How Donald Trump might impact upon the future of aviation and airport security

How will Donald Trump change the the global approach to aviation and airport security? Andrew Farrelly, Co-Founder, CT Strategies assesses the future…

Donald Trump President USA

US President Donald Trump will be inaugurated today, 20 January 2017, after which time his Administration will begin making security decisions related to international air travel to and from the United States.

These decisions will also impact US allies in a common struggle that must currently confront, among other challenges: the flow of foreign fighters to Syria and other parts of the Middle East; the threat of lone-wolf attacks; the smuggling of narcotics and other harmful materials… oh and human smuggling.

“The incoming Administration must make smart investments in technology…”

Addressing these issues requires a strategic security posture that should not compromise the pace of travel flows and resultant U.S. economic gains achieved through foreign visitor spending, which is estimated to have totalled close to $200 Billion USD in 20161. Additionally, the Trump Administration must embrace strategic international partnerships, particularly with European allies, in order to combat transnational threats in the air travel environment. Finally, the incoming Administration must make smart investments in technology that efficiently enable secure international travel as part of its border security agenda.

Managing Risk in the Air Travel Environment

Enabling international air travel securely and efficiently must be balanced through proper risk management of the millions of air travellers or would-be air travellers that are processed by border management authorities every day. Risk mitigation by U.S. authorities relies on collecting and analysing data on individuals prior to their boarding a flight and, if necessary, taking action either before they board or upon arrival at their destination. Data exchanged with foreign border management authorities, along with coordination from the airline industry, is a critical component of this process.

Foreign Partnerships

While critical to interdicting high-risk air travellers, international data-sharing partnerships can be a challenge to create and maintain. One group of challenges involves the difference in federal structures that govern the legal authorities, roles and jurisdictions of U.S. agencies compared to those in its foreign partner nations. Immigration, customs, and counter-terrorism authorities in many foreign countries do not have exact one-for-one counterparts in the U.S.  Additionally, there are differing perspectives regarding how to best balance the privacy of individuals versus state security needs. Therefore, negotiating within these often complex sovereign legal and statutory frameworks can be difficult.

“These decisions will also impact US allies…”

Differing institutional structures and competing political perspectives can often be further exacerbated when attempting to deal regionally or with multilateral organisations such as the European Union. As a key partner in the fight against terrorism, and a location for many global airline hubs, the European Union (EU) stands as a ready partner for the US in further exploiting travel as a means to identify international bad actors.


Fortunately, there are many highly capable career employees at the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the US Intelligence Community (IC), and other US agencies who will stay in their current posts and ensure an effective continuity in a new administration. These individuals will continue to leverage their institutional knowledge and experience in conducting risk management operations while collaborating with partners in Europe and elsewhere.

“The Trump Administration must embrace strategic international partnerships…”

A relatively small number of individuals will take leadership positions in these agencies as part of the Trump Administration. These new individuals must consider the tact and diplomacy needed to negotiate international data-sharing agreements. Effective political leadership will be required to ensure the strengthening of strategic foreign partnerships, including those with our European allies, in order to combat transnational threats. The approach cannot be a unilateral one.

Analysing the Right Data

Additionally, the data collection and analysis of would-be travellers cannot be based on their religion or simply their ethnicity. Setting aside fundamentally important US Constitutional or moral questions raised by such tactics; the type of screening or ‘targeting’ needed to identify high-risk individuals attempting to travel or enter the U.S. is far more complex. This process involves the collection of multiple data points including biographic and biometric data, travel patterns, and other pieces of information synthesised with open source and classified intelligence.

Investing in Technology

Assessing risk in the continuously expanding air travel environment also requires smart investments in technology. International air travel in the US grew from 188.7 million passengers in 2014 to 200.5 million in 20152 and will likely continue to grow at a similar pace in the coming years. In order to process this volume of passengers and their associated data, US CBP Officers require state-of-the-art automated systems, utilising sophisticated risk assessment algorithms.

“The data collection and analysis of would-be travellers cannot be based on their religion…”

The management of emerging biometric technology in the US air travel environment will also be an important issue for the incoming Administration to address. CBP has implemented biometric fingerprint solutions since 2004, but now is testing iris and facial scanning solutions as well. Furthermore, after years of pressuring US CBP to improve traveller exit tracking, US Congress has now allocated $1 Billion USD to the agency to develop and implement a biometric entry/exit matching system.


In 2016, CBP conducted field tests of different biometric technologies at major airports across the US. While certain solutions have proven promising, the new Administration will need to develop the policies and procedures involved with a large scale implementation in the coming years. Doing so while minimising the disruption to travel processing speed will be critical to finding agreement with the airlines and travelling public. Additionally, balancing privacy versus security concerns makes this an even more complex issue. 


The 2016 campaign focused heavily on themes of border security and immigration. However, implementing policies and processes that enhance border security while also enabling the international trade and travel that support the U.S. and other economies of the world cannot be solely focused on border walls and overly-simplified “vetting” of travellers. The process is more complex and requires forward-thinking political leadership, a commitment to international partnerships, collaboration with industry, and the leveraging of smart technology tools.    

About the author

Andrew Farrelly is a Co-Founder and Partner of Washington DC-based consulting firm, CT Strategies, which provides strategic services to clients seeking current and innovative insight into border management and supply chain challenges in the US and around the world.

He is also a former US Customs and Border Protection Official who served in various capacities related to mitigating risk in the international travel and trade environments. 



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One response to “How Donald Trump might impact upon the future of aviation and airport security”

  1. Peggy Rutledge says:

    Thank you Mr. Farelly for a sober and intelligent report of what our government can do when the people who are the career profesionals use combined, multilayered strategies, including high level relationships of mutual trust and respect to protect the United States and our allies. I am concerned with the current administrations lack of experience and apparent low regard for the U.S. intelligence agencies. I have been involved with U.S. Customs & Border Protection for 30 years and I respect the work performed daily at our borders, ports, and airports. Your thoughts are clarion points which this administration would do well to listen, hear and learn what you and other highly respected professionals have to offer.
    Thank you again.

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