TMG Insights

1. Urban & Regional Planning 3. Engineering Airport Transportation

Issues in Airport Perimeter Security

Twelve years after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, airports in the United States and across the world have steadily increased their security measures. Today, most major airports are equipped with hi-tech luggage scanners and full body x-ray machines. Tens of thousands of trained security personnel occupy airport terminals to ensure the safety of passengers. Terminals and passenger concourses are now designed and built or retrofitted to accommodate the extra floor space, loading space, scanning equipment and other requirements necessary for this effort. Consequently, securing commercial air travel throughout the United States has been an expensive endeavor, with the Transportation Security Association (TSA) requesting an $8 billion (or greater) annual budget since 2001.

With the commitment evidenced by these investments over the last decade, airport terminals are safer than ever by every considered metric established to measure the threat. However, airport perimeter security remains the weakest link in the security chain. Federal agencies, such as the TSA and the FAA, need to become more aware of this pressing issue.

Recent perimeter breaches

  • In August 2012, a man unintentionally breached the $100 million sensor-equipped security perimeter at JFK International Airport in New York City after his jet-ski broke down in Jamaica Bay and he swam to land.[1]
  • In February 2013 in Brussels, $50 million worth of diamonds were stolen from an aircraft about to depart by eight men disguised as police who forcefully breached the airport’s security perimeter and performed the heist.[2][r1]
  • In August 2013, a Nigerian boy was found in the wheel well of a commercial aircraft headed to Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital.[3]

Since 2001, there have been over 1,300 breaches to airport security perimeters in the U.S. alone.[4]

Challenges in Airport Perimeter Security

  1. Geography: Airports are generally on very large, expansive plots of land. It is a daunting and expensive task to successfully maintain fenced perimeters for such large properties.
  2. Expense: Devices such as dedicated sensors along perimeter fencing allow authorities to be alerted of perimeter breaches.  However, these systems must be operable at all times and in all weather conditions to be effective.
  3. Insufficient Regulation: Without specific guidance from the FAA and TSA, airports must work to assess and counter perimeter threats independently. So far, there has been no unifying perimeter security regulation established for the over 450 commercial airports in the United States.

Best Practices for Designing Efficient Airport Perimeters

  • Taller fences, especially ones equipped with barbed wire, provide not only a greater physical barrier but also a greater psychological disincentive.
  • Fencing should protrude well into the ground to prevent trespassers and wildlife from entering the property from the bottom of the fence. This also reinforces the strength of the fence.
  • Limit the number of points of entry into an airport’s property. The fewer gates or guarded entry points, the fewer opportunities a trespasser has to breach the restricted area.
  • Ground-sensor systems are popular solutions to airport perimeter security issues but may not be feasible for smaller commercial airports (due to cost).

TMG experience in airport fencing solutions

In August, 2013, TMG Consulting completed a perimeter security project that was commissioned by Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (LANOIA). TMG provided professional services to replace the Airport’s perimeter fencing and, with its designs, gave recommendations as to how the perimeter fencing could be made more secure and effective. Among TMG’s recommendations were the following:

  • Make the entire fence eight feet tall and extend two feet into the ground where possible.
    • The upgrades to the perimeter fencing should better deter wildlife (LANOIA is in a naturally swampy environment) from breaching the perimeter.
  • Make the fence able to withstand 130 mile per hour winds in the event of a Category 3 hurricane.
  • Redefine the secure perimeter to remove areas that do not need to be included.
    • Over time, some buildings located within the Airport’s perimeter became vacant or demolished.
  • Replace underutilized gates with fencing.
    • Eliminates excessive access points and increases security.
  • Implement better signage to the perimeter fencing.
    • Should discourage accidental perimeter breaches.

While these recommendations are specific to the LANOIA, the methods and analysis that created them can be applied to any facility that requires perimeter security.  TMG excels at creating focused solutions to perimeter security as well as a host of other airport capital planning needs.

Contributed by:  

Jan Garbers

Director of Geomatics or (504) 569-9239 x25


The views, interpretations, or strategies expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of TMG Consulting. This site is meant for educational purposes only and does not constitute professional advice. TMG Consulting makes no representation as to accuracy, completeness, or suitability of any information on this site and will not be liable for damages arising from its display or use.

[1] Avila, Jim. “Jet Skier Who Exposed JFK Airport’s Security Tried to Get Caught.” ABC News Network, 24 Oct. 2012. Web. 10 Sept. 2013.

[2] Ca Sert, Raf. “Multimillion Dollar Diamond Heist in Brussels.” Associated Press, 19 Feb. 2013. Web. 10 Sept. 2013.

[3] Si, Eno-Aba. “State of Security at Nigerian Airports.” The Guardian, Nigeria, 2 Sept. 2013. Web. 10 Sept. 2013.

[4] US House of Representatives. Office of Congressman William Keating. Perimeter Security: Weakest Link in Airport Safety. N.p., 1 Mar. 2012. Web.

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