Aviation is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, with an average increase in passenger numbers of nearly 5 percent every year. It is anticipated that about 3.5 billion travelers will pass through the world’s airports in 2015 — equivalent to about 10 times the population of the United States. But such healthy growth poses its own challenges and related requirements that will have to be tackled with far-sighted, comprehensive solutions.
The industry treads a narrow line between the pressures of changing regulations, progressively greater demands for efficiency and the expectation of passengers for increased travelling comfort.
One thing is clear: the safety of travelers has the highest priority and we have seen a significant increase in security measures applied since 2001 — albeit at the expense of the passenger experience. With an increase of some 700 million passengers between 2011 and 2015, the industry is having to further expand security systems while simultaneously significantly improving customer comfort.
Every traveler is familiar with the tedium of long queues at the airport check-in, passport control and at checkpoint security zones. These more than test the patience and nerves of passengers who are already stressed about the start or end of a holiday or a tightly-scheduled business trip.
Any moves to alleviate the experience would be welcome, and one of the most important initiatives for shaping the future of the industry is the vision of the "checkpoint of the future.”
Under the umbrella of Airports Council International and the International Air Transport Association, both industry and regulators have agreed to contribute jointly towards turning this vision into reality, with consideration for all relevant stakeholders. There are three important goals to be attained: strengthened security, increased operational efficiency and improved passenger experience.
Taken together, these three objectives demand a complete re-think of the concept of security checkpoints and their screening processes. Viewed alone and in isolation, the use of the classic security systems and devices such as X-ray machines, metal detectors and explosive trace detection devices are not the solution for the future. Instead, the task at hand will be to increase productivity and streamline processes by connecting the individual sensors within a checkpoint or spanning several checkpoints via software tools so that relevant information can be collected, evaluated and used.
Data fusion is a futuristic phrase that is fast becoming a reality. It is used today by a few companies such as Optosecurity and Smiths Detection for their future-orientated checkpoint solutions. The two companies recently signed an agreement to cooperate in the development of integrated checkpoint solutions.
The result will be a flexible and web-enabled software platform that is connected to X-ray equipment and other sensors at the checkpoint. This means data can be collected on the basis of individual information requirements at each airport and used for statistical purposes. For example: How long does it take for the passenger to get from A to B? How many items of hand luggage are checked on average for each airline per day? How high is the average throughput on different weekdays? How many passengers take advantage of the retail offers? These are just a few items on the long list of information that an airport can profitably utilize.
In this way, the checkpoint opens out from a closed “black box” into an open system and allows airports to plan and control processes, predict demand and respond promptly to dips in performance. For example, potential queues can be prevented which much reduces throughput times for passengers. And for the airport, it means either passing more passengers through for a given amount of resources, or a reduction in the area required and the resources used. Both make the airport more cost-effective and improve passenger convenience.
But connectivity and networking is much more than that. Nowadays, we are all aware of how operators sit in front of a screen next to the X-ray scanner for hand luggage, carrying out the security check using colored X-ray images that mean little to the untrained eye. Items of luggage that arouse suspicion are subjected to a second examination, which means another employee often being called over to check the contents of the bag manually or using explosive trace technology. All this takes place in a hectic environment where the concentration of operators can be disturbed by noises and other distractions that could lead to reduced operational performance.
This is where remote image analysis and secondary screening can help. The system captures data from the X-rays and transmits it via a repository to a remote workstation for image analysis. If the operator sees the bag contents as posing no risk, it will pass through the screening process without interruption. But if a potential risk is identified, this can be marked in the image and sent back to a screen that can be directly viewed by the operator at the re-check workstation. Using the marking in the image, they can carry out a further manual check of the bag contents in a targeted and disturbance-free environment. In fact, this is similar to the process already used in some hold baggage screening operations.
The integration of modern networking capabilities overcomes the barriers of space and time. Data, images, reports and other information can be received, evaluated and processed independent of location, whether via iPad, PC or laptop. In addition, the consolidation and storage of the information on one or more central servers also allows it to be retrieved both in real-time mode or temporally delayed. This means that monthly and annual comparisons can be carried out or, for example, different information combined for better evaluation.
The aviation security industry is, and remains, largely event-driven. Existing regulations can change rapidly if new dangers and threats are identified. Here, the challenge for airports and airlines lies in rapid implementation of the stipulated security measures without sacrificing their requirement of economic efficiency or subjecting passengers to unreasonable travelling conditions.
Intelligent software solutions such as those developed by Smiths Detection and Optosecurity generally allow much more flexible adaptation than expensive X-ray systems. Even now, eVelocity can be combined with single and multi view X-ray equipment with EU Certified Standard 2 Type C automated liquid threat detection. Multiple automated detection applications including bottle finder, clear bag detection and firearm detection are already available or under development.
Nevertheless, the complex challenges for the industry can only be successfully met if governments, regulators and the planners and decision-makers in aviation and its ancillary industries work closely together. It is vital that the industry becomes increasingly involved, where appropriate, in the plans of the regulators. Such cooperation fosters comprehensive and cohesive solutions that are focused and easily applied to maximize both traveler security and comfort.
And in this way, the aviation industry will surely continue to thrive.
Barbara Zanzinger is director of communications and marketing, Europe, Middle East, Africa and India for Smiths Detection, which she joined in 2012. She previously served as director of investor relations, and prior to that held the position of vice president of global communications for a company in the automotive supply industry.