Transforming Aviation Security


After the events of September 11, 2001, the United States had to forever changed its approach to aviation security, the methods, and techniques used to safeguard aircraft, their passengers, and their crews.

One of the most significant changes was the creation of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the responsibilities they assumed for security operations at commercial airports throughout the United States. For the next decade, essentially all travelers were assumed to have the same level of security risk, and as such, subjected to the same level of security screening. In October 2011, the TSA launched the TSA PreCheck© program—a risk-based security strategy that aligns passenger risk with security resources.

More than six million passengers are enrolled in TSA PreCheck, with an additional seven million travelers participating as members of other trusted populations and many more passengers receiving TSA PreCheck benefits from airlines. Approximately one million passenger screenings at commercial airports across the United States every day are TSA PreCheck qualified passengers. TSA PreCheck screening lanes are available at nearly 450 domestic airports with more than 50 U.S. and major foreign airlines participating. Similar programs patterned after the TSA PreCheck model are functioning in Canada, Germany, Israel, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, extending the application of this concept globally.

Implementing TSA PreCheck is widely heralded as transforming aviation security. The design and implementation of this program relied on operations research to transform an abstract concept into a practical tool. The early work in this area involved collaboration between academia and personnel at the TSA. Dynamic optimization models were formulated and applied to capture and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of aviation security systems. The approach uses real-time assignment policies to adapt to variations in the day-to-day airport threat environment. This combined work provided insights regarding risk-based security, had direct impact on the implementation of the TSA PreCheck system, and laid the groundwork for further academic research on risk-based security assessment.