Airport terminal buildings are vulnerable to terrorist attacks and may be the top threat area because hardened security has made it difficult to attack an aircraft, a leading terrorism expert says.
Former FAA security chief Billie Vincent says some airports are defenseless against vehicle bombers and suicide bombers, who either operate singly or in a coordinated attack. He has been pressing security officials to increase surveillance against airport attacks in a white paper he presented last October to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and to U.S. officials.
Vincent spoke to Aviation Week as efforts were underway to determine what happened at Moscow Domodedovo Airport, where a blast killed 35 people and injured more than 150 others Jan. 24.
Until yesterday, the most recent bomb attack on a terminal took place at Glasgow Airport in Scotland June 30, 2007. A vehicle was driven into the façade of Terminal 1 by two terrorists, both medical doctors. The attack caused damage to the terminal but was regarded as a failed attempt.
“With all the glass you have in terminal buildings, it’s an invitation to disaster,” Vincent says. “We counsel clients over the years that they need to do something about this.” He’s concerned that in many airports a bomber could walk into a terminal with a primed bomb in a suitcase and not be recognized.
Security regulations and procedures for processing vehicles and people continue to ignore the threat, says Vincent, president and CEO of Aerospace Services International, Inc., Chantilly, Va. In his white paper, he singles out architects and engineers who fail to take security into account when designing buildings, and he is critical of security officials for not addressing the vulnerabilities at airports.
He advocates a strong security focus on protecting the terminal and travelers that includes surveillance and assessment of vehicles as they are driven onto approach roads leading to terminals. He advocates inspection of suspect vehicles and construction of below-ground and above-ground barriers that could halt an attacking vehicle.
Security officials in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel have taken steps to conduct a pre-airport check on vehicles “because they realize the order of magnitude of that threat,” Vincent says.
Vincent received letters from ICAO and U.S. officials acknowledging and thanking him for his perspectives and alert to the threat.