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Can We Ever Stop the Horrific Targeting of Aviation? 

Before we claim helplessness, it's high time we asked ourselves whether we've really done enough.

Since 9/ long before then..even before Lockerbie..even before EL AL 426..we have been living with the results of madmen using the freedom to fly against us to induce terror for longer than I've been alive. 

This year has been a heartbreak. The attack on Istanbul Atatürk Airport this Tuesday night was only the latest in a long chain of vicious and despicable acts against innocents. 

There was other aviation news this week, but I think it's far more important that we discuss whether we really are doing enough.

Why do I ask now? 

Because I read from industry experts that there's no way to keep airports--or any public areas for that matter--100% safe and I find myself agreeing, then wondering why I'm agreeing so quickly.

No. Perhaps 100% safe, in a world designed around hatred and heartless acts, is not guaranteed. But this is a SIX SIGMA industry. We should try for that close process analysis and insistence on eliminating every identified gap.

But how can it be done?

First, as ACI EUROPE has pointed out, we do need better intelligence sharing. We may even need a global intelligence network focused entirely on detecting and addressing potential threats to aviation. 

While this might seem difficult to implement, and I'm not qualified to judge the complexities, I'd like to suggest that when a target is as attractive, as attention grabbing, and as vital to global economies as aviation, it deserves dedicated consideration.

We also have tools at our disposal today which could help lessen threats. SITA has proposed a more advanced and secure passport using blockchain ID. Given that we've lived with some version of today's passports since before planes took to the skies, we should investigate what it takes to expedite these type of solutions.


When I wrote a special report for Passenger Terminal World on Biometrics, I was surprised by how very advanced this technology has become and yet how little of it we apply.

Of course, this technology, like anything else, comes with complications both practical and political. But with the right biometrics we can not only confirm identity, but also get some measure of intent.

We can ease the flow of the 99.99966% who pose no threat to aviation at all, and focus on that potentially dangerous 'Sixth' Sigma--not based on prejudice but on more reliable biometric algorithms.

This point is very important. I don't believe we can succeed by targeting a particular type of individual. I believe that terror has many potential faces, and running rough-shot with bias can in fact make aviation look ridiculous, undermining the seriousness of the task.   

Smart Screening

As we cannot screen 100% of passengers thoroughly--without damaging the passenger experience for the vast majority of people who just want to get where they're going--we should stop trying to.

What would happen if travel pre-check programs were mandatory for frequent flyers, in exchange for an expedited security clearance process?

What would happen if we insisted on dedicated queues for families and persons of limited mobility who need extra care and attention, and don't deserve to be rushed by an anxious crowd?

What if the only persons going through the tightest screening protocols were those who rarely travel or have not travelled before?

These types of passenger flow management programs have the positive side-effect of vastly improving the passenger experience for the majority, eliminating what industry experts describe as the "pain points" of travel.    

We should consider passenger flow carefully. Our many passenger personalisation initiatives and our many digital initiatives to expedite the journey--of which IATA is an ardent advocate--can better manage passenger flow and reduce queues.

View All Queues As Security Threats

Queues must be viewed as a serious threat to security because crowds are such an attractive target.

If landslide is the most vulnerable part of the journey, then we need to have as few people landslide as possible for as short a period of time as possible. 

The adoption of modern journey automation technologies to ease passenger flow, expedited to minimise vulnerable crowds benefit aviation and passengers alike.

But one of the points ACI EUROPE rightly makes, is that the crowds caused by deeper screening of access to the airport only push out the target, and cannot be relied on 100%. 

The stringent security measures already in place at Atatürk Airport before the attacks prove this to be true. 

I don't believe a tighter crackdown on the bulk of the travel population will lessen the risk. It may indeed exacerbate the risk. 

Initiatives like IATA's own SmartS security do far more to improve security by reducing crowds while making air travel better.    

Reduce Traffic to Airports 

A push for multi-modal travel may help alleviate this somewhat.

By offering check-in at rail stations and bus terminals, by collaborating with hotels to offer baggage pickup services, by collaborating with companies which offer baggage pick up and delivery services at home, we can go a long way to eliminating delays and reducing crowds.

Automated bag-drop stations at these "away" check-in points can help reduce the time passengers spend landslide, with more automated bag drops at the terminal and check-in kiosks further reducing on-site check-in queues.   

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dave Bakker, SITA's European president, in 2014 for an article on Passenger Terminal World.

He shared a vision of this type of seamless journey and while his vision for 2020 sounds like a passengers dream come true, it would also benefit security.

I Could Go On  

I could argue that expediting the FAA's NexGen and other global Air Traffic Management initiatives would help.

I can make the case for connected aircraft which would also address critical gaps which make aviation vulnerable on the ground.

But I'm aware that it's Sunday and you're short on time. 

What I hope you take away from this extended Sunday editorial is that moving forward with our most noble aims for travel experience improvement is the best thing we can possibly do to make aviation a less attractive target, and a more attractive experience.  

One last thought: Industry groups should push for government funding of these key initiatives! These programs could potentially alleviate the high costs of doing nothing or of continuing to focus solely on one-by-one screening. The airline industry should encourage governments to put those funds to better use by proactively addressing system-wide vulnerabilities.

Thanks for Reading and Please Contribute 

Thank you for following Flight Chic and for taking the time to read this through to the end. 

This is only my take on our current situation. I'd love to hear yours.

If you found any of this thought-provoking, I'd ask that you share it with a colleague by clicking on the green bar below.

I'd also ask that you please contact me with your own thoughts and impressions--whether you agree or disagree.

I'd like to write about this at length, and I'd value many different points of view. 

Fly often. Fly safe.

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