Courtesy Reuters

Securing the Skies

A Global Push for Aviation Security

Since its emergence in the waning days of World War II, the international civil aviation system has served as an engine of progress and prosperity -- both in the United States and in many nations around the world. A 2008 study estimated that aviation contributes around 7.5 percent of all global GDP, or $3.5 trillion.

Indeed, aviation may be the lifeblood of global commerce. Every week, 2,500 commercial flights carrying 500,000 people land in the United States from Europe alone; a total of 2.2 billion passengers fly every year, with ten million businesspeople, students, and visitors boarding international flights each week.

But the international aviation system has its weak links, as illustrated by the attempted terrorist attack on a Detroit-bound flight on December 25, 2009.

Although that incident involved a U.S. plane flying into a U.S. city, it was an international terror plot that endangered individuals from at least 17 foreign countries. The alleged attacker, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was a Nigerian citizen educated in the United Kingdom. He received training in terrorist tactics in Yemen, purchased his ticket in Ghana, and flew from Nigeria to Amsterdam before departing for Detroit. In other words, the Christmas Day plot exploited the global aviation network -- and it underscored the reality that, despite decades of advances in screening and significant reforms following 9/11, the network still faces vulnerabilities.

Aviation security, much like other international security challenges, blurs the line between foreign and domestic. Because every airport offers a potential entry point into the global system, every nation faces the threat from gaps in aviation security throughout the world.

The international dimensions of the attempted terrorist attack on December 25 brought new urgency to the need for an international reform agenda. And over the last six months, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has worked with international partners on an unprecedented campaign to strengthen the international aviation system against the evolving threats posed by terrorism.

Since January, DHS -- working closely with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the UN body responsible

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