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The biggest threat to aviation and port security doesn’t in fact come from terrorism but predominately from stupid choices. Who hasn’t after leaving a party in a ‘steaming’ state thought what a great idea it would be to scale a fence and walk on to an active airfield?

Or why even bother with buying a ticket from San Jose to Maui because you are running away from home when you can climb a fence; hide for a few hours and then gain access to an airplane that’s about to take off?

What is becoming apparent from the thousands of cases around the globe of unauthorised airfield and port incursions is the majority come down to stupidity. Whether it is the late passenger who decides they will ‘run’ to catch up with their plane; the couples who force their way to the dock side to jump the gang plank and not miss the cruise ship or the late-night short-cut home from the bar the physical perimeter seems to be on life support at the majority of world-wide airports and ports.

  • But is it even worth-while trying to stop this? Insurance covers the majority of breaches if someone gets injured. Just ask an airport or port what their liability premiums are and then wait as your eyes water at the cost. Back in 2011 even the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) stated for their manual, ‘Recommended Security Guidelines for Airport Planning, Design and Construction’ that, “Chain link fencing is the most common type of fencing and is often the most cost-effective solution when deterrence, as opposed to prevention of forced entry, is the prime security objective.”

    But fast forward to 2017 and in their updated manual, ‘Security Guidelines for General Aviation Airport Operators and Users’ the advice has changed.

    “Security fencing is the most common means of securing a perimeter. Fencing design, height, and type can vary depending on local security needs. Typically, fences are low-maintenance, provide clear visibility for security patrols, provide added safety by deterring animals from sensitive areas of the airport, and are available in varieties that can be installed in almost any environment.

    “Barbed wire, razor wire, and other available features increase intrusion difficulty. For locations with aesthetic concerns, there are many decorative yet functional styles available, as well as opaque styles that limit public visibility of service, storage, or other non-aesthetic areas. Fencing can vary in design and function based on the facility. Such barriers can range from chain link fencing topped with barbed wire similar to that found at commercial service airports, to a simple split rail fence designed to alert individuals to the presence of the airport operations area.

    “In any case, fencing may not discourage a determined intruder; it can serve to alert airport management to the presence of unauthorized individuals. To derive the most value, a fencing system should be used in conjunction with a “challenge” system or airport watch program.”

  • They go further to state that the fence should provide the following:

    • Gives notice of the boundary of the outermost limits of a facility or security sensitive area
    • Assists in controlling and screening authorized entries into a secured area by deterring entry elsewhere along the boundary
    • Supports surveillance, detection, assessment, and other security functions by providing a zone for installing intrusion detection equipment and closed-circuit television (CCTV)
    • Deters casual intruders from penetrating a secured area by presenting a barrier that requires an overt action to enter
    • Demonstrates the intent of an intruder by their overt action of gaining entry
    • Causes a delay to obtain access to a facility, thereby increasing the possibility of detection
    • Creates a psychological deterrent
    • Optimizes the use of security personnel while enhancing the capabilities for detection and apprehension of unauthorized individuals
    • Demonstrates a corporate concern for facility security


    They then go on to state that any fence should have the following features to enhance the security of the perimeter:

    • Height – the higher the barrier, the more difficult and time consuming to breach
    • Barbed wire – adding barbed wire at the top of the fence increases the level of difficulty and time to breach
    • Eliminating handholds – omitting a rail at the top of the fence makes the fence more difficult to climb
    • Burying the bottom of the fencing – prevents individuals from crawling under the fence line

    Now whilst that may look like what you would expect from an agency tasked with advising on the security of transportation for one of the largest countries in the world the addition of specific requirements is a huge upgrade from 2011.

    But why change it; what’s changed in the 6 years between the documents? Whilst there have been land based terror attacks on a number of airports the route of attack has either been mortar/rocket fire or entry through standard routes. So, the threat doesn’t seem to have changed beyond the severe we have experienced since 2001 so what has?

The key factor seems to point towards stopping the bad publicity that airfield and port breaches have received. Just google for security breaches and you are filled with page after page of reports. Stories like the man who tossed his bicycle over the perimeter fence before pedaling across the runway at Chicago O’Hare and ending up knocking on a terminal door are all too common. This has a knock-on effect on the reputation of both the airport and port as well as the governing agencies who are advising.

Likewise, the cost of closing an airfield due to a security breach can run into the millions. The average cost to close an international airport is around £1,500,000 to £2,000,000 per hour. If you consider that most of these incidents means that airfields and ports need to close for at least 2 hours whilst the incursion is dealt with, that is almost £4mil for each one. With reports of almost 250 reported incidents over 10 years in the United States of America that could top out at almost £100,000,000 a year across the sector.

So, is bad publicity and potential high closure costs a reason for airports and ports to start to look at protecting against stupidity, or is it just one of the costs of operating one of these facilities? What do you think?

Airport and Port Fencing