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Insecure Skies? Challenges and Options for Change in Civil Aviation Security

Tobias Feakin
Occasional Papers, 4 April 2011
National Security Studies, International Responses, Global Security Issues
The terrorist threat to international civil aviation has evolved, particularly over the last ten years. If the skies are to remain safe, then a more co-ordinated approach is needed to secure the weak links in global aviation security

Few areas of activity demonstrate the challenges and opportunities of global integration as acutely as international civil aviation. Its growth has not only mirrored but also driven the explosion of globalisation over the last two decades. However, it has also become a high-profile conduit of new transnational threats.

Securing civil aviation has been a key international priority since 9/11, with numerous efforts to enhance aviation security in response to terrorist attacks. As security technologies and procedures in key parts of the civil aviation industry have been developed in response to attempted terrorist attacks during the 2000s, so the attackers look for new weaknesses in the chain to exploit.

At a macro level, the security framework of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has been weakened by a reactive, transient patchwork of unilateral and bilateral arrangements and is characterised by a lack of real capacity for change. Regionally, the EU has provided guidance and security standards for aviation, yet it has been slow to demonstrate leadership in driving policy into action. The result has been that highly interdependent European neighbours operate different security regimes with different technologies and differing degrees of effectiveness. This lack of coherence among developed countries with relatively well-aligned interests is more apparent in the developing areas of the world. Here, the gaps in security arising from disparities in procedure and access to technology are a common assumption in terrorist planning.

This report proposes that creating harmonised baseline standards on international aviation security needs to be a priority and work needs to be conducted on setting and enforcing these standards. There needs to be an increased focus on understanding and tackling inbound threats, and on building resources and security capacity in the countries of greatest concern. Without these combined efforts, nations will continue to be at risk from terrorists who look to exploit the weakest links in our security chains.

Tobias Feakin
Associate Fellow

Tobias was a Senior Research Fellow and Director of the National Security and Resilience department at the Royal United Services... read more

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