Art Kosatka, the CEO of the Maryland-based aviation security consulting firm TranSecure, moved into the private sector in 2002 after a five-year stint in security policy and planning with the FAA and the Transportation Security Administration. With airport security very much on people's minds these days in the wake of the Brussels airport attack last month, Airline Editor Robert Silk sat down with Kosatka to get his take on what can and can't be done to make airports safer.
Q: Your firm specializes in planning and designing the physical security systems of airports. In the wake of the attack on Brussels' airport, is there anything that can be learned?
A: It's a lesson that we've been staring at for years and years. There's no such thing as total security. Just varying degrees of insecurity. My major point about Brussels is that they walked into a public building from off the street. There isn't security in a mall, a church or any building from off the street. You just don't have the ability to track every person at every point in time.
Q: OK, so we can never guarantee foolproof security. But what do you do as an airport security planner to protect airport access?
A: We will do a vulnerability assessment. We'll look at Denver, which has 53 miles of perimeter. Do you really need cameras out there on the outer edge of the fences? If you do indeed have a point along the perimeter where you think you need a camera, you also need lighting out there, 14 miles from the airport. That's a hell of an expense.
Generally speaking, there's a budget and there's a lot of different technologies you can employ. But what's the vulnerability?
Q: Compare securing the perimeter of Denver to securing a tight urban airport such as LaGuardia.
A: At [New York] LaGuardia, there's a lot of places along the perimeter fence where you can practically reach out and touch the plane.
Q: And how does that change the security logistics?
A: The answer is the mantra that you'll hear in the airport business over and over: When you see one airport, you've seen one airport because they're all different.
Q: What do you believe is the world's biggest threat to global aviation security?
A: The one that you hear a lot about, and I'm not certain it's the biggest threat, is what's termed the insider threat, the guy that is working at the airport who has access to the secured area.
[New York] JFK has 53,000 people with ID badges that allow them access to the secured areas.
Are you really comfortable with all 53,000 people? We hope you are because there is a process in place they have all gone through, and it's a pretty rigorous process.
Q: What is a threat to global aviation that no one is talking about?
A: I'm not sure we've missed anything as far as talking about it. It's bad guys who want to bomb or bad guys who want to hijack. Are the bad guys trying to blow up the airplane, or are they trying to blow up the airport?
We have to get it right 100% of the time. The bad guy only has to get it right once. And you spend a humongous amount of resources trying to get it right 100% of the time.