In 50 years’ time, there may not be an airport security checkpoint. At least not a visible, physical gateway between airside and landside.
In the meantime, the Smart Security program, a joint initiative of IATA and the Airports Council International (ACI), has outlined a roadmap through 2020 that seeks to minimize passenger wait times while maintaining high levels of safety at the checkpoints that are still the nadir of many travel experiences.
New body scanners, carry-on baggage x-rays machines, new throughput processes, and pre-airport checks all seek to improve the fl ow of people and bags through the checkpoint.
“By 2020, the lines will not be as long as they are today,” says Guido Peetermans, IATA’s Smart Security Program Manager. “There will be a much more continuous process. The Smart Security vision is a checkpoint that will be faster, more convenient, and less intrusive to passengers, while at the same time being operationally efficient for the airport and more secure through the use of risk-based measures.”
Smart Security is a blending of IATA’s Checkpoint of the Future and ACI’s Better Security parallel programs. Inspired by the ICAO High-Level Security Conference in 2012, IATA and ACI announced a memorandum of understanding (MoU) last December and adopted the Smart Security name.
“It’s a matter of pooling resources rather than having separate streams, and that makes a huge diff erence,” says Michael Rossell, ACI’s Director of ICAO Relations. “I think we were always philosophically aligned on this.”
The initiative is guided by a Smart Security Management Group, comprised of five airlines, five airports, and five regulatory representatives, including the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Australian’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). A larger Smart Security Working Group incorporates technology solution providers.
From chokepoint to checkpoint
Phase 1 of the project has enabled some important lessons to be learned. Smart Security is looking at relocating x-ray monitoring personnel to a centralized image processing location away from the passenger queue, for example.
At Gatwick Airport, throughput almost tripled compared with traditional processing. Instead of one individual at one station monitoring one bag, images are relayed to camera operators in a separate room. The next image is relayed to the next available operator. If an x-ray operator observes a potential problem, the bag can be sent back for re-processing. Or it can be routed to a “diverter lane,” where security personnel can perform a manual inspection with the passenger.
This enables a continuous feed of bags down the belt, and precludes bags with anomalies from turning the checkpoint into a chokepoint.
The project at Gatwick also showed that sufficient space may be needed for bag outflow, especially if diverter lanes are added. The length of the Gatwick gateway was 27 meters. Peetermans says some airports with space restrictions may consider turning the design 90 degrees to achieve efficiencies.
Another concept being considered for the front end of the queue is for passengers to use personal tables for removing liquids, laptops, belts, and the suchlike, rather than doing it in line. They could then take their tray to the next-available bag belt. “It’s operationally more efficient, and it takes pressure off the passenger,” says Peetermans.
Demos in the queue
Smart Security is now transitioning into its second phase. “Over the past couple years, we were mainly focused on some bits and pieces that we were researching and testing individually—technology components, processes, concepts,” Peetermans explains. “Now we’re getting to the point where we’re starting to bring multiple components together.”
Amsterdam Schiphol, London Heathrow, and Doha Hamad airports have initiated or will be conducting variations of three to sixth month trials of integrated technology-process concepts. Airports in Asia and North America may also participate in demonstration projects.
Process planners evaluate bags and people as separate linear streams, since passengers divest of their carry-ons prior to entering the scanner line.
For bags, one new technology being trialed is 3D x-ray machines, coupled with more advanced automatic threat recognition software algorithms. Instead of a single x-ray source, the 3D machines incorporate both vertical and horizontal rays. “You have a much better chance of seeing things and much less chance of people being able to conceal objects,” Rossell says. If the new hardware and software is successful at better identifying the contents of a bag “so you’re only looking at anomalies,” it could be possible for passengers to leave their laptops, tablets, and other electronics in the bag rather than removing them for separate scanning.
The 3D x-ray devices have similar dimensions to existing 2D machines, using many of the same belts, drives, and other components, and scan at similar rates.
Technologies that could efficiently scan liquids inside a bag are still a few years away, according to Peetermans.
Expediting people flow
For processing people, the trend is to replace walk-through x-ray scanners with active millimeter wave (MMW) full-body scanners. These can detect non-metal threat items and don’t come with the same perceptions of health concerns.
Airports in the United States and elsewhere are already using the MMW scanners, which could well become the technology of choice.
The new scanners can process, in theory, up to 5–6 passengers per minute at 10–12 seconds each to step in, raise their arms, scan, and step out. That is about 360 passengers per hour. X-ray metal detectors process about 150 passengers per hour due to the number of follow-up searches.
Depending on the number of alarms that need to be resolved, a realistic throughput rate for the new system is probably 250–300 passengers per hour per scanner. Having extra staff available in the outflow area will help to reduce the back-up congestion that is inherent in a single-queue process.
The millimeter wave scanners do not reveal the type of naked body images produced by backscatter x-ray scanners that prompted public outrage. Instead, the operator sees a stick figure with any detected anomalies highlighted by yellow boxes. Security personnel can then limit their pat-down to those areas of the body highlighted by the scan, avoiding the full-body pat-downs, which both passengers and security personnel have found awkward and at times even offensive.
Another future consideration is explosive trace detection. Rossell says research is being undertaken including randomly taken swabs of places on the body or objects, such as a passport, belt buckle or shoes. As part of a differentiated risk approach, flight crews might be tested with a single swab, clearing the crew as a group.
Smart Security is also exploring pre-airport passenger risk assessment methods, similar to the popular US TSA Pre-Check program in which “trusted travelers” go through a voluntary background check/fingerprint/interview process.
Peetermans cautions, however, that some regulators are concerned about the business case of having a dedicated express line that is relatively underused.
Clearly, a lot of work is ahead if Smart Security is to make life easier for the passengers as well as make security checkpoints more effective. But there is little doubt the goal will be achieved. “This is not something that’s going to happen quickly,” says Rossell. “We need to see how the concepts work over a longer period of time.”