One of the biggest costs associated with aviation security is the delay imposed on travelers and air carriers. Often, arriving at the airport 15 minutes before departure may be enough for domestic flights. However, air travel becomes significantly less convenient and more expensive, in terms of direct costs to business travelers, when passengers have to arrive earlier at the airport to accommodate additional passenger screening procedures. This is especially true during high threat situations when passengers may be required to arrive at least two hours early.
Domestic air travel requires an efficient system of carefully scheduled connecting flights and short aircraft ground time. If a flight is delayed, air carriers incur significant costs in rescheduling passengers who miss connecting flights. For international air travel, delays cause fewer problems because many of the passengers begin and end their travel on one flight. International travelers also are likely to arrive well in advance of their scheduled departure time.
The level of security (and the potential length of delay incurred) should be commensurate with the threat. However, a basic level of security still must be maintained, even if no specific threat is apparent. The time needed for security screening causes delays. Security screening is accomplished through a serial inspection process, but when the queues grow long, a second process may be set up parallel to the first. In practice, the amount of security equipment and the number of personnel required can vary significantly over time. If a high threat situation occurs when only normal security equipment and personnel are available, then significant delays will result. Using computer simulations to estimate the time required for intensified security inspections during high threat situations is the best way to determine the length of delays and the probable effects. The FAA is working on providing this type of simulation capability to air carriers, and the panel recommends the continuation of this work, in parallel with the development of new technologies for passenger screening.
Air carriers and airport authorities are concerned with the cost of new technologies, although each emphasizes a different aspect of the cost. Air carriers bear the cost of the equipment and the personnel to operate it; they also bear the cost of delays incurred when security screening interrupts the orderly flow of flights. Airport facility operators are responsible for providing appropriate space and other building requirements.
Before implementing new security-screening technologies, both airport operators and air carriers will demand well-supported data showing that the new technologies will add significantly to existing security-screening capabilities. Airports and air carriers will also have to consider carefully whether the new technologies will offset added costs for new equipment by lowering costs for other factors, such as the number of personnel or checkpoints.