Airport security challenges faced in the UAE

By Priya Chetty on December 15, 2019

Airports are highly equipped with technology for security issues that ultimately shape a country’s peace and stability.

Airport is the emblem of a ‘globalized world’, acting as a signifier of cosmopolitan and global forms of citizenship. It is, a transnational utopian space of flows where nationality has been abolished and class erased.

Bianchi & Stephenson, 2014, p. 128

Such faith in the aviation security competence was dampened due to the inability of the airport security to prevent hijackers and suicide terrorists from crashing passenger airplanes into the World Trade Centers on September 9, 2011. The incident made the aviation industry worldwide to rethink its security and safety systems.

Airport security systems in the UAE

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) with one of the world busiest airports is not free from security threats. The country emphasizes security as the top priority after the attack on world trade centers (Walker et al, 2010). From an aviation and security standpoint, the 9/11 attack has been largely attributed to the profit-making security firms hiring low-wage personnel who neither have the proper training nor the expertise to conduct security checks (Bianchi & Stephenson, 2014). In order not to succumb to this fatal mistake, countries such as the UAE with its General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) are indulging in securing the best innovation and technology as possible for the airports.

However, the country continues to face many challenges such as failure to integrate all the security and safety systems together under one panel for creating more secure airports.

Challenges faced by airport security in the UAE

The UAE possesses six international airports and other domestic airports with differences in size and capacity (Abed et al. 2005; Walker et al. 2010). Among these, Dubai International airport as the largest enjoys the success of being a hub between the east and the west. Some of the major airlines of the UAE include:

  • Etihad, funded by Abu Dhabi Government.
  • Gulf Air, combined ownership of UAE, Bahrain, and Oman.
  • Emirates, owned by the UAE government based in Dubai.
  • Air Arabia, owned by the Sharjah government.
  • Royal Jet, owned by the UAE-Government.

With its airport as the major international transit and airlines operating in major cities of the world, it has become important for the UAE aviation sector to improve and understand the security challenges.

One of the main challenges faced by the UAE aviation sector in terms of security is its inability to integrate all major airports’ security systems together. Owing to the intense economic and power race, the airports within the UAE have not been able to prioritize their needs. Unlike other global airports, airports in the UAE are managed jointly by the state and the corporates. This leads to tension between security and commerce, rendering citizens difficult to vouch and sway which is better (Bianchi & Stephenson 2014).

Migration and border control concerns at airports of the UAE

Keeping the airport’s authority differences aside, safety and security for the passengers, employees, and stakeholders like any other airports have become a priority for all airports in the UAE (Dubai Aviation Authority 2012). Such safety and security maintenance in the UAE is maintained by airlines and airports collaborating with the GCAA of the UAE and the respective local aviation authority (Dubai Aviation Authority 2012).

The GCAA as the UAE’s aviation regulatory body continues to acknowledge that the UAE maintains a high safety record (Dubai Aviation Authority 2012). According to Raisi and Khouri, among others, the significant security issues faced by the airports of UAE are identity management and verification problems (Al-Raisi & Al-Khouri 2008).

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and its 1987 Comprehensive Security Strategy also stated that the major concern of the security in the GCC regions especially with regard to the airport and coastal areas is the flux of illegal migrants. Such migrations cause demographic imbalance and creates an internal threat to the stability of the region (Gariup 2013). Although the border control system is strict, included in the visa issuing processes, people with illegal documents continue to enter the country.

Innovations in airport security technology of the UAE

In terms of innovations and technology, some of the security challenges faced in the UAE airports include the need to improve equipment such as:

  • monitoring and control devices,
  • functional and active CCTV,
  • warning and signaling devices and,
  • investigative equipment to remain strict while engaging in work like inspection (Walker et al. 2010).

Having said that, the UAE like any other country is well aware of increasing innovations in technologies and equipment systems in the world. The UAE tries to incorporate and use the latest innovative system as possible (Walker et al. 2010).

Furthermore, Abu Dhabi has rolled out a central database system to ensure that there are no illegal entry or re-entry of those who have been deported. Airports in Dubai have their own safety management system, effective since 2011 (Dubai Aviation Authority 2012).

The UAE government also commands iris cameras installed at various border crossings. The iris system is one of the most advanced innovations applied by the UAE government (Al-Raisi & Al-Khouri 2008). Among security system providers, Pacific Controls is one of the leading security providers. Such security improvisation includes activities like checking in, public address, sorting baggage, parking, and gate allocation (Gariup 2013).

In Dubai international airport, the Pacific Controls engages ELV systems (Extra-Low Voltage) to exchange data and to work on Management Light Control System which is an environmentally conscious security issue addressed by the leading international transit (Gariup 2013). In Abu Dhabi, the Al Fahad Group (since 2005) engages in providing security equipment and installation services for airports (Oxford Business Group 2014). The Group also engages in providing surveillance security systems and remote communication systems (Oxford Business Group 2013).

Need for an integrated security system at the airports UAE

The UAE is federation of seven different emirates, each led by a ruler who independently makes policies for the internal affairs of his emirate. The seven emirates together have formed a federal structure of government with the President and the Prime Minister. Matters such as defense, foreign policy, and aviation fall under the federal government. However, airports in each emirate are managed independently by the civil aviation authority respectively. Due to the unique political setup in the UAE, each airport operates individually and adopts policies that are in its best economic interests. Thus the matters such as security and safety including monitoring and control of physical access to sensitive and secure areas and facilities are the responsibility of each individual airport authorities.

This is mainly due to the political and administrative approach adopted by the UAE. Every emirate sets its own policies and acts independently excepting its foreign policy and national defense policies (UAE Interact, 2013). However, following the 9/11 attack and the continual rise in terrorist threats, it has become indispensable for the UAE to integrate all its airport security systems.

Role of Federal National Council (FNC) of the UAE in ensuring passenger safety

From the liberal and neo-liberal stand, securitization of global travel especially in airport checking undermines freedom of movement. It advocates state interference and disturbs the notion of borderless world and global citizenship (Bianchi & Stephenson, 2014). But from a security and safety point of view, it has become a dire necessity for UAE to understand its aviation security system from a broader perspective.

The Federal National Council (FNC) of the UAE in recent years has demanded that the security and safety of the country should be improved. Traffic in terms of illegal migration and trafficking in the country have considerably increased over the years (Salama, 2010). Such increment means that the safety of the citizens should be increased since potential threat becomes more viable owing to the illegal migration influx.


  • Abed, I. Al et al., (2005). The United Arab Emirates Yearbook 2005, Abu Dhabi, UAE: Trident Press Ltd
  • Al-Raisi, A.N. & Al-Khouri, A.M., (2008). Iris recognition and the challenge of homeland and border control security in UAE. Telematics and Informatics, 25(2), pp.117–132.
  • Bianchi, R., & Stephenson, M. (2014). Tourism and Citizenship: Rights, Freedoms and Responsibilities in the Global Order. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
  • Dubai Civil Aviation Authority. (2012). Dubai Airports: Connecting the World. Dubai, UAE.
  • Gariup, M., (2013). Regionalism and Regionalization: The State of the Art from a Neo-Realist Perspective. In M. L. Cilja Harders, ed. Beyond Regionalism?: Regional Cooperation, Regionalism and Regionalization in the Middle East. Hampshire, England: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd
  • Oxford Business Group, (2014). The Report: Abu Dhabi 2014, Abu Dhabi, UAE: Oxford Business Group
  • Salama, S. (2010, June). FNC Demands Better Aviation Security. GulfNew.
  • Walker, J., Butler, S., Schulte-Peevers, A., & Shearer, I. (2010). Oman, UAE & Arabian Peninsula. Abu Dhabi, UAE: Lonely Planet.

Priya is the co-founder and Managing Partner of Project Guru, a research and analytics firm based in Gurgaon. She is responsible for the human resource planning and operations functions. Her expertise in analytics has been used in a number of service-based industries like education and financial services.

Her foundational educational is from St. Xaviers High School (Mumbai). She also holds MBA degree in Marketing and Finance from the Indian Institute of Planning and Management, Delhi (2008).

Some of the notable projects she has worked on include:

  • Using systems thinking to improve sustainability in operations: A study carried out in Malaysia in partnership with Universiti Kuala Lumpur.
  • Assessing customer satisfaction with in-house doctors of Jiva Ayurveda (a project executed for the company)
  • Predicting the potential impact of green hydrogen microgirds (A project executed for the Government of South Africa)

She is a key contributor to the in-house research platform Knowledge Tank.

She currently holds over 300 citations from her contributions to the platform.

She has also been a guest speaker at various institutes such as JIMS (Delhi), BPIT (Delhi), and SVU (Tirupati).