Safety and Security Hazards/Threats to the Aviation Industry


  1. Critically evaluate the present safety / OR security hazards / treats to the aviation industry and the defenses available to mitigate the risks.
  2. Evaluate the impacts of internal and external hazards/treats on the operation and management of an airline / airports and discuss the safety/security risks to the organization.
  3. Conduct an in-depth research study into a Safety Hazard /Security threat to the aviation industry and present and discuss the findings and your mitigating recommendations in the form of a management report. 

Safety and Security Hazards/Threats to the Aviation Industry

Air transport is one of the largest industries in the world, with over 1 billion people using airline services annually around the globe. Due to the vastness of the industry, it is considered as one of the greatest employers, and as of 2010, it was employing over 2 million people in Europe alone. The safety and security of both the passengers and the crew is a crucial aspect of air transport management (Price and Forrest 2012, 38). Since the commercial aviation industry is a key contributor to the development of the global economy, it is important that safety and security concerns be looked into so as to avoid adverse effects on the utility, economic value, and safety of associated sectors. In the last ten years, numerous accidents have been noted in the aviation industry, with the number being relatively constant (Sweet 2008, 112). However, there has been an increasing magnitude of fear associated with the booming air traffic. In the past, various incidences and failures have been noted before the occurrence of accidents, a key indicator of the existence of flaws in the safety and security management within the aviation industry. The higher number of people using airport facilities each day presents potential targets for crime and terrorist activities. Larger airlines imply higher carrier capacities, which correspond to higher death rates in the case of attacks, a key reason for the frequent use of airplane hijacks as a means of alluring terrorism (Sweet 2008, 117). Due to the aspect of security threats, airport security departments work tirelessly towards preventing the security threats or potentially dangerous situations from occurring. The essay looks into the potential security threats and safety hazards in the aviation industry and the available defense mechanisms to counter them.

Security Threats

Crime and Terrorism

The high number of people within the aviation industry makes it a potential target for crime and terrorist activities. In places where populations are high, it is easier for crime perpetrators to execute their illegal activities since they cannot be easily noticed and also their target commodities, which mostly are valuable items are commonly available in airport environments (International Institute for Counter-Terrorism 2016, 12). Carjackers, picketers and other criminals would thereby target such conditions, with the intention of achieving their goals and in return, posing a security threat to the entire population who use the airport facilities.

On the aspect of terrorism, the actual targets are countries perceived as enemies by the terrorist organizations and only use the aviation industry as a means to deliver their revenge and present their messages due to the sensitivity and vulnerability of the industry.  The industry becomes vulnerable to terrorism due to the high cost of infrastructure; airport facilities and airplanes that are worth billions of money, forming an essential aspect of economic investment which every country would want to protect (Ghobrial and Irvin 2004, 69). Also, the higher number of populations using the facilities depends on the state for their protection as far as security is concerned; a core reason why the terrorists use the industry as a platform for negotiating with enemy states. By managing to take control of an aviation facility, the governments try all means possible to secure its people and property and in return give in to the demands of the terrorists (Baker 2015, 9).

An example of a key terrorist attack on the aviation industry was the September 11, 2001 attack in the United States, when two planes were hijacked and used to attack the countries critical facilities, the aim being to inflict pain and fatalities on innocent civilians in order to achieve its goal of revenging against the US government. Another attack was on October 31, 2015, when a Russian Airbus was brought down by an implanted Bomb in a passenger seat. Since killing a large number of people is an act of heroism by terrorists, the airline industry has always been a target towards accomplishing their missions (International Institute for Counter-Terrorism 2016, 4). The attacks have however, testified the existence of terrorist organizations, and their ability to attack the aviation sector, which to them is an attractive agent considering the psychological and economic effect resulting from such attacks (Price and Forrest 2012, 35). Recently, there has been an emerging trend, where terrorists have recruited airline personnel who would, in turn, sneak weapons into the plane by bypassing security checks. This has complicated the fight against terrorist attacks in the aviation industry. Such recruitments are mostly done through social network platforms and worship areas; approaches that have been noted to provide an unlimited supply of potential recruits. The rising number of global terrorist organizations led by Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, continuously demonstrate a motivation to carry out terrorist attacks on the airline industry; making terrorism the greatest threat to the Aviation Security (International Institute for Counter-Terrorism 2016, 3).

The advancement in information technology through computer developments has facilitated terrorism through cyber terrorism, which is a rising security threat to the aviation industry. The cyberspace is noted to act as a platform for executing attacks against the airline industry (Ghobrial and Irvin 2004, 72). Reports indicate that a cyber security expert was able to hack a plane’s control system while seated in a passenger seat. The hacker is said to have penetrated into the planes internal network due to the widespread use of Wi-Fi technologies within aircraft. After the report, it was noted that the architecture of the planes internal communication network is not secure, thus acting as a security threat considering the real motivations for attack by terrorists (International Institute for Counter-Terrorism 2016, 5). If the flight’s systems can be breached, then the controls can be manipulated, increasing the vulnerability for attacks.

Defense Mechanisms

Most of the crime and terrorist incidences have been accomplished by the use of weaponry by the perpetrators. Travelers have found a way of getting through security checks with weapons into the plane and later using them to hijack or destroy the planes on air or perpetrate attacks within an airport facility. To ensure that travelers do not get into the airport facilities with crude weapons and materials, extensive checks are done through the use of X-ray machines and explosive detectors (International Institute for Counter-Terrorism 2016, 7). However, complaints have always arisen on the infringement of individual privacy rights during the process of seeking materials not allowed within the facilities. Gas chromatography has helped in avoiding such cases due to its ability to detect explosives in human bodies and packages without a physical address.  The use of backscatter X-rays in detecting weapons and explosives ensures that passengers do not get into aviation facilities with such security hazards. Such activities lower the incidence rates of crime and terrorism (Ghobrial and Irvin 2004, 81).

The other approach towards limiting crime and terrorist activities is through the control of movements within airport facilities, whereby non-passengers waiting to board flights should not be allowed to interact with non-passengers a few moments before boarding, and if they should be allowed then all people should be subjected to the same intensity of security checks to avoid loopholes in the system. The security of the entire airport facility can be enhanced through the use of fibre optic intrusion detection system around the perimeter of the airport, capable of locating and reporting intrusions into the airport in real time, allowing security personnel to counter the threat in time as utilised in Dulles international airport and most military bases (International Institute for Counter-Terrorism 2016, 10). On the issue of possible collaborations between terrorists and the airport staff, it is important that individual behaviors be monitored continuously and any suspected change noted. As a means of reducing risk, people employed within airports should have no criminal records and understand the need for safety and security within the environment.

Since aspects of terrorism are considered as external attacks to a particular state, there is a need for assignment of clear operational roles in combating the vice. The military, for example, should be responsible for the security of aviation facilities in situations where terrorism is a critical threat. On the other hand, police officers should ensure security in areas where crime is rampant (Sweet 2008, 118). Deploying the military in domestic cases boosts the confidence of the general public, considering that they are always equipped for the task. An overlap between various security agencies leads to a lack of coordination, creating loopholes within the system and in return, increase vulnerability to terrorism.

Safety Hazards/Risks

Refueling and De-fueling risks

Various safety risks come in hand with refueling and de-fuelling operations regardless of the fuel source. The primary risk associated with the activities is the unintended ignition of the fuel vapor, commonly occurring as a result of a single spark. The fuel capable of increasing the risk of ignition comes from spillages, human errors, failure of pressurized lines, and tank venting. On the other hand, fire sparks can result from static energy due to the movement of fuel within the tank, or surface accumulation (Sweet 2008, 105). Combustion of fuel is a dangerous occurrence as it may lead to the burning of the entire plane, posing a danger to bystanders who include the attendants. The vulnerability of accidents in such situations is high, and hence stringent measures should exist to avoid accidents.

Defence Mechanisms

Since the hazard is presented by fuel leakages/spillage and the existence of ignition components, it is necessary that the contributing factors are well managed and controlled.  It is important that the plane and the general fuel systems are in the right conditions to avoid leakages. The inexistence of fuel leakages implies that the risks of fires are contained. On the other hand, the sources of ignition also need to be avoided during refueling and de-fueling (Price and Forrest 2012, 29). In the case of airplanes, bonding cables should join the installations on the delivery side to those on the receiving side; an activity that should be done before filler caps are removed and should remain intact until refueling or de-fuelling is completed. In cases where there is a lack of static dissipaters, then the rate of refueling should be substantially reduced to avoid ignitions inside the tank as a result of electrostatic discharge. The other means of avoiding fire hazards is through the avoidance of personal electronic devices while handling fuel since they tend to spark sufficient intensities of sparks capable of lighting up fires (Sweet 2008, 113). When all the measures have been put in place, then the safety of the attendants, passengers and the entire plane is guaranteed.

Work Organisational Factors

The aviation industry is a critical industry with a limited means towards earning profits, which are commonly derived from passengers and cargo only. For that reason, there exists an enormous pressure that requires all activities to be done perfectly and within a shorter time span. The demands result in time pressure on the employees, who in turn lose concentration on their work, resulting in errors, stress, and inadequacy in decision making. For example, stress significantly affects the performance of an individual and in the end, cause fatigue (Price and Forrest 2012, 45). On the other hand, violence from aggressive passengers is common considering that the aviation is majorly a service industry, with statistics indicating that at least one in twenty workers are assaulted on their jobs in the airline industry, 80 percent being verbal abuse and twenty percent being threats. The air traffic controllers perform hard and arduous duties with risk factors being load peaks, shift schedules, time pressures, emergency situations, and the lack of control over work (Rodrigues et al. 2012, 231) The flight crew members work in shifts that involve irregular working hours and spending most of the times away from their families, hence affecting family responsibility and personal activities. In general, the aviation industry poses a significant risk of stress on its employees, considering the demanding needs of the industry.

Defence Mechanisms

Work related risks can only be managed through the improvement of working conditions. Since most of the hazards are associated with an individual’s role which results from work pressure, it is important for aviation companies to work towards delivering favorable work schedules, and each member assigned roles within their expectations without being overworked. To manage risks associated with daily duties, it is necessary that enough personnel are employed and well distributed within all the sectors of the organization (Sweet 2008, 109). With enough personnel, it is easier to manage working schedules, hence allowing each employee sufficient time to rest in readiness for a demanding shift. This reduces fatigue and in return improves on personal performance. On the issue of lack of family time, it is important that airline organizations provide the employees with regular leave time to be with their families and as a means of motivation, provide them and their families an opportunity to travel at least once in a year (Price and Forrest 2012, 65). Such undertakings ensure that the employees are motivated and well rejuvenated to take up their responsibilities efficiently and reliably.

Physical Work Factors

The core physical hazards in the aviation industry include noise and vibrations resulting from the taking off and landing of large aircraft, followed by vehicles and ground equipment. Studies indicate that noise from aircraft engines is estimated to rise to about 85dB, creating the risk of hearing losses when one is exposed continuously for more than eight hours, which is common in busy airports and airlines (Price and Forrest 2012, 32). Driving machines majorly used in ground operations exposes the users to whole body vibrations, which have been noted to result in visual disturbances, stomach disorders, balance disorders and reduced fine motor skills in the case of long time exposure. Workers working in the field in adverse environmental conditions are mostly exposed to environmental hazards that include lightning strikes, which can cause severe injury and even death (Price and Forrest 2012, 33). Security screeners get exposed to radiations during their daily roles, although effects have been noted to be lower due to well-shielded systems. Flight crew and the passengers are exposed to the risk of developing respiratory infections due to dry air within the cabin, which has been noted to vary between 25% and 2%. (Price and Forrest 2012, 43). Also, the plane occupants are exposed to cosmic radiations from the space as a result of high altitude flights.

Defence Mechanisms

Physical hazards and their effects can be countered by adopting protective measures and assigning a particular department with the responsibility of ensuring that the devised rules are adhered to by everyone. In the case of noise and vibrations, it should always be mandatory that all employees vulnerable to the risks wear sound protective gear, and those exposed to vibrations limit the time of exposure on a given day through shift schedules as facilitated by the management (Sweet 2008, 121).  Ground employees working in the fields and exposed to the risk of adverse environmental factors should only be allowed to work when the environment is favorable, reducing incidences of vulnerability. The security X-ray scan points should be well protected to reduce instances of radiation leakage to the environment and in the end, affect the operators. Since radiations cannot be entirely contained, it is important that shift schedules be employed in such areas to avoid cases of continuous exposure to radiations (Rodrigues et al. 2012, 241). Flight crew and passengers in planes should ensure that they are continuously hydrated to prevent the effects of dry air within the cabin, and also help in cutting down the effects of cosmic radiation in the case of high altitude flights.

Disease Risks

The high population enclosed within airport facilities, traveling into and out of the airport increase the incidences of spreading diseases. Airborne diseases are a common disease hazard in overcrowded places, and its spread rate is higher, hence making such diseases a risk in aviation environments. People traveling from one region of the globe to another have higher chances of being disease carriers, and in turn spreading them either in planes, airports or to the destination locations (Price and Forrest 2012, 33). Ebola Virus is an example of a disease that has previously had a direct effect on the aviation industry. The spread of the disease is so rampant and can be transferred from one country to another by passengers. The severity and fatalities associated with the disease make it a significant risk in the aviation industry. Passengers originating from countries with the disease outbreak pose a hazard to other passengers and workers within the air transport environment.

Defence Mechanisms

To counter the prevalence and spread of diseases, it is important that all flight crew and airport personnel be vaccinated for identifiable diseases. Also, measures should be put in place to ensure that all passengers traveling to disease prone regions be vaccinated for possible diseases. On the other hand, travelers from disease prone areas should be vigorously tested to avoid the spread of the disease to cleaner regions (Rodrigues et al. 2012, 233). For example, considering the Ebola nature requires stringent measures that ensure the disease is contained within the particular region. Regions with the disease outbreak are quarantined, and in extreme cases, flights into and out of such destinations are suspended until the disease is controlled  (Price and Forrest 2012, 46). To counter disease risks, preventive measures should always be adopted, considering that it is expensive to manage an outbreak.


The aviation industry is prone to various security threats and safety hazards due to its position in the global economy. The sensitivity of air travel makes it a vulnerable target for both crime and terrorism as both the infrastructure and people in such environments are considered of great value to the associated governments and states. The risk of such attacks has adverse effects on the operations of the industry and affects the social and economic status of the affected countries. Other risks and hazards are those associated with work for the employees in the industry as most of the duties are repetitive and demanding. The high expectation increases pressure on the workers, resulting in stress, which in turn affect the productivity of an individual. Physical hazards are common in the airport and airplane environments, ranging from noise risks to the spread of diseases, all which can be managed by adopting preventive measures. If all the security and safety issues are well handled, the aviation industry will remain safer as always perceived.

Reference List

Baker, D. M., 2015. Tourism and Terrorism: Terrorists Threats to Commercial Aviation Safety & Security. International Journal of Safety and Security in Tourism/Hospitality, pp. 1-12.

Ghobrial, A. & Irvin, W. A., 2004. Combating air terrorism:Some implications to the aviation industry. Journal of Air Transportation Vol. 9, No. 3, pp. 68-88.

International Institute for Counter Terrorism, 2016. Trends in Aviation Terrorism. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 18 May 2017].

Price, J. & Forrest, J., 2012. Practical Aviation Security : Predicting and Preventing Future Threats.. In: Burlington: Elsevier Science, pp. 22-78.

Rodrigues, C. C., Cusick, S. K. & Wells, A. T., 2012.. Commercial aviation safety. In: New York, NY : McGraw-Hill Professional, pp. 226-256.

Sweet, K. M., 2008. Aviation and Airport security: Terrorism and Safety Concerns. In: New York: CRC Press, pp. 101-125.

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