National Academies Press: OpenBook
Suggested Citation:"4 OPERATIONAL AND COST ISSUES." National Research Council. 1996. Airline Passenger Security Screening: New Technologies and Implementation Issues. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5116.

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Operational and Cost Issues

Air carriers are responsible for maintaining air travel security. Part of this responsibility entails developing and using a security program that includes screening all passengers. Operationally, this responsibility means that air carriers purchase equipment, design and set up checkpoints covering access to their outbound flights, and hire and train personnel to operate these checkpoints. The costs associated with this security-screening program  include both the securityscreening equipment and the personnel to operate the equipment and to resolve alarms.


For air carriers, quick and inexpensive screening of passengers and carry-on baggage is a major concern. Based on estimates of traveler loads throughout the day at a particular airport, air carriers must purchase and deploy an optimum  number of screening devices and screening personnel. Air carriers often hire independent firms to operate security checkpoints. These firms provide both equipment and personnel, but the ultimate responsibility for security screening remains with the air carriers.

The panel believes new security-screening equipment based on the technologies discussed in this report will be more expensive to purchase than current screening equipment. However, each new technology offers additional capabilities over present screening technologies. Increased costs may be offset or justified if, for example, new equipment requires fewer checkpoints or if fewer personnel can operate the new equipment and resolve alarms. The issue of the cost of implementing new aviation security measures is complicated and involves much more than the cost of the new equipment.

Of course, the new technologies are likely to offer a higher level of security because of their ability to detect a wider variety of threat objects or to target threat objects more specifically. However, in discussing the costs of security screening, it is difficult to estimate the value of a higher level of security. While the panel believes that airport security can, and should, be improved, the appropriate timetable for incorporating new technology into security checkpoints of the future will depend greatly on the perceived level of threat and on the evaluation of all costs associated with the implementation of a given technology.


Operators of airport facilities are also charged with developing and implementing security procedures. The goal of airport operators is to provide a secure environment in which air carriers can operate. This includes offering law enforcement support to air carriers when threat objects are identified through passenger screening procedures.

Airport operators are most interested and concerned with the space requirements of safety and security programs instituted at airports. The space requirement issue encompasses the physical area required to set up or establish a security checkpoint and the area required for the queuing up passengers or baggage. Unusual power requirements or nonstandard equipment needs, such as liquid nitrogen, are also of concern to airport operators. Facility space requirements involve more than simply square footage. Both the three-dimensional volume and the weight of each piece of equipment must be included in the equation for determining the space needed and other location requirements for establishing a screening checkpoint.

Newer designs for airport terminals have taken into account the requirements of passenger screening operations, based on the best estimates of the demands for equipment and operational space and for the queuing space required for projected passenger loads. Equipment and operational space is determined by the number of checkpoints and the size of the equipment the air carrier wishes to install. Queuing space is directly linked to projected passenger traffic, which depends on the size of the aircraft and the number of flights anticipated by the air carrier.

Older airport facilities designed and built before hub operations or passenger screening are often strained to meet current space requirements, especially when changes in operational procedures require additional equipment for each passenger screening point. An example of the effect of procedural changes on space requirements is the need of some air carriers for additional space for a second metal-detector portal for screening passengers who trigger the alarm at the first metal-detector portal.

Suggested Citation:"4 OPERATIONAL AND COST ISSUES." National Research Council. 1996. Airline Passenger Security Screening: New Technologies and Implementation Issues. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5116.

Page 23


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.

Suggested Citation:"4 OPERATIONAL AND COST ISSUES." National Research Council. 1996. Airline Passenger Security Screening: New Technologies and Implementation Issues. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5116.
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Suggested Citation:"4 OPERATIONAL AND COST ISSUES." National Research Council. 1996. Airline Passenger Security Screening: New Technologies and Implementation Issues. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5116.
Page 23
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This book addresses new technologies being considered by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for screening airport passengers for concealed weapons and explosives. The FAA is supporting the development of promising new technologies that can reveal the presence not only of metal-based weapons as with current screening technologies, but also detect plastic explosives and other non-metallic threat materials and objects, and is concerned that these new technologies may not be appropriate for use in airports for other than technical reasons. This book presents discussion of the health, legal, and public acceptance issues that are likely to be raised regarding implementation of improvements in the current electromagnetic screening technologies, implementation of screening systems that detect traces of explosive materials on passengers, and implementation of systems that generate images of passengers beneath their clothes for analysis by human screeners.

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