Full Risk-Based Approach to Aviation Security


Aviation is one of the integral parts of the modern globalised world that provides endless opportunities for further development. In recent several decades, the fast evolution of this sector preconditioned the appearance of critical changes in attitude to aircraft and their role in international discourse. As a result, today, aviation is a strategically important sphere that performs multiple functions and remains fundamental for individuals at all levels of their cooperation. The speed of its development increases every year, and thousands of passengers use various airlines’ services.

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Unfortunately, it gives rise to many vulnerabilities associated with maleficent actions of persons or organisations. The instability in different regions of the planet and the empowerment of terrorist groups pose a critical threat to aviation. In this regard, the pivotal aim of the sector is the creation of a practical approach to security management that will help to minimise risks and protect individuals. Adherence to a full-risk based approach is considered one of the possible ways to accomplish this task.

The main aim of the given paper is the in-depth investigation of the outlined method and its critical elements to generate an improved understanding of the current perspective on security and eliminate all gaps in knowledge related to the creation of a safe environment in airports and airlines. The idea of risk, its elements, and possible ways to avoid critical consequences will be discussed. Finally, the effectiveness of the risk-based approach and its impact on the whole aviation sphere will be evaluated.


The modern attitude to the organisation of security in the aviation sphere is mainly preconditioned by the rise of terrorism and the appearance of a significant threat to passengers’ safety. The 9/11 attacks triggered a vigorous discussion between various agencies regarding the methods to check passengers, monitor vulnerabilities, and minimise risks (Price & Forrest 2013). The given terrorist attack showed the existence of many gaps in security systems and evidenced the need for the reconsideration of the majority of approaches to make them more useful.

The tendency towards the further rise of terrorist threat and emergence of new radical organisations, along with the growing number of maleficent actions and cybercrime, contributed to shifting of priorities towards a full risk-based paradigm that can consider all possible factors and create a safe environment (A risk-based approach to aviation safety regulation n.d.). Today, there are still many debates around the ways to make security systems more reliable and the main elements of the discussed approach that can be improved.

Current Approach

As it has already been stated, the modern aviation sphere adheres to the risk-based approach that is taken as one of the most potent frameworks among the existing ones. International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) encourages the adoption of Risk-Based Surveillance (RBS) to aviation regulation as the method that can help to minimise potential threats and find appropriate measures to work with them (ICAO 2017).

Moreover, another powerful agency International Air Transportation Association (IATA) (n.d.), accepts the importance of the outlined paradigm and promotes the implementation of continuously improving security management systems. In this regard, one of the fundamental elements in the functioning of any airline is the fostering and establishment of a dynamic and risk-based approach to security to guarantee the absence of serious vulnerabilities and the creation of the safe environment needed to protect passengers (ICAO 2017). It means that the potent character of the discussed strategy is accepted at the international level with no alternatives that can replace it at the moment.

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Risk Definition

To resist existing threats effectively and create a system that will be able to cope with all problematic issues, it is critical to acquire an improved understanding of the concept of risk and its basic components. The dominant perspective focuses on the probability of incurring some type of loss (Elias 2014). In other words, it is a chance for the appearance of undesired situations that might deteriorate the work aircraft, personnel, or the whole airport and pose a threat to the health of passengers and their lives.

Regarding the context of security and the requirement to minimise all possible complications, the concept of risk is taken as a complex phenomenon consisting of three elements such as threats, vulnerabilities, and consequences (Elias 2014). The main advantage of a full risk-based practice is that it offers multiple categorical techniques and approaches that help to reveal, determine, and quantify threats and vulnerabilities and secure individuals. It also becomes a potent measure as regardless of the increased sophistication of the contemporary aviation sphere, a set of dangers and undesired events in the aviation environment remains limited.

Considering the given definition, risk-based aviation security aims at eliminating or mitigating all three elements mentioned above to guarantee a high level of protection to all passengers. The first broad category includes all existing threats that might deteriorate the work of civil aviation and lay the ground for the emergence of critical situations. The current threat framework offered by multiple agencies such as the Transportation Security Administration and Office of Intelligence (OI) includes information about the main problematic issues that should be taken into account when aligning the work of the security system (Price & Forrest 2013).

Being part of the risk-based approach helps to create effective measures in advance and act in appropriate ways when emergencies occur. That is why it becomes one of the most popular methods accepted by airlines and agencies such as IATA and ICAO. For instance, risk-based screening is offered as a fundamental element of all security systems as it helps to reveal and eliminate dangers.

The in-time detection of existing vulnerabilities and their elimination is another vital element of the modern risk-based paradigm. The fact is that the development of the aviation sphere stipulates its further sophistication and appearance of several complex processes that are required to ensure well-aligned work of the sector. In its turn, this situation gives rise to new opportunities for malefactors to use appearing gaps in security systems and damage aircraft or airports (U.S. Government Accountability Office 2017).

In this regard, the work with vulnerabilities, their classification and suggestion of effective measures to eliminate them is a core component of the risk-based approach, which guarantees its high effectiveness and the ability to meet all requirements to safety that exist today. ICAO and IATA continuously renew the list of all possible loopholes in frameworks and provide measures to mitigate them (ICAO 2017). It makes a fully risk-based approach one of the best possible alternatives for the modern aviation sector.

As for the consequences associated with multiple risk factors, they are also taken as a part of a risk-based approach. The main task of any security system is not only to prevent the appearance of critical situations (though it holds the top priority), but also be able to work with negative results, assist passengers or workers who face a threat, and restore the work of airlines (Price & Forrest 2013).

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For this reason, the discussed approach incorporates the existing methods of working with any outcomes that might appear because of various undesired issues or risk factors. The constant monitoring of information in different countries and cooperation between agencies contribute to the generation of a broad knowledge base that might be used in situations to decrease the negative impact and mitigate consequences. That is why it should also be taken as another critical element of the risk-based approach that contributes to its increased effectiveness in the modern environment.

Risk-Based Surveillance

In terms of the increased number of threats peculiar to the aviation sphere and the need for their mitigation to prevent accidents and protect passengers, regulatory agencies focus on providing recommendations for implementing risk-based surveillance (RBS) as one of the possible ways to avoid negative consequences. For instance, as a part of a radical transformation and shift to a risk-based approach, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (UK CAA) (n.d.) introduced its own Safety Management System (SMS) that rests on the idea of RBS. The given approach provides multiple benefits to organisations as it offers a holistic, structured, and systematic approach to the creation of a safe environment and protection of passengers (UK CAA n.d.).

The provided concept of surveillance includes such vital elements as safety policy, risk management, safety assurance, and training programmes, which makes it the most effective strategy to work with all dangerous factors (UK CAA n.d.). Advocates of a fully risk-based approach emphasise this aspect and promote its further development and implementation in various organisations within the aviation sphere.

Attributes of Risk-Based Framework

Another factor that guarantees the high potential of the risk-based framework is the structured and comprehensive approach to its organisation that presupposes consideration of several attributes demanded the effective functioning. It means that the security framework should be intelligence-driven, adaptable, layered, evolving, and unpredictable (Elias 2014). Integrating all these qualities, specialists will be able to create an approach that meets all modern requirements to the creation of a safe environment and contribute to the increased level of protection. At the same time, they guarantee that all existing threats will be covered and managed appropriately.


Analysing the outlined elements, the vital character of intelligence information should be admitted. For instance, Israel, a country that faces a high level of terrorist threat because of the complex relations with its neighbours, employs demographic profiling intelligence and specialised databases to identify passengers who might pose high risks and minimise the level of threat (Elias 2014). This method rests on information provided by intelligence services that monitor the current situation and respond to emerging dangers. As a result, the country has avoided serious terrorist acts in the aviation sphere for 40 years (Elias 2014).

This example evidences the ability of the risk-based approach to create a safe environment and resist threats assuming that it remains intelligence-driven and there is a constant exchange of critical information between various airlines and airports. Sharing experiences and best ways to avoid undesired situations, agents or security specialists acquire an opportunity to protect passengers and benefit from the offered paradigm.


The unpredictability of any security system that is used by airlines is another key component of a modern risk-based approach. As it comes from the main idea of the contemporary vision of safety, all expected and unexpected complications should be taken into account to protect individuals (Elias 2014). For this reason, a method that is employed at the moment should be ready to work in stressful situations. This can be achieved in several ways, and one of them is the avoidance of predictability in risk evaluation and analysis. In other words, security systems should possess random screening techniques or assessment procedures that will help to confuse malefactors (Elias 2014).

It will also help to minimise chances to discover loopholes or vulnerabilities by performing multiple attempts (ICAO 2017). That is why unpredictability becomes a critical element of a fully risk-based approach providing new opportunities to puzzle individuals who want to damage airlines or aircraft.

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As far as aviation is one of the most fast-growing spheres of contemporary society, the majority of airlines have to work in changing conditions and be ready to face new challenges or problematic issues that might deteriorate their functioning. That is why every security system should not be rigid to respond to all risks on very short notice (Elias 2014). It means that the ability to adapt to a changing threat picture is a core quality of risk-based approach that serves as the basis for the organisation of security in airports. Fast and effective elimination of dangers and provision of appropriate measures to mitigate negative consequences and save lives is fundamental for the modern aviation sector.

At the same time, implementation of any frameworks should adapt to the existing culture, societal constraints, legal basis, and passengers’ demands to the work of security services (Elias 2014). It will help to avoid complications in the future and create a highly protected environment characterised by a high level of clients’ satisfaction.


Any existing security system should also be layered as it is one of the main aspects of a risk-based approach. As it has already been stated, the definition of risks includes threats, vulnerabilities, and consequences that are taken into account. To work with every aspect separately, it is critical to incorporate several elements within a single approach. Moreover, they should remain isolated and independent to ensure that the failure of one system will not affect other ones and reduce their effectiveness. In this regard, the layered character of the utilised approach is one of the requirements to protective measures peculiar to airlines of airports (Elias 2014).

It helps to segment and classify any threat and its elements and find the most effective ways to work with each of them, which is essential regarding the high level of demands to the quality of protection and safety.


Finally, a security system should not stop in its evolution. Research about the effectiveness of various protective measures evidence that overly rigid approaches show an unacceptably low level of performance as they lack information about new threats and risks (Price & Forrest 2013). Moreover, the risk-based approach emphasises the need for constant evolution and the discovery of new potential dangers and ways to respond to them (Elias 2014).

That is why a modern security system should be capable of developing and achieving new levels of excellence (Elias 2014). It can also be achieved by incorporating new technologies, devices and utilising knowledge about continually changing threat landscapes (Elias 2014). The continuous evolution of protective measures minimises the probability of intervention as malefactors have to look for new ways to interfere with the functioning of airports or aircraft because previous ones turn out to be obsolete. It ensures fast and effective responses to any attempts to trigger the appearance and development of undesired situations.

In such a way, the incorporation of all these attributes within a single security system and with regard to the risk-based approach helps to consider the majority of existing risks and contribute to the increasing effectiveness of employed protective measures. This fact evidences the high potential of the discussed approach and its ability to work with the fast-changing environment or threat landscape by acquiring information about possible dangers, evolving, and offering new responses to them.


It follows from the above that a full-risk based approach to the organisation of security in airports is one of the most popular and comprehensive frameworks that exist today. Its effectiveness can also be explained by the existence of serval advantages that contribute to its further development and dominant position. These include the ability to define and evaluate threats, prediction of possible risks, promotion, and education (ICAO 2011). All these aspects are fundamental for the creation of an environment deprived of serious loopholes and guaranteeing a high level of protection to both passengers and workers. These benefits also explain why agencies such as ICAO and IATA offer guidelines for the implementation of RBS and the creation of appropriate conditions for its work.

Definition of Threats

The definition of existing threats and risks is one of the prior tasks of any security system. In terms of the risk-based approach utilised today, this activity becomes central as it is given a significant level of attention. This paradigm rests on the idea that preliminary data collection and its analysis is one of the necessary conditions for the achievement of positive outcomes; that is why the definition of threats becomes especially useful in terms of the available information and knowledge generated from previous cases (Price & Forrest 2013). Better evaluation and discovery of vulnerabilities become possible due to the cooperation at all levels that is promoted by the international agencies. In such a way, a risk-based approach becomes an effective method to accomplish this very task.


Regarding the existing definition of the concept of risk, any security system should be ready to predict the appearance of various situations and minimise their probability using the information acquired due to the definition and evaluation of threats. It means that a risk-based approach becomes a potent tool to predict possible complications via the in-depth analysis of all factors impacting the aviation sphere at the moment and the creation of a list of the most threatening aspects that should be considered (Price & Forrest 2013). Considering the fact that avoidance of emergencies holds the top priority, the given quality of the discussed method becomes vital for airlines, aircraft, passengers, and their safety. The constant data exchange between agencies also helps to make this component more effective.


A risk-based approach also devotes significant attention to the promotion of adequate security measures, prophylactic actions, and ways to minimise threats that exist at the moment. To a greater degree, it is achieved due to the integration of two aspects mentioned above as they help to outline domains that are critical and offer ways to eliminate loopholes in security systems (IATA n.d.). In other words, the discussed framework serves as the guaranty that airports will experience less dangerous situations due to the utilisation of the plan of action that considers existing complications and ensures that their probability is extremely low. It becomes an advantage of the method and contributes to its popularity among airlines globally.


Finally, education is an integral part of a full risk-based method. ICAO and IATA offer training guides and courses for specialists working in the aviation sphere to improve their competence and reduce the number of mistakes. Human factor remains one of the main sources of a threat as poorly prepared employees might create opportunities for malefactors to interfere with the work of aviation (ICAO 2017; IATA n.d.). Additionally, the effectiveness of their responses to threats decreases. For this reason, training that offers information about risks and their mitigation is considered a fundamental element of the risk-based approach.

There are many conferences, seminars, and meetings that are organised with the primary goal to establish an environment where individuals share information and generate extensive knowledge about the most relevant measures to protect aircraft.

Security Systems

The irreplaceability of a risk-based approach is also evidenced by the fact that it serves as the basis for the creation of all modern security systems that are used by airlines in their work. Based on the existing understanding of cyber threats and other risks, any unit of that sort aims at adopting a flexible risk-based approach to the protection by the implementation and further improvement of management approaches (IATA n.d.). The main objectives also include the necessity to adhere to this very paradigm and cultivate a method that will incorporate the fundamental elements of the discussed model as they ensure the high-performance levels and constant renewal of data, which is a key to successful work.


Cooperation between agencies, governments, and services responsible for the protection of the aviation sphere is also a vital aspect of a fully risk-based approach as it helps to establish a new perspective on threats, risks, and the ways to mitigate them (ICAO 2011). The involvement of the majority of existing airlines in the international discourse becomes an advantageous aspect of the preferred framework as it helps to preserve the desired levels of awareness and respond to new dangers in a fast and effective manner, which is a basic element of the modern approach to security.


However, there are still debates about the risk-based approach, its role in the aviation sector, and the degree to which it can guarantee security to passengers. One of the dominant opposing opinions emphasises the rude interference in the privacy of individuals because of risk-based screening or personal data collection (Stolzer 2015). Moreover, the given method might seem less effective if the access to information is limited or unique situations occur (Price & Forrest 2013). Regardless of these claims, there are still no alternatives to the discussed paradigm because of its ability to take into account all factors that might impact airlines.

Passengers’ Satisfaction

As for the clients’ satisfaction levels, there are some aspects that should be analysed. The risk-based approach presupposes that screening is critical to avoid threats, which might be disappointing for some individuals (Hall 2015). At the same time, surveys conducted among passengers show that they accept the existing strict measures used by airlines as they serve as their guaranty of safety and protection (Hall 2015). They are ready to provide information demanded by agencies to contribute to the creation of adequate security systems and their further development.

The balance between Privacy and Security

However, because of the existing peculiarities of contemporary society and the focus on tolerance and humanistic values, the balance between privacy and security remains important even in terms of the risk-based approach. That is why, regardless of the need for some private information, confidentiality to passengers is guaranteed. Companies do not use their data for other purposes as their prior task is the creation of a safe environment (Hall 2015). This balance should be observed in the future to avoid the growth of people’s dissatisfaction and their refusal to use some airlines’ services.


Altogether, in terms of the information discussed above, it is possible to conclude that the risk-based approach to the organisation of security in the aviation sphere has no alternatives today. It remains the most effective option that can be used by agencies and companies as it incorporates a set of critical elements required to protect passengers and guarantee that no accidents will emerge. The modern security systems also rest on this very idea and evolve using the information offered due to the adherence to this methodology. That is why it is vital to support the evolution of this framework and suggest new ways of data collection to reveal, evaluate, and predict risks that should be mitigated.

Reference List

A risk-based approach to aviation safety regulation n.d. Web.

Elias, B 2014, Risk-based approaches to airline passenger screening. Web.

Hall, R 2015, The transparent traveller: the performance and culture of airport security, Duke University Press Books, Durham, NC.

International Air Transport Association (IATA) n.d., Safety report. Web.

International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) 2011, Security, 9th edn, International Civil Aviation Organization, Montreal.

International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) 2017, Aviation security manual, 10th edn, International Civil Aviation Organization, Montreal.

Price, J & Forrest, J 2013, Practical aviation security: predicting and preventing future threats, 2nd edn, Elsevier, Oxford.

Stolzer, A 2015, Safety management systems in aviation, 2nd edn, Routledge, London.

UK Civil Aviation Authority (UK CAA) n.d., Risk based surveillance. Web.

U.S. Government Accountability Office 2017, Aviation safety: improved data quality and analysis capabilities are needed as FAA plans a risk-based approach to safety oversight, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, Scotts Valley, CA.

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