Ensuring quality screening and passenger experience alongside astronomical growth

We asked leading screening experts Smiths Detection for an insight into challenges and innovations in screening and a look at the recent electronics ban…


Getting the balance right

The trend of increasing passenger numbers continues to be a challenge for airlines and airports. This has driven the growth of new processes to help manage the demand: From online ticketing and check-in, self-service kiosks and bag drop to RFID baggage trackers. In fact, the smart airports market is expected to exceed more than US$19 billion by 2024, growing at a CAGR of more than 10 percent.

To that end, it is inevitable that airports embrace technology if they want to effectively cope with burgeoning passenger inflow and outflow. This is especially necessary in Asia Pacific and the Middle East where passenger traffic reported strong growth in the first nine months of the year, and grew 10 percent and 12 percent respectively in September 2016 alone. In fact, APAC and the Middle East account for eight of the world’s top 20 airports with respect to passenger traffic according to the Airports Council International (ACI). Some of these locations such as Singapore, Sydney and Hong Kong, have had to plan and build new airports and runways aimed at handling increased capacity, especially with wide-body aircrafts such as the Boeing 777.

The smart airports market is expected to exceed more than US$19 billion by 2024…

Against this backdrop, airports are challenged to balance the optimisation of the travel experience against improving security measures that would be required in the face of rising threats. Thanks to new and emerging technologies, airports can simultaneously benefit from not only a reduced burden on airport operations, but also increased passenger satisfaction. Since research shows that passengers who report high levels of satisfaction at an airport tend to spend up to 45 percent more on an average at retail stores, it is win-win all around.

Airport vulnerability

However, the aviation industry is almost unique in its vulnerability to ‘events’ driven by those with an intent to cause catastrophic damage to them and the travelling public. This threat continues to evolve and as recent events have shown can occasionally require drastic changes to airport and airline operations to manage the resultant risks.

The impact of the imminent ban on electronics in the cabin for some routes is unclear at the moment but likely to lead to disruption to operations and frustration for passengers. A ban is a last resort measure but the goal is to mitigate the risks to a level that allows the business – trade and travel – to continue and grow.

Passengers who report high levels of satisfaction at an airport tend to spend up to 45 percent more on an average at retail stores…

How well the appropriate authorities and industry achieve this goal – getting the balance right – depends on the range of technologies and processes in place or available to them.

When airports and regulators work together to ensure the right technology and processes are in place there are high levels of confidence that this provides an effective deterrent. The airside screening methods currently employed across the globe are broadly seen as effective. As such, terrorists are now focusing their attention to other more exposed areas of the airport infrastructure which has resulted in the landside attacks seen in Brussels and Istanbul.

The landside area of an airport can be considered an ‘unregulated’ space when compared to airside so it is vital that responsibilities are clear and security objectives are met by continuing cooperation between the authorities and airport operators.

Airport operators do not want to create prisons or fortresses and are looking at how they can maintain high levels of security throughout the entire airport while maintaining their open approach for the facilitation of travel and business. While it is not possible for airports to be completely free of risks, it is important to actively take steps to improve the whole of airport security and screening capabilities to close any gaps while continuing to promote a free and open facility.

Risk based screening

Risk based screening (RBS) is using information about a traveller to inform the type of security/screening an individual undergoes at the airport. One of the ways of applying RBS is to identify individuals who are low risk – which is the vast majority of passengers – when adequate information exists on the passenger, so they can have a different screening experience which supports the efforts of the airport and the regulator to manage screening in an efficient way. Assessing a passenger is one way to look at where an individual may sit when viewed through a ‘risk’ lens.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the USA is an organisation that has benefited from this new way of managing security risks. TSA uses Pre-Check or CBP Global Entry to capture information about the traveller which is verified through the application process that then allows those individuals to have a different screening experience.

This creates an expedited screening experience providing increased throughout compared to normal travellers. This different screening experience allows travellers to leave electronics and liquids in bags, while no longer having to remove shoes, belts and jackets. While PreCheck lines may now be longer than the standard lines, they still move faster. It is this increase in screening efficiency that drives operational efficiencies which saves on operating costs, with the TSA saving US$120 million per annum.

However, the current threat level and associated ban on electronics on certain flights means that even individuals registered on these schemes have to follow the new requirements – an example of risk based decision making.

Beyond RBS, there are also other measures that airports around the world have adopted in an effort to balance the passenger experience and safety requirements. Osaka’s Kansai International Airport uses an integrated checkpoint solution and Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport trailed a Smart security solution in Q4 2015 which demonstrated significant benefits in facilitation, staff and passenger experience.

The balancing act

In the wake of recent attacks and changes in threat, security operations will be reviewed by the appropriate authorities and the aviation industry. This review should be based on an individual airports’ threat profile and where it sees it is exposed. A layered approach using continuous and random screening, human intelligence, and risk based screening approaches to the airports are all valid methods to change the security stance. No single element addresses all the risks and it is only when these elements are considered in an integrated approach are the benefits realised.

Thankfully, airports and regulators are starting to see the benefits of reviewing their current security procedures and implementing solutions that are better aligned with the changing passenger habits. All airports are challenged to find the right balance between operational efficiency, security effectiveness and passenger experience. Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, for example, has worked hard on enhancing the passenger experience, and is now seen as leading the industry in this regard. Finding this balance has driven different approaches to security screening and we see some airports focus heavily on achieving high facilitation rates in order to generate the operational benefits available from an efficient operation.

Focusing on each individual layer, such as the checkpoint and making this layer of security more effective and efficient as possible is a significant area of development across the globe. Opportunities to have a more ‘joined up’ approach on how information is integrated through the different security layers to inform the physical security screening process for passengers, their bags and staff in the airport is one area of consideration among the various stakeholders who are involved in different layers of security.

One thing that recent attacks have driven home is that it is a combination of people, process and technology, and not solely technology that will provide the robustness required to ensure we can manage and mitigate the risks of today and tomorrow.

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