UK Government Competition Looking for Airport Innovations, AND Is Willing to Pay for Them

The British Department for Transport and Home Office established a joint Future Aviation Security Solutions (FASS) program in October 2017 to double spending on aviation security. FASS awarded its first round of funding in February 2018.

This program is investing $32+ million over five years to promote innovation and deliver a step change in aviation security. Its focus is on novel solutions and emerging innovation to prevent the widest possible range of explosives, weapons and other threats being taken on to an aircraft.

The FASS program has already invested approximately $10 million in developing innovative technology through competitions. It is not restricted to U.K. innovators – U.S. and other countries have previously entered such competitions and received funding which ultimately resulted in large contracts to the British government.

On June 13, seven projects that are looking at new ways to prevent explosives, weapons and other threats hidden in vehicles from accessing the airside of an airport will be revealed for the first time at a FASS conference.

At the conference, the developers behind the low and mid-level Technology Readiness Level proposals will present their novel concepts to experts from industry, academia and government.

The conference marks one year since the launch of this particular FASS competition, with phase one funding awarded to companies in January 2019. A second phase of funding will likely be made available to help further develop promising projects from the first round.

As well as improving aviation security, FASS also aims to decrease passenger and staff inconvenience. One of the program’s funded projects, Sequestim, has developed a walk-through scanner that allows passengers to keep their coats on, with full pockets, whilst continuing to move through the scanner – saving a great deal of time and inconvenience in winter months. A live trial at Cardiff Airport in Wales demonstrated the ability of the scanner to substantially increase passenger throughput.

Another project is developing a portable system for detecting explosives in cargo and baggage. SEADM proposes to use its vapor technology for cargo scanning. SEADM said earlier this year that the funding and support received has meant the team have been able to develop a radically novel technology for the detection of explosives in cargo nearly to a pre-commercial status.

Now, FASS is seeking proposals for the testing and trialing of novel and innovative prototypes that have the potential to improve security at airports.

This competition is inviting proposals from suppliers seeking support for these activities in order to accelerate the development and support the exploitation of their innovative solutions. Testing (in a laboratory) and trialing (in a representative or operational environment) are crucial parts of the development process and will receive funding.  Up to $1.3 million is available for this competition in total which must fund supplier proposals as well as a test facility that will be paid for directly by the FASS program.

Suppliers will have the opportunity to bid into one of three routes:

1. Testing in a laboratory facility for the detection of a limited range of commercial off the shelf explosives

Successful suppliers will gain access to a testing facility, arranged and paid for directly by the FASS program, to test the detection capability of their solutions with commercial off the shelf explosives.

2. Trialing in a representative environment (such as museums, shopping centers, sports venues)

For trialing in a representative environment, suppliers must identify and engage with venues in which they wish to carry out the trials themselves (for example a shopping center or sports venue).  FASS will not provide these venues but may be able to provide contacts if requested. Suppliers are encouraged to provide an ‘in principle’ agreement with their suggested venue for trialing with their full proposal.

3. Trialing in an operational airport environment

For trialing within an airport operational environment, suppliers must identify and engage with the airport in which they wish to carry out the trials themselves. As with representative environment trails, suppliers are encouraged to provide an ‘in principle’ agreement with the airport for trialing to take place with their full proposal.

It is anticipated that there will be two different scenarios for undertaking airport trials: First, where the solution has been tested in a laboratory but no aviation security standards currently exist that would apply to this solution. In this scenario, it may be feasible to undertake a trial that replaces existing technology within the operational environment if the laboratory testing has demonstrated a comparable or better performance than the existing technology.

The second scenario would be where relatively little laboratory testing has been undertaken on the solution. In this scenario, it may be feasible to deploy a technology in an operational environment in addition to (either alongside or in front of) existing technologies.

Full proposals must include an outline trials plan which includes the scenario above that best applies (if known), desired trial length, preferred trial location and airport partner, and the key trial outputs. Successful suppliers will be required to develop more detailed trials plans before commencing trials.

For each of the three routes, suppliers must ensure their equipment or procedures match the minimum required health and safety standards and regulations for testing. Proposals must include information on all previous testing and trialing undertaken on the product. They must clearly identify the capability that they wish to trial, how the trialing will prove this capability, and what benefit would be gained from successful trialing.

Interested parties are invited to pitch before July 2. A dial-in session on June 17 will provide further details and a chance to ask questions in an open forum.

Read the full competition document here

Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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