Towards a higher plane of air transportation security: from hubris to knowledge

Mils Hills, Paul McFarlane

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


Security—in air transportation is an issue of global importance. Since September 11, 2001 there have been numerous events where terrorists have successfully exploited vulnerabilities and weakness in the security system. The authors, both security practitioners and academics—contribute to the discussion of what security in air transportation means—by proposing that the existing system still remains vulnerable to future exploitation by terrorists and other threat groups. The essay proffers a framing device. The meaning of security is considered in terms of our knowledge of the system. It considers air transportation security from the position that our knowledge and understanding is limited by hubris; and explains how this can be improved so that system vulnerabilities are revealed and mitigated against before they are exploited. The essay concerns itself with the notion that air transportation security has a multitude of meanings, and that the system is in a critical state because it is perpetually reliant upon sophisticated technologies to retrospectively plug gaps in the defences. The essay concludes that complexity and hubris create a malign condition—which is not visible to lawmakers, regulators and system designers. And, to improve our understanding of what effective security means we need to look behind the hubristic curtain and grapple with the complexities and vagaries, which are the ingredients to the creation and incubation of system vulnerability and weakness.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Transportation Security
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2014


  • Socio-technical security
  • aviation security
  • air transportation security
  • security vulnerability


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