vast majority of people. According to Pelton and Singh (2019), there is always a unique focus on security within this industry. Cases where criminals and terrorists hijack planes while they are airborne have been witnessed in the past, some of which ended tragically. The September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the United States has redefined the approach that the aviation industry takes when it comes to managing security (Ellis and Mohan, 2019).
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A trend emerged where security is based on highly sophisticated technological instruments to help with screening of passengers when they are boarding planes to ensure that they do not carry contraband goods or weapons that may be used against other passengers or the crew. However, stakeholders in this industry are concerned about the overreliance on technology when it comes to managing aviation security. The trend has led to the reduction of skills among the security staff as they believe that their instruments will help them screen the passengers. It means that if criminals can manipulate the instruments used in managing aviation security, then lives of passengers and crew members may be at risk. In this paper, the researcher seeks to discuss the aviation industry’s overreliance on technology when it comes to the management of security.
The Relevance of Technology in the Aviation Security
It is important to start by appreciating the significant role that technology plays in enhancing aviation security. According to Gillena and Morrison (2015), the main security threat in the aviation industry include a possible attempt by terrorist or criminals to hijack a plane, transportation of contraband goods, or disturbances that may pose serious dangers to the safety of planes and everyone on board. Criminals had developed sophisticated ways of hiding contraband goods to ensure that they cannot be detected through normal human inspection. As such, there was a need to find advanced ways of inspection to ensure that security officers can effectively scan luggage and passengers. Figure 1 below is an image of a bag that has gone through a scanning device. Under normal circumstances, it would take a long time for a security officer to go through the bag to know its contents. In some cases, it may not be possible to inspect every bag, especially in busy airports such as the Dubai International Airport. Using this scanning device makes it possible for the officer to know the contents of every bag within seconds. When something suspicious is detected, the bag can then be subjected to further inspection.
Some criminals consider swallowing drug pills of drugs to avoid detection during the normal inspections. Others even consider going through surgical processes to hide contraband goods or weapons as a way of avoiding detection. Technology has come up with a way of solving such security challenges. Abeyratne (2019) explains that a full body scanner can help in identifying any foreign objects that a person hides underneath their clothes or within the body. It becomes easy to detect when one is trying to conceal such items through the T-rays on the spectrum, X-rays, ultra-violet, and infrared systems as shown in figure 2 below. It means that it is almost impossible for one to pass through the security system with items classified as weapons or illegal goods. The work of security officers became easier with the help of these instruments.
Overreliance on Technology When Managing Aviation Security
The significance of technology in the aviation security cannot be underestimated. As the threat of terror attacks continues to be a major concern in different parts of the world, it has become increasingly important for stakeholders in this industry to device unique ways of enhancing security at the airports and within the airplanes. According to Kruszka, Klósak and Muzolf (2019), criminals and terrorists have demonstrated to the aviation industry the magnitude of the threat that they pose when they get the opportunity to achieve their selfish interests. As such, using sophisticated technologies to fight them is crucial, especially at a time when the industry has become critical in facilitating trade, tourism, leisure travels, or other movements where other means of transport are considered less desirable.
The emerging problem is that security experts in this industry have come to rely heavily on technology that they can hardly work effectively without them. According to Finger and Button (2017), in the past, security officers had to conduct manual searches on their passengers to identify any contraband goods or weapons which passengers are not allowed to carry on board a plane. However, the emergence of technology has created an environment where the focus is on how to use technology to conduct these tasks. It means that when technology fails, then it becomes impossible for these officers to conduct their duties effectively. Aviation experts are concerned about the compromised capacity of these aviation security officers in an environment where the threat of attack is becoming dire.
Dangers of the Overreliance on Technology
Stakeholders in the aviation industry are increasingly concerned about the degradation of skills among the security officers who have come to rely heavily on technology to undertake their duties. It is becoming evident that without the support of these sophisticated instruments, security at the airports and in planes would be significantly compromised. The following are some of the emerging dangers of the overreliance on technology among security officers in the airports.
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Reduction of skills of security experts
According to Almazroui, Wang, and Zhang (2015), the training approach in the majority of institutions offering courses on aviation security has transformed over the years to reflect the changing technology. Most of these institutions place emphasis on the use of technology to detect weapons and contraband goods. They train their students how to operate these sophisticated instruments and what to do in case something strange is detected. The fact that the inspection of passengers starts and ends with the use of these technological equipment is a concern to many aviation stakeholders. Some criminals have been keen on finding ways of outsmarting the machine. They have been trying to find ways of cheating the system to ensure that they can bypass the security system. Tyler (2017) explains that technology was meant to improve the capacity of these officers to inspect baggage, screen passengers, and enhance the overall security within the airport and its immediate environment. Of concern is the fact that these machines have been replacing human skills. These experts have increasingly become over reliant on these technologies that they have become less capable of doing what is expected of them without the support of these instruments.
Budd and Ison (2017) believe that the situation is often worsened by lack of practice once these officers start their work. In most of the cases, they rarely encounter cases where they are expected to apply the limited skills they have gained in the college. The moment they start working, they find an environment where everything is based on technology. Some of them are assigned to control a specific machine, which means that they rarely get to be involved in actions that require manual inspection of goods and screening of passengers. The more time these officers spend operating the machines, the more the limited skills they had gained in college get eroded. After about 10 years of working with the machines, these officers get to the level where they can do very little inspection without these instruments. They forget basic tasks of frisking passengers, inspecting their baggage, and the ability to read minds of potential criminals. Finger and Button (2017) observe that one of the important tasks of a security officer is to read the facial expression and body language of a potential criminal.
It takes practice for an officer to be an effective mind reader who can know when a person has ill-motive when boarding a plane. Sometimes it is very easy to detect when one is planning to commit a crime. They are always nervous and would avoid eye contact or unnecessary engagements with the authority. The ability to read the mind of a potential criminal would help in determining when a specific passenger would need to go through a thorough screening. Most of the machines which are currently in use at the airports lack the capacity to read the mind of passengers. That task should be done by security agents at the airports. The problem is that the entire responsibility of screening has been handed over to machines. The fact that these officers rarely practice some of these skills learned in school means that they end up become part of the technology system. When the system fails, they can no longer perform their duties effectively.
The threat of hacking
Hacking has become one of the biggest threats in the aviation industry. According to Budd and Ison (2017), criminals have developed ingenious ways of manipulating systems in a way that may endanger lives of passengers and the safety of the planes. Most of these screening machines rely on unique computing systems. When these computers are hacked, they fail to give accurate information that security officers rely on to make critical decisions. It means that it is possible for the officers to make critical mistakes when they receive wrong information from these systems. For instance, when the computing system fails to detect a weapon hidden in a bag or within the body of a human being, chances are high that the weapon will find its ways into the airplane.
Most of those responsible for the inspection have become so reliant on these technological systems that any system failure would have devastating impact on the outcome of the inspection. It means that when the management of the airport lacks a sophisticated technological system that can outsmart hacking skills of criminals and terrorists, then lives of travellers would be at risk. In the United Arab Emirates, major airports such as the Dubai International Airport and the Abu Dhabi International Airport have sophisticated machines that cannot be easily hacked by criminals. However, the advancements in these systems do not mean that there is no risk at all. Security officers must have the capacity to undertake their duties effectively in case there is a possible hacking of the system that compromises their capabilities.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Technology used in enhancing security in the aviation sector was meant to complement skills and expertise of aviation security officers. It was meant to address the obvious human weaknesses and to speed up the process of screening passengers and inspecting their baggage. However, the current trend shows that security agents have become heavily reliant on the aviation technology to the extent that they cannot undertake their duties without these systems. The threat posed by criminals keen on transporting contraband goods is increasing, and as such, these officers need to know how to identify them without necessarily relying on the machines. Extremists have also proven that they can turn planes into weapons of mass destruction. They should be identified and arrested whenever they try to board these planes. Stakeholders in the industry should consider following recommendations to help address the problem of overreliance on technology in aviation security:
- Aviation security training schools should equip with unique skills of manually screening passengers and inspecting their baggage.
- Airports should create a workplace system where employees can practice manual screening while at the same time using the available technology.
- The aviation security officers should be taken through regular on-job training to enhance their skills.
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Almazroui, S., Wang, W. and Zhang, G. (2015) ‘Imaging technologies in aviation security’, Advance in Image and Video Processing, 3(4), pp. 13-23.
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Pelton, J. and Singh, B. (2019) Smart cities of today and tomorrow: better technology, infrastructure and security. Switzerland: Copernicus Books.
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Tyler, L. (2017) Airport security: passenger screening and governance post-9/11. Pittsburg: Rose Dog Books.