How safe are U.S. airports?

Editor’s Note: Jeff Price is professor of aviation management at Metropolitan State University of Denver, and lead author of “Practical Aviation Security: Predicting and Preventing Future Threats.” The views expressed are his own.

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Jeff Price: There are huge differences in airport security systems around the world

Security personnel must be allowed to make common-sense decisions, he says

CNN  — 

The crash of EgyptAir Flight 804 early Thursday and the recovery of some wreckage Friday was a tragic end to a week that had begun with viral video of huge lines at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints in the United States. These two developments have understandably raised two related questions about aviation security: Are we doing the right things, and are we doing the right things right?

There is a common misconception that aviation security systems throughout the world are essentially the same. However, while commercial airports and airlines share commonalities in certain practices and procedures, there are huge differences in many important areas. And while the International Civil Aviation Organization establishes the standards and recommended practices for all areas of aviation, including airport and airline security, the standards are often overly generalized and can be broadly applied.

Jeff Price

For example, the aviation organization requires that passengers, baggage and cargo be screened, but the methods run the gamut from full body imagers down to a physical pat-down search. X-ray machine functionality and detection capabilities are different throughout the world. Metal detectors remain the predominant form of passenger screening technology, but they still don’t detect explosives. And checked baggage screening can also vary from CT scan-grade technology to the traditional passenger bag-match process.