Richmond International Airport Potential Threats and Vulnerabilities Analysis

Airport Assessment – Richmond International Airport

            Richmond International Airport is the biggest airport in Virginia located in Sandston, 6 miles East of Richmond. The airport has been operational for 95 years and it currently attracts more than 3 million passengers each year (“Airport information,” 2022). The purpose of this report is to analyze all the threats and vulnerabilities at the airport. The report will identify stakeholders responsible for ensuring security and implementing prevention and risk management measures. The analysis will also lead to the identification of underlying threats and potential hazards. In addition, the analysis will inform a description of vulnerabilities based on potential impact and the likelihood of occurrence.

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Stakeholders Responsible For Ensuring Security, Prevention, and Risk Management

            Various stakeholders are involved in ensuring security, prevention, and risk management at an airport. The stakeholders include data protection personnel, physical security and safety personnel, crisis management team, Information technology (IT) security personnel, and emergency operations team. The data protection personnel is responsible for protecting the airport’s data. The team collaborates with the IT security personnel to ensure the implementation of measures geared towards ensuring data stored in both physical and digital forms is secure. The physical security and safety personnel is responsible for screening the people and cargo that pass through the airport. The crisis management team implements security measures aimed to prevent security crises and manage crises effectively when they occur. The emergency operations team is responsible for responding to unforeseen security crises when they occur, such as responding to security crises resulting from an unforeseen natural hazard (Forrest & Price, 2016). Notably, the stakeholders operate in a complementary fashion to ensure a holistic framework for ensuring security, prevention, and risk management. For instance, the IT security personnel complements the physical security personnel by ensuring the airport is secure from online threats while the latter handles physical threats.

Threat Assessment

Natural Threats and Hazards

Natural threats to the airport include severe weather. It is worth noting that severe weather can occur at any time affecting travel conditions and, as a result, posing a safety threat to the flight. According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), severe weather is the leading cause of flight delays in the US. Severe weather events include massive storms such as hurricanes, thunderstorms, snow storms, earthquakes, volcanic ash, and tornadoes (“Severe weather and natural disaster preparedness,” 2022). Severe weather events increase the probability of other factors, such as high winds, flooding, damages to the airport, and power outages, among others coming into play. Consequently, this can lead to the occurrence of severe flight failure (Gultepe et al., 2019).

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Accidental Threats and Hazards

            There are numerous potential accidental causal factors in aviation. The FAA has a list of the most frequent factors for general aviation accidents in the past two decades. They include factors related to the pilot’s command area, such as failure to maintain flying speed, improper level-off, mismanagement of fuel, misjudgment of speed and distance, et cetera. Two, radio altimeter anomalies; harmful radio frequency interference can negatively impact the functioning of the radio altimeter consequently posing a serious risk to flight safety. Three, operating visual flight rules (VFR) in congested areas; according to the FAA, a high percentage of near midair aviation collisions occur within 30 miles of an airport and below 8,000 feet above ground level (AG). This is due to the operation of VFR in highly congested areas (“ENR 5.7 potential flight hazards,” 2022).

Four, obstructions to flight; below 500 feet AGL, many structures exist that can significantly affect the safety of a flight. Five, antenna towers when flights are flying below 2,000 feet AGL. Six, overhead utility and transmission wires. Overhead wires may not always be readily visible and can be impossible to see under certain weather conditions. Seven, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). There are various categories of UAS including airplane, rotorcraft, powered-lift, and lighter-than-air, which if they come to a flight’s path may create a potentially dangerous situation (“ENR 5.7 potential flight hazards,” 2022).

Malicious Threats and Hazards

            The two most common malicious threats are physical terrorist attacks and cyberattacks. Physical threats include terrorist attacks on either the airport or its flights. Terrorists can either launch an attack on the airport itself targeting to harm the many people that utilize the airport every day or board a flight to execute their terrorism plans (Wolniak, 2019). Cyberattacks involve cybercriminals utilizing various types of attacks to harm the airport. The attacks can target to steal sensitive airport or customer information or introduce a virus to the airport’s database. Cybercriminals can also hack the airport’s information systems to gain control of crucial operations hence posing a serious security threat (Suciu et al., 2018). Thus, both physical terrorist attacks and cyberattacks are motivated by malicious intentions.

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Vulnerability Assessment

Figure 1. Assessment of impacts of potential threats/hazards

Severe WeatherCatastrophic
Factors related to pilot command areaCritical
Radio altimeter anomaliesCritical
Operating VFR in congested areasCritical
Obstruction to flightCatastrophic
Antenna towersCritical
Overhead utility and transmission wiresCritical
Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)Critical or Catastrophic (depending on the size of the UAS)
Flight failureCritical or Catastrophic (depending on the type of failure)
Physical terrorist attacksCatastrophic

Figure 2. Assessment of the likelihood of occurrence of potential threats/hazards

Severe WeatherLikely
Factors related to pilot command areaPossible
Radio altimeter anomaliesPossible
Operating VFR in congested areasPossible
Obstruction to flightLikely
Antenna towersPossible
Overhead utility and transmission wiresPossible
Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)Likely
Flight failureUnlikely
Physical terrorist attacksLikely
CyberattacksHighly likely


The assessment demonstrates that there are multiple stakeholders responsible for ensuring security, prevention, and risk management at Richmond International Airport. The stakeholders work in collaboration in a complementary fashion. Moreover, there exist numerous potential threats to the airport’s security and safety. The threats and hazards can be grouped into three categories namely natural, accidental, and malicious. The threats/hazards have varying characteristics with regard to their potential safety impact and the likelihood of occurrence.

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