With the development of technology and continuous improvements, air transport is considered one of the safest way to travel. Still, a relatively low risk of incidents should not be taken as given, because it is a result of a complicated system that works to protect passengers from all the possible threats. According to Ergün and Bülbül (2018, p. 21), airplanes and airports are vulnerable because of “the busy traffic at airports, the impossibility of interfering with an emergency in an aircraft after its takeoff, and the necessity for significant system infrastructure.” That is why security operations play a crucial role in air transport safety.
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As terrorists always seek flaws in the protection of airports and airplanes, security systems need to be continuously updated and improved, employing the most recent technologies. Digitalization has transformed the way security systems work today, allowing a wide range of functions that help to detect undesired activity. Technology provides useful assistance to security staff, diminishing the possibility of human factor mistake.
Nevertheless, there is an ongoing debate that over-reliance on machines leads to a reduction in the security staff skills level. There are cases when digital technology is attacked by hackers, or fails, or is merely not enough, as in the cases of suspicious behavior. In such situations, security workers must perform at the highest level of their skills without any assistance. Multiple studies found no negative impact of over-reliance on technology in the aviation security staff, still, such observation was made in different industries, signifying the potential risk. Considering the potential influence of digitalization on the reduction in skill level, security staff should be continuously trained to maintain and improve their professional competency.
Objectives and Stages of Security Operations
The primary purpose of airport security operations is to reduce the threat of the potential attack. It should be mentioned that security systems protect passengers not only by direct prevention of people with malicious intentions to board the plane but also by influencing attackers’ decisions. Hall (2015, p. 3) understands security more like a performance that “exercises an enduring influence far beyond the controlled zones of securitized airports.” This influence means that the efficiency of security cannot be assessed by a number of prevented attacks, as the mere existence of the security systems and its reported scrutiny is often enough to switch the attackers’ intentions.
Nevertheless, terrorists seek the ways of interfering with aviation security operations as air transport remains an important target for them. Nowacki and Paszukow (2018, p. 187) claim that airports and airplanes are “susceptible targets for terrorist attacks.” There are several reasons why attackers chose air transportation as their aim, including a high concentration of people in enclosed areas and increased media attention. Moreover, the connection of major airplanes to a specific country puts them under a threat of attacks (Quddus, 2017, p. 207). Given these challenges, aviation security should involve a combination of human resource, technology, legal, and regulatory policies explicitly aimed at the protection of civil passengers from unlawful interference.
Security systems include a large number and variety of staff and technologies involved in different stages of operations. The initial step is pre-flight security screening of passengers, following by pre-departure screening, and lastly, when these two stages fail, in-flight security operations take place (Quddus, 2017, p. 210).
The first stage takes place from the moment a passenger buys a ticket before the arrival at the airport. It is the most digitalized stage as it involves a number of databases. During the pre-flight screening, personal information is collected and checked to allow or deny a flight, so here several organizations have to coordinate. Airlines share personal information about their passengers with the security services who check the databases for the previous involvement in illegal activity. Then this information is passed to destination country’s border officials who make decisions whether to permit or deny access to their country.
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The stage of pre-departure screening begins at the moment when a passenger enters an airport and continues until a takeoff. During this phase, a number of coordinated operations take place aimed at the protection of both the airport and airplane. Many airports have scanning frames at each entrance that detect metal objects such as weapons or some types of explosives. The halls are also equipped with CCTV cameras that provide constant surveillance and alert the security staff when suspicious behavior or unattended luggage is noted. Airplane security includes check-in areas and security services for passenger and baggage scanning.
This is, according to Quddus (2017, p. 211), one of the most challenging aspects for the security staff as they have to scan and identify “not only obvious items such as guns or knives but also potentially malicious combinations of individually benign objects.” Despite the reliability of search methods, in-flight security operations are sometimes needed. They involve a specific training of the cabin crew who are taught to mitigate the threat and the presence of security officers on the flights with high risks.
Digitalization of the Security Operations
The aviation industry significantly relies on digital technologies that are employed in different scopes such as safety and security management, air traffic controls, organization of passenger flow, ticket sales, and marketing. Air security and safety operations employ a wide range of technologies, including VHF (very high frequency), GPS, digital assistance of x-ray scanning, smart camera surveillance with face-recognition software, and automated database search.
Zaharia and Pietreanu (2018, p. 98) emphasize the importance of digitalization for the modern airport and the need for specialized training for the personnel to work in the technology-assisted environment. As almost every new technology requires specific qualifications, it is often a challenging task to implement it quickly.
Traveling by air is meant to be quicker than other means of transport, so it is essential to reduce waiting time without sacrificing the safety and security of flights. Due to the nature of air transportation and high passenger flow, the time-efficiency of security operations is crucial. That is why digital assistance technologies should be designed to maximize human-machine coordination performance. Security checkpoints need to be equipped with smart technologies, but the training of the personnel and effective work environment is of prime importance (Schwaninger, 2016, p. 29). For example, digital assistants to x-ray scanners imply the use of artificial intelligence that helps to recognize prohibited objects within a second.
The Role of Human Resource and Skills in Security Operations
Technological improvements can transform airport security systems providing higher efficiency and accuracy of baggage and body screening, but they still cannot replace most of the functions that humans perform. That is why attention should be distributed evenly between personnel training and digitalization. Skorupski and Uchroński (2018, p. 63) note that “while monitoring of technical equipment condition is quite common, the ongoing diagnostics of the human factor in those systems is rare.”
At the same time, the research that intended to determine crucial factors for airport security efficiency found out that human resources played a key role in these services (Ergün and Bülbül, 2018, p. 28). The most important factors that should be considered while assessing human resource efficiency at the security checkpoints are the working conditions, the quantity of personnel, and their qualification.
The skills necessary for the high efficiency of the security staff directly depend on their qualification. However, when personnel works under technological assistance in the routine process with limited challenges, it will be more difficult to cope with challenging situations when they happen. That is why simulated, and computer-based training is necessary to help the security staff to maintain their skills. Gramatica et al. (2016, p. 17) signify that the costs of such training are compensated by the increase in performance. Moreover, learning how to work with new technologies should be a constant process that elevates a worker’s qualification.
The Connection between Reliance on Technology and Skill Level
The assumption that increased reliance on technology and infrequent challenges at work lead to the reduction in skills of security staff has raised the concern of scholars, which resulted in several investigations. Chavaillaz et al. (2019, p. 1) conducted research that studied the influence of digital aid (DA) on the recognition abilities of people working at the security screening area. The scholars found out that the significant difference in visual recognition performance was due to overall experience, while reliance on technology did not affect it (Chavaillaz et al., 2019, p. 1). Interestingly, the novices’ decisions were mostly based on the recommendations provided by the DA, while the experts tended to use these suggestions for the confirmation of their choices.
Both research groups similarly employed the DA, but the results showed a substantial improvement of the performance of the novices comparing to their results without aid, while the experts mostly maintained their level.
The group of experienced personnel also demonstrated a higher level of reliance and compliance with the DA than the group of novices (Chavaillaz et al., 2019, p. 8). The results of the research by Hättenschwiler et al. (2018, p. 58) support these findings demonstrating that the experienced workers show similar performance with or without screening aid while the results of novices significantly differ. These studies show that over-reliance on technology does not reduce the skills of highly qualified security staff, while it substantially aids the novices in helping, in many cases, to cover the insufficiency of skills.
The trust and reliance on a particular technology directly affect its use in security operations. If the trust level placed in automation is low, it cannot be used to its full extent. The studies show that the level of expertise with a particular task determines the reliance on digital technology (Chavaillaz et al., 2019, p. 8). Experts who can perform the task on the same level without automation and use it only as back-up support to their decisions can assess the reliability of the technology more accurately. Actual trust behavior occurs as the result of trust perception (belief in the trustworthiness of the technology) and trust intention (willingness to rely upon it).
Modern approaches to security of air transportation highly rely on various digital technologies. Many of them perform at extremely high accuracy, so it is almost impossible to circumvent them. That is why potential terrorists may attempt to interfere with the work of those systems with the use of hacker attacks. The study conducted by Strohmeier et al. (2019, p. 136) investigated the reliance of aviation industry workers on certain wireless technologies with regard to the likelihood of an attack. The research included the representatives of different aviation-related occupations, such as private, civil, or military pilots, security staff, or air traffic control workers who expressed their attitude to the reliability of various safety and security technologies.
The maintenance of the necessary skill level is critical in a case when a particular technology is attacked. However, the likelihood of an attack was assessed as relatively low by most of the respondents (with a single exception of VHF technology) with high levels of reliance on all the discussed technologies (Strohmeier et al., 2019, p. 143). The study showed that some of the aviation workers regard several of the technologies as vulnerable while being vital for flight safety. Thus, scholars express the concern about the skills of the pilots and other staff in the ability to avert the danger in case of hacker penetration (Strohmeier et al., 2019, p. 145).
Furthermore, the slow development of regulatory policies and technology implementation complicate the situation. Thus, the solutions should focus on continuous training of the staff that would emphasize the actions in cases of technology failure or attack. Moreover, security measures for safety-oriented technologies should be strengthened in order to prevent not only the physical penetration of terrorists but also a digital one.
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The heated debate about the threat of digitalization to the aviation security workers’ professionalism has been going on recently, resulting in a number of studies. The investigations found that technologies cannot reduce the skills of already experienced workers, but they can temporarily mask the insufficient level of qualification. Thus, it is not digitalization has an adverse effect on the skills but the disregard of training and qualification improvement.
Chavaillaz, A. et al. (2019), ‘Expertise, automation and trust in x-ray screening of cabin baggage’, Frontiers in Psychology, 10, pp. 11-11.
Ergün, N., and Bülbül, K. G. (2018) ‘An assessment of factors affecting airport security services: an AHP approach and case in Turkey’, Security Journal, 32(1), pp. 20–44.
Gramatica, M. D. et al. (2016) ‘Agency problems and airport security: quantitative and qualitative evidence on the impact of security training’, Risk Analysis, 37(2), pp. 372-395.
Hall, R. (2015) The transparent traveler: the performance and culture of airport security. Durham: Duke University Press.
Hättenschwiler, N. et al. (2018) ‘Automation in airport security X-ray screening of cabin baggage: Examining benefits and possible implementations of automated explosives detection’, Applied Ergonomics, 72, pp. 58-68.
Nowacki, G. and Paszukow, B. (2018), ‘Security requirements for new threats at international airports’, The International Journal on Marine Navigation and Safety of Sea Transportation, 12(1), pp. 187-192. Web.
Quddus, M. (2017), ‘Aviation safety and security’, in Budd, L. & Ison, S. (eds.) Air transport management: An international perspective. New York: Routledge,, pp. 191-214.
Schwaninger, A. (2016), ‘Determinants of airport security x-ray screeners’ detection performance’, Aviation Security International, 22(4), pp. 28-29.
Skorupski, J. and Uchroński, P. (2018) ‘Evaluation of the effectiveness of an airport passenger and baggage security screening system’, Journal of Air Transport Management, 66, pp. 53-64.
Strohmeier, M. (2019) ‘Surveying aviation professionals on the security of the air traffic control system’, in Hamid et al. (eds.) Security and safety interplay of intelligent software systems lecture notes in computer science, Barcelona: Springer, pp. 135-152.
Zaharia, S. and Pietreanu, C. (2018) ‘Challenges in airport digital transformation’, Transportation Research Procedia, 35, pp. 90-99.