Aviation and Airport

  • Aviation securityHuman behavior studies offer helpful insights to airport security officers

    A recent Sandia National Laboratories study offers insight into how a federal transportation security officer’s thought process can influence decisions made during airport baggage screening, findings which are helping the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) improve the performance of its security officers. The TSA-funded project focused on the impacts on threat detection when transportation security officers are asked to switch between the pre-check and standard passenger lanes.

  • Behavioral detectionGrowing questions about TSA’s behavioral detection program

    TSA has spent roughly $1 billion training thousands of “behavior detection officers” as part of theScreening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program. The purpose of SPOT is to identify facial and body expressions that signals terrorist activity. Psychologists – and the GAO – question the effectiveness of the program.“The common-sense notion that liars betray themselves through body language appears to be little more than a cultural fiction,” says one psychologist.

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  • Airport securityCosts of securing airports far outweigh the benefits: study

    A recently published research paperconcludes that the funds allocated to secure the world’s major airports far outweigh the benefits. The authors write that “many of the assessed security measures would only begin to be cost-effective if the current rate of attack at airports in the U.S., Europe, and the Asia-Pacific increases by a factor of 10-20.”

  • UAVsU.S. lags behind other countries in commercial use of drones

    As the United States continues to explore regulations and safety guidelines for commercial UAVs, other countries have already adopted their use. Photographers, real estate agents, filmmakers, and news agencies in the United States want to use drones in their operations, but the FAA insists that rules addressing safety challenges associated with drones need to be in place before drones can share the sky with manned aircrafts.

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  • Fake passportsThe global passport security loophole: how serious is it?

    By David Beirman

    More than one billion people are estimated to have travelled internationally in 2013, according to the UN’s World Tourism Organization. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations body that regulates air transport worldwide, reported that around 3.1 billion people travelled by airplane in 2013. The numbers are immense. As a result, so too are the security challenges for airlines, immigration, and airport security agencies. The ICAO expects all of its 192 member countries to introduce machine-readable passports by 2015, but there is still no international deadline for the introduction of biometric passports. This means some people could be using old-fashioned passports until 2025. Even then, there is no absolute guarantee biometric passports are any more tamper-proof than a host of other computer-based security measures which apply to credit cards and customer databases.

  • AviationTSA suspends program aiming to screen passenger online info

    The TSA has stopped testing a technology which reviews passengers’ online data as part of background checks for passengers who apply for the voluntary “Pre✓”program. The TSA had wanted to evaluate paper proposals, examine models, and test the proposed systems in real-world situations before issuing a contract, but now the TSA intends to explore other means of improving the background check process.

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  • Explosives detectionRemote explosives detection may see the end of full-body scanners

    Standing in a full-body scanner at an airport is not fun, and the process adds time and stress to a journey. It also raises privacy concerns. Researchers now report a more precise and direct method for using terahertz (THz) technology to detect explosives from greater distances. The advance could ultimately lead to detectors that survey a wider area of an airport without the need for full-body scanners.

  • TerrorismDHS warns airlines of renewed shoe-bomb risk

    DHS has alerted airlines flying to the United States to the possibility that terrorists might try to bring explosives n board in their shoes. The airlines were told that there were no specific plots, and that the information was based on information collected in the United States and abroad that bomb makers affiliated with terrorist groups were working on a shoe-bomb design. Hiding explosives in shoes is not new. In December 2001, passengers aboard an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami prevented a U.K. citizen, Richard Reid, from detonating explosives hidden in his sneakers.

  • Valentine dronesFAA vetoes Valentine flower-delivery drone

    Detroit-area florist Flower Delivery Express wanted to use drones to deliver flowers to customers on Valentine Day. The FAA rejected the request, dryly noting that “A commercial flight requires a certified aircraft, a licensed pilot, and operating approval.” The florist is not giving up yet, cryptically saying it is testing “other guarded secret methods” for flower delivery.

  • Winter GamesDHS alerts Russia-bound airlines of toothpaste tube bombs risk

    The U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism agencies have advising airlines flying to Russia to be aware of the possibility that explosive materials could be concealed in toothpaste or cosmetic tubes. DHS issued a bulletin to airlines flying into Russia alerting them to the potential threat. The new concern about explosive toothpaste tubes notwithstanding, the biggest worry is still Islamist groups based in southern Russia’s Caucasus region.

  • AviationSupreme Court: airlines not liable for exaggerating in describing possible air emergency

    The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that when an airline reports to TSA about an individual who might pose a potential danger, the airline may not be held liable if its report contained exaggerations and minor falsehoods. Air Wisconsin terminated the employment of a pilot who failed several required tests, and who became extremely agitated and disruptive during the fourth, and last, test. In its report to TSA, the airline described the pilot as “mentally unstable.” The fired pilot sued the airline for describing him as mentally unstable, and a Colorado jury awarded him $1.2 million in damages. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the majority, said “a few inaptly chosen words” were not enough to support the verdict. “Baggage handlers, flight attendants, gate agents, and other airline employees who report suspicious behavior to the TSA should not face financial ruin if, in the heat of a potential threat, they fail to choose their words with exacting care,” she wrote. A federal law — the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001 — gives airline employees broad immunity from lawsuits for reports of suspicious activities.

  • No-fly listJudge says DHS made “mistake” placing Malaysian woman on terrorist watch no-fly list

    Rahinah Ibrahim, 48, was prevented by TSA agents from boarding a plane in San Francisco in 2005 because his name showed up – erroneously –on the government terrorist watch no-fly list. She was eventually allowed to leave the country, but has not been allowed to re-enter the United States since. Last Tuesday, U.S. District Judge William Alsup ruled that DHS made a “mistake” when it put Ibrahim, a former Stanford University Ph.D. student, on the list, and that the government must give her an opportunity to apply for reentry to the United States. Ibrahim’s challenge of the government’s actions is believed to have been the first trial of its kind in the country. It was held before Judge Alsup without a jury.

  • Airport securityStudent cannot sue TSA, FBI agents over airport detention for Arabic flashcards

    A student detained at Philadelphia International airport over his Arabic flashcards cannot sue the individual TSA and FBI agents who held him in custody, an appeals court has ruled. The student, double-majoring in physics and Middle Eastern studies, carried Arabic-English flashcards in his backpack. Most of the cards carried everyday words such as “nice”, “sad,” and “friendly.” Some of the cards, however, included words like “bomb,” “terrorist,” and “explosion.” Chief Judge Theodore McKee of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia noted that the student clearly had the right to have the materials, but “it is simply not reasonable to require TSA officials to turn a blind eye to someone trying to board an airplane carrying Arabic-English flashcards with words such as ‘bomb,’ ‘to kill,’ etc.” He added: “Rather, basic common sense would allow those officials to take reasonable and minimally intrusive steps to inquire into the potential passenger’s motivations.”

  • EpidemicsAir transportation data helps identify, predict pandemics

    Computational model demonstrates how disease spreads in a highly connected world. The computational work has led to a new mathematical theory for understanding the global spread of epidemics. The resulting insights could not only help identify an outbreak’s origin but could also significantly improve the ability to forecast the global pathways through which a disease might spread.

  • China syndromeAirport scanner vendor failed to disclose use of Chinese components

    Recently TSA cancelled a $60 million contract with Rapiscan Systems, a manufacturer of anatomically revealing airport security scanners, after Rapiscan was found to be using unapproved Chinese components in its scanners – and failing to disclose this fact to TSA. Rapiscan, in bidding on the contract, submitted a list of U.S.-made components used in the scanners to the agency, as required by law. After the company received an approval of that list – and the $60 million contract – it ordered the same components from a Chinese company — the Shanghai Advanced Non-Destructive Testing – instructing the Chinese company to label the Chinese-made components with the same part numbers as the originally approved, U.S.-made components, apparently in an effort to make it more difficult for TSA inspectors to notice the illegal switch. Members of the House Homeland Security Committee, charging that the use of Chinese components made the machines susceptible to sabotage, disruption, or spying, want to know whether TSA was aware of Rapiscan’s shenanigans.