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Aviation Security

Aviation Security


13 Sep, 2022

Aviation security staff deal with air rage, drunkenness, assault, smuggling and crime, as well as the threat of national and international terrorism. Are you ready to meet one of the toughest challenges of our times?

What is aviation security?

Heightened security continues to make the headlines – and to irritate passengers. The threat posed by knives and other relatively unsophisticated weapons has increased the number of potentially lethal items being found at airports. Other current security concerns include stowaways, espionage, people-trafficking, illegal immigration, theft, sabotage, hijack and environmental protests.

The primary objective of aviation security is to safeguard passengers, crew, ground personnel and the general public against acts of unlawful interference perpetrated in flight or within the confines of an airport. Aviation security officers have two broad responsibilities:

  1. to detect prohibited items, including unauthorised weapons, explosives and incendiary materials, then
  2. to prevent these being carried onboard an aircraft or into a security restricted area.

• The average salary for an aviation security officer in the UK is £25,000.
• The average salary for an aviation security manager in the UK is £50,000.

What skills are needed to work in aviation security?

As well as the key attributes required of any security screener, the most significant difference between domestic security and aviation security lies in the use of technologies that support the underpinning knowledge, like X-ray machines, explosive detection techniques, biometrics, and more. Using such technology, all unknown cargo must be screened to ensure that it does not carry any prohibited articles. Known cargo is sent to the airline by a known consignor, which has been validated by an independent validator appointed by the Department for Transport (DfT). Unknown cargo has to be screened and cleared by a regulated agent or airline before it is permitted to fly.

Transferable skills

The RAF specialises in passenger and cargo aviation – and the accompanying rigorous security. As you’ll no doubt be only too well aware, most Service people spend a great deal of their lives thinking about, planning and implementing security in a variety of environments, and so will already have a great deal of experience in this field. Part of basic and more advanced training in some parts of the Forces is the accumulation of units leading to Security National and Scottish Vocational Qualifications (N/SVQs).



The personal qualities for which people are selected, and which are then developed during military training, are highly relevant. Most Service people will possess many of the skills that security employers look for, and that are easily transferable to this sector:

  • physical fitness
  • ability to patrol an area, taking note of what you see and then writing a report
  • ability to work as part of a team
  • common sense, integrity and courage
  • ability to react efficiently and calmly to the unexpected
  • self-reliance and self-confidence.

How do I qualify to work in aviation security?

Aviation security training may be roughly divided into five main groups:

  1. managers
  2. instructors
  3. cargo and in-flight supplies
  4. aircrew
  5. ground security staff.

Training is generally carried out by qualified instructors in large aviation companies or by a few specialist training providers for smaller organisations without this in-house capability. Students will usually be nominated for a course by their employer – depending on the role they are performing – and it is very unusual for somebody not employed in aviation security to attend a course. So the message is: find the job before attending the course. All students should be subject to criminal record and/or counter-terrorist checks.

Via its aviation security training, the DfT provides aircrew aviation security instructors with the necessary information to enable them to train flight and cabin crews on aviation security (details are published on its website). The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is responsible for developing, with industry, new or revised syllabuses for aviation security training, and submitting these to the DfT for approval. It also has responsibility for training aviation security instructors and managing the UK list of certified instructors. Full details of training courses, learning aids and approved training providers can be downloaded from this page of the CAA website.

Precise details of the programmes delivered by aviation organisations and different providers may vary but the following paragraphs give a general idea of likely course content.

Manager training is generally for people in management positions in airlines and airports. It is run within the industry (there are four training providers) with course content accredited by the DfT. Potential ground security staff instructors may also become qualified through this course, which should be a seven-day in-depth programme covering many aspects of aviation security management, including:

  • threats to civil aviation
  • international and national objectives, and organisation of aviation security
  • recognition of firearms, explosives, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and their components, and other prohibited articles
  • access control
  • contingency planning
  • cargo
  • searching and checking aircraft.

Instructor courses are of two types: air crew and ground crew. Both are run by the DfT, as noted above, although ground security staff instructors may also become qualified through attending manager training.

Cargo and in-flight supplies security training targets a number of different responsibilities, including:

  • managers of security functions and those intending to become trainers
  • supervisors
  • staff carrying out screening, searching, guarding, access control and pass issue
  • other people who may handle or transport air cargo.

Aircrew receive up to a day’s training, which covers in outline:

  • threats to civil aviation and countermeasure philosophy
  • role of police and EOD teams
  • weapons and explosives recognition
  • hijack management and crew response
  • national and regional programmes, contingency planning, airline security programmes.

Ground security staff should receive a detailed programme covering all aspects of the security screening process and access control as required by national and local specifications. Course duration is typically between seven and ten working days, and usually hosted on-site with access to the relevant screening equipment. The course is taken by screeners and supervisors, and should cover such subjects as:

  • the threat, countermeasures and security programmes
  • physical screening of passengers and use of metal detectors
  • recognising explosive devices, detonators, firearms, ammunition, improvised pistols and bladed weapons 
  • X-ray theory, image recognition and operator interfaces
  • health and safety, CCTV operation, radio equipment and secure procedures
  • cabin baggage search theory, prohibited items and confiscation procedures
  • passenger screening, body language, special needs and unattended bags
  • security awareness and dealing with incidents
  • access control principles and systems
  • vehicle search
  • report writing.

Ground security supervisors first qualify as security staff and then undergo a three-day course covering:

  • roles and responsibilities
  • metal detectors and X-ray equipment performance and testing 
  • customer objections and conflict avoidance
  • reporting procedures and requirements
  • emergency procedures.

All people employed and who require an airside pass (whether they have a security role or a role in retail, cleaning, etc.) undergo a General Security Awareness Training Programme, including:

  • the threat
  • their part in securing the airport
  • pass system
  • evacuation procedures.

Ongoing training should include emergency procedures and annual refresher courses.

Use your ELC

Under the ELC scheme, a wide range of learning can be taken, provided it is offered by an approved provider listed on the ELC website and is at level 3 or above. For full details of how to make the most of your ELC, refer to the in-depth features elsewhere on this website.

Finding a job

Airports, airlines, air cargo and in-flight supplies organisations and aviation security companies have their own recruitment systems, and applications should be made directly to the relevant organisation.