Aviation Security

Immediate Action Needed to Improve Security Gao ID: T-RCED/NSIAD-96-237 August 1, 1996

The 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am flight 103, which killed 270 people, and the more recent, but as yet unexplained, explosion aboard TWA flight 800 have shaken the public's confidence in the safety and the security of air travel. GAO testified that the threat of terrorism against the United States has increased and that aviation is and will remain an attractive target for terrorists. Although the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has mandated additional security procedures as the threat of terrorism has changed, domestic and international aviation systems remain vulnerable. For example, conventional X-ray screening of checked baggage has limitations and offers little protection against moderately sophisticated bombs. Explosive detection devices are commercially available for checked and carry-on luggage and could improve security, but all the devices have shortcomings. Some of the devices are already in use in foreign countries. Other devices are in various stages of development. A mix of technology and procedures will likely be needed to improve security. FAA estimates that the cost of introducing new technology and other methods to counteract terrorism, such as targeting for additional security checks those passengers who meet profiles associated with terrorist groups, could cost as much as $6 billion over 10 years. To improve security, Congress, FAA, the intelligence agencies, and the aviation industry must agree on the steps to take to counter terrorism and how to pay for the new security measures.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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