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Large Aircraft Security Program: Full Body Scanners


The last ten years have seen an increase in attempted and successful terror attacks that have been implemented through the use of aircraft. It has therefore been prudent for the development of programs and measures to mitigate the ever-increasing threat of air traffic terrorism. Following the 9/11 attacks, the Transport Security Administration was birthed to coordinate and implement measures around the US airspace aimed at preventing the recurrence of the 9/11 events.

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Among the programs that have been developed by the TSA to combat terrorism include the Large Aircraft Security Program (LASP). TSA has also labored to ingrain the use of Full Body scanners at airports around the US and other areas. While coming up with measures designed to mitigate terrorist attacks carried out by the aid of aircraft, a range of issues have surfaced that include: Privacy concerns, ethical concerns, legal concerns and doubts on the effectiveness of the intended programs among other issues.


Security is an issue that is increasingly gaining importance in the aviation industry. In recent years, a new dimension in aviation security has emerged-the threat of terrorism. Since the twin tower attacks, the devastating effects that can result from the capacity of terrorists to use airplanes in their attacks have become more vivid. The reality of this threat has compelled relevant parties including governments and aviation regulatory bodies to develop measures aimed at mitigating the threat of air terrorism. Among the programs that have been conceptualized in this direction of mitigating air, terrorism is the Large Aircraft Security Program.

Among the tools that have been embedded in this program is the use of full-body scanners designed to detect any weapon that can be used by air terrorists. The use of such a tool as a full-body scanner and security programs such as the LASP interferes with the privacy of air travelers and raises legal and ethical concerns among other issues.

Main body

Large Aircraft Security Program (LASP) Intends to galvanize and unify security measures in the whole aviation Industry (Johnson, 2009). LASP is mainly a framework that would bring the security management of aircraft weighing 12,500 pounds and above at takeoff under the watch and management of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) (Johnson, 2009). Aircrafts weighing at least 12,500 pounds at takeoff would therefore be legally compelled to implement measures of security proposed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) (Thurber, 2009). In summary, aircraft with a takeoff weight of at least 12,500 pounds at take-off are required to implement the same security measures that currently apply to large aircraft: charter planes and scheduled flight planes (Thurber, 2009)

Under the LASP program, aircraft that weigh at least 12,500 pounds at takeoff would be forced to comply with a host of rules that will apply under the Large Aircraft Security Program (A proposed rule by the transport security administration, 2008). It will not be possible for these aircraft to move passengers or goods before they have been allowed by the TSA (Hyle, 2010). Besides, aircrafts weighing at least 12,500 pounds at takeoff would also be compelled to have a security staff that would oversee a security program proposed by TSA (Johnson, 2009). They would also be required to screen their passengers against a list of terrorists held by the government.

The screening will also apply to crew members (Hyle, 2010). Moreover, a range of other requirements including screening of crew and passengers to detect any potential weapon that may cause a security threat will have to be adhered to at the airports where these aircraft would operate (Hyle, 2010).

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The main purpose of the large aircraft security program has been to enhance security as the threat of aviation terrorism is mitigated (A proposed rule by the transportation security administration, 2008). The 9/11 attacks led to the development of precise security programs that have been so far adopted and implemented by large aircraft carriers (Charter and scheduled flight aircraft) (McFarren, 2009). Dealing with terrorists however requires a careful strategy that can foresee any avenues that can be available to the enemy in the future (A proposed rule by the transportation security administration, 2008).

As the capacity of terrorists to carry out attacks through commercial, charter and military aircraft has been limited by security programs (a collection of measures designed to limit terrorist activities) that have been adopted, they will try to use aircraft in general aviation (A proposed rule by the transportation security administration, 2008). It is therefore prudent to develop a program such as the large aircraft security program which is designed to shelter aircraft in general aviation, many of which weigh at least 12,500 pounds at takeoff, from the use of terrorists.

Many aircraft in general Aviation (non-commercial and non-military aircraft) are not regulated under any comprehensive security program overseen by the TSA (A proposed rule by the transportation security administration, 2008). Without regulation, aircraft in general aviation will therefore remain a potential tool for terrorists (A proposed rule by the transportation security administration, 2008).

For example, like the 9/11 attacks, they can be used to bomb buildings, resulting in catastrophic fatalities. By implementing the Large Aircraft Security Program, the federal government expects to increase the number of aircraft in general aviation whose security is regulated by TSA to over 10,000 from the current meager figure of just 650 (A proposed rule by the transportation security administration, 2008) Increasing the number of aircraft under a TSA regulated security program means that more aircraft are implementing a collection of measures that have been designed to limit their abuse by terrorists (McFarren, 2009).

Although the Large Aircraft security program has been proposed as a framework that would enhance security, several parties in the aviation industry including business organizations, pilots and air travelers have raised a range of issues on the program (Thacker, 2009). One of the concerns on the Large Aircraft Security programs is the financial strain that would be placed on small companies and organizations that possess a fleet of small aircraft which, unfortunately, fall under the LASP (Johnson, 2008). Examples of such aircraft include Lear Jet 350A, Beech Jet 200, Hawker 800, and King air 200 among others (Johnson, 2008). Such aircraft are normally operated by departments that consist of a small staff of about four individuals.

Under LASP, such departments would be compelled to expand their staff to accommodate security employees (Johnson, 2008). Such a move would strain resources. It has even been argued that TSA has not so far carried out a comprehensive study to paint a clear picture of the financial strain that would come with additional safety programs proposed in LASP (Thacker, 2009). Moreover, the current economic difficulties have already stretched the financial resources of many organizations including those with fleets of small aircraft (Thacker, 2009).

In many cases, small aircraft carriers transport small (ten people and below) groups of passengers that are well known to them (Johnson, 2008). Oftentimes, these passengers consist of their friends, relatives, or employees from well-known organizations (Johnson, 2008). People who choose to travel through small aircraft will prefer this alternative as opposed to commercial airlines to avoid the inconveniences of screening and a host of other procedures required for traveling within charter and commercial flights (Thacker, 2009). Implementing screening procedures at airports with small aircraft activities and scrutinizing their records against the government data list of terror watch sounds impractical here (Johnson, 2008). After all, these are travelers that are well known to the crew and company of the aircraft that they frequently use to travel.

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The Large Aircraft Security Program may end up limiting the activities of customers that board small aircraft. One of the measures that have been adopted by Unger LASP is the prohibition of any materials or tools that can be used as weapons on board (Johnson, 2008). Many small aircraft have an in-built baggage area inside the cabin that can be utilized to be of use to travelers (Johnson, 2008). Travelers in small aircraft may be moving to a leisure outing that would necessitate the carrying of tools like a golf stick (Johnson, 2008). Unfortunately, under LASP, such a tool would be detected as a weapon that can be used by terrorists. In the process of implementing LASP, It is clear that certain privileges enjoyed by small aircraft travelers will increasingly become limited (Large aircraft security program: a threat to all, 2010).

In one of the comments that it submitted to the Transport Security Administration, the Air Transport Association of America was concerned about the intention of TSA in controlling and regulating an aviation segment that was already under measures of control to enhance security (Thacker, 2009). Many aircraft with a take-off weight of at least 12, 500 pounds are already under security measures that are regulated and controlled by the Aircraft operator standard Security program (AOSSP) and the Private Charter Standard Security Program (PCSSP) (Thacker, 2009).

Since Different segments like commercial and private segments in aviation have some differences and unique attributes (like passenger capacity and ownership), it is practically hard to bring all these segments under a single umbrella of a single security program, as has been proposed by the TSA (Johnson, 2008).

One of the main issues that have been raised against the Large Aircraft Security Program is the issue of privacy (TSA proposed rulemaking-large aircraft security administration, 2008). The measures that have been proposed in LASP intrude in one way or another with the privacy of pilots, crew members, air travelers among others (TSA proposed rulemaking-large aircraft security administration, 2008). Many players in aviation including pilots among others view LASP measures with a sense of unease and suspicion as their privacies and freedoms decrease, as many laws of prohibition are added to the already existing stack of uncomfortable regulations that apply currently in the aviation industry (McFarren, 2009).

Many regulations including those that require a host of procedures like screening and employment of security staff by aircraft operators will limit the movement of air passengers (Large aircraft security program: a threat to all, 2010).

This limitation of air travel would be a reaction to an increase in travel costs, cumbersome processes that need to be endured by air travelers among other negative catalysts (Large aircraft security program: a threat to all, 2010).

As it has been proposed under the Large Aircraft Security Program, affected aircraft would be compelled to subject their passengers and crewmen to screening processes intended to detect any tools or materials with the potential of implementing terrorist attacks (Cavoukian, 2009). Full-body scanning is considered the most effective screening procedure in detecting weapons that can be physically employed to carry out attacks by terrorists (Cavoukian, 2009). Many airports are incorporating full-body scanners as supplements and complements of other scanning tools like metal detectors among others (Cavoukian, 2009). Full-body scanners use technologies that produce an image of the whole outline of the body, including naked details of a person just as a person can be seen without any clothing (Abeyratne, 2010).

Two techniques that are commonly employed by full-body scanners include Backscatter and Millimeter-wave techniques. In the backscatter technique, an X-ray beam of low intensity is shone on the body of a person (Cavoukian, 2009). X-ray reflections that come from the person’s body are then used to form a two-dimensional image of the person’s body (Cavoukian, 2009). The millimeter-wave technique employs radiofrequency waves that do not ionize, to capture radiations from the surface of a person’s body (Cavoukian, 2009). The captured radiations are then used to form a three-dimensional image of the person’s body surface.

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Several airports are already employing the use of full-body scanners to detect potential weapons that can be used by terrorists (Cavoukian, 2009). Examples of Airports in the United States in possession of full-body scanner technology include Chicago, Kansas City, Miami, Los Angeles among other airports (Cavoukian, 2009). Heathrow Airport in London, New Delhi airport in India, among other airports around the world have also Incorporated the technology of full-body scanners (Cavoukian, 2009). In the United States, the TSA has already set out a timeline of installing full-body scanners at airports in United States (Abeyratne, 2010).

It has been argued by TSA that full-body scanners are the most effective and superior tools that can be employed to detect any physical material or object that can be used by terrorists to carry out air attacks (Cavoukian, 2009). Indeed the significance of full-body scanners soared following the attempted Christmas bombing in 2009 (Abeyratne, 2010). In this particular incident a person onboard a plane that was scheduled to the United States unsuccessfully attempted to detonate an explosive device that had been carefully hidden in the person’s underwear (Abeyratne, 2010).

The United States and other countries were thus taken back to the drawing board as the vulnerability of the aviation industry came to the fore again. The use of full-body scanners has therefore been thought to be an effective solution to this vulnerability- primarily because of its capacity to detect any dangerous materials in a terrorist’s possession. It may soon become a rule for any air traveler to be subject to full-body scanners (Cavoukian, 2009).

A full-body scanner becomes a better option for physical searches by airport personnel that may include demeaning treatments like strips in the searching process (Cavoukian, 2009). Many travelers would most likely prefer to undergo searches by full-body scanners rather than face strip searches (Cavoukian, 2009). The method of employing non-harmful and non-ionizing radiations in the full-body scanning process makes this technology medically safe to use (Cavoukian, 2009). It has therefore been claimed by TSA, medical researchers among others that there are very minimal medical risks if any that can arise from the use of full-body scanners (Abeyratne, 2010).

The main issue that has been raised about the application of full-body screening is that it intrudes on a person’s privacy (Abeyratne, 2010). In 2008, the European Parliament rejected an appeal by the European Commission to add full-body scanners at airports around Europe as a safety security measure (Cavoukian, 2009). In rejecting this appeal, the European Parliament noted that the fundamental rights of privacy would be abused through the use of full-body scanners technology (Cavoukian, 2009).

Considering that full-body scanners process a detailed naked image of a person, they can be considered as strip searches, exposing the private areas of a person (Abeyratne, 2010). The full-body scanner technology must be precisely tailored to prevent exposure of private areas of a person under scanning, to guard privacy rights (Cavoukian, 2009).

The use of full-body scanners presents moral, ethical, and legal issues to a spectrum of its users, including, air travelers, the government, and airport searchers (Abeyratne, 2010). The right to privacy is one of the most important liberal rights not just in the American constitution, but in many other constitutions around the world as well. Although the interpretation of the right to privacy in the fourth amendment is subject to many interpretations, as it applies to full-body screening, we cannot deny the fact that many people are feeling that the spirit of the fourth amendment in the American constitution is practically trudged upon when a person is subjected to full body scanners-that reveal naked details of their bodies (Cavoukian, 2009).

The Federal government has been careful to exploit technical aspects of the law, by for example ensuring that it does not directly conduct full-body searches, hence, the subjected person does not need to consent to these searches (Abeyratne, 2010). Americans and the global community are slowly losing their capability to prevent their governments from abusing their rights, including the right to privacy. If this trend continues, with time, more of our rights will be abused by our governments in the disguise of security; and we do not know where this will lead to (Cavoukian, 2009). Moreover, based on our cultures, religious and conscious inclinations, the majority of us consider exposing our private areas or viewing that of others as unethical (Abeyratne, 2010).


The threat of air traffic terrorism is real. Thousands of lives have been lost through terrorist attacks that have been implemented by the use of air traffic. Even more dangerous is the potential threat of air terrorism, where millions of lives can be at potential risk of a well-planned and coordinated attack. One important concern that we need to remember as we implement measures tailored to precisely mitigate the threat of terrorists is to ensure that we do not act in haste, fear, or pure emotion. It is required that we implement logical measures that respect our inherent values and laws in our societies. A challenge that is likely to remain for a long time to come would be; the merging of efforts tailored to fight terrorism together with efforts tailored to preserve our values, our beliefs and our constitutions.

Reference List

Abeyratne, R. (2010). Full body scanners at airports-the balance between privacy and state responsibility. Journal of Transport Security, 3, 73-85. Web.

A proposed rule by the transportation security administration. (2008). Transport Security Administration. Web.

Cavoukian, A. (2009). Whole body imaging in airport scanners: Activate security filters to achieve security and privacy. Web.

Hyle, J. (2010). The disaster that is LASP. Web.

Johnson, K.R. (2008). TSA proposes large aircraft security program. Web.

Large aircraft security program: A threat to all! (2010). EAA. Web.

McFarren, L. (2009). TSA’s large aircraft security program. Web.

Thacker, S.E. (2009). Comments of the air transport association of America. Web.

Thurber, M. (2009). TSA may change LASP. Web.

TSA proposed rulemaking-Large aircraft security program. (2009). Aviation news. Web.

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