NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Improving Airport Security Management

October 11, 2001

The biggest hole in airport security is access to "secure" areas behind the scenes, not the flow of passengers through metal detectors, say experts. None of the new passenger-focused regulations would have stopped the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The problem could be fixed with improved technology, but fragmentation of responsibilities complicates the implementation of new technology. Security today is the joint responsibility of the Federal Aviation Administration, airport operators and airlines. Some have called for the creation of a federal security service to take over passenger screening and possibly some other functions. But expects say the responsible and accountable party should be the airport owner/operator.

That is the way it is done in Europe. London's airports, especially Heathrow, have long been extremely sensitive to the terrorist threat. And security there is first-rate.

  • Airport owner/operator BAA employs all the passenger screening people itself, and pays them decent wages.
  • Turnover is but a fraction of what is typical of U.S. airports, and some of these employees eventually move up to other positions within the company.
  • At the London airports every single bag is X-rayed, and there is positive matching of bags with passengers -- neither of which has ever been done for domestic flights in the U.S.

Shifting U.S. airport management to the emerging global corporate model is one way to improve U.S. airport security. As in Europe, they should be run as real businesses: controlling their assets, taking entrepreneurial risks, making profits and paying taxes.

Source: Robert W. Poole, Jr. (Reason Public Policy Institute) and Viggo Butler (chair, security subcommittee, FAA Research, Engineering & Development Advisory Committee), "Fixing Airport Security," Brief Analysis No. 376, October 11, 2001, National Center for Policy Analysis.

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