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An interview with Mr. Dimitrios Gatsonis

Posted: 1 August 2008 | Dimitrios Gatsonis, Deputy CEO, Budapest Airport | No comments yet

Budapest Airport has introduced its new passenger security screening system for a total investment of HUF 900 million. The new equipment will make security screening quicker and seamless, cutting waiting time and enhancing security. The baggage belts before and after the X-ray machine are longer, enabling four passengers to use it simultaneously at both ends, instead of the one or two currently used. The machine automatically rotates the 20 trays that are in the system. At the end of the belt, a camera checks that the tray is empty and does not allow the machine to run on if there is as much as a single coin left on it.

Budapest Airport has introduced its new passenger security screening system for a total investment of HUF 900 million. The new equipment will make security screening quicker and seamless, cutting waiting time and enhancing security. The baggage belts before and after the X-ray machine are longer, enabling four passengers to use it simultaneously at both ends, instead of the one or two currently used. The machine automatically rotates the 20 trays that are in the system. At the end of the belt, a camera checks that the tray is empty and does not allow the machine to run on if there is as much as a single coin left on it.

Budapest Airport has introduced its new passenger security screening system for a total investment of HUF 900 million. The new equipment will make security screening quicker and seamless, cutting waiting time and enhancing security. The baggage belts before and after the X-ray machine are longer, enabling four passengers to use it simultaneously at both ends, instead of the one or two currently used. The machine automatically rotates the 20 trays that are in the system. At the end of the belt, a camera checks that the tray is empty and does not allow the machine to run on if there is as much as a single coin left on it.

The operator sees the baggage on two monitors, shown from the side and from above, giving a clearer picture of the contents. Similar to the computer tomographs used in medical diagnostics, the device is capable of analysing the density of materials in addition to their atomic weight. The machines used earlier labelled chocolate as just as suspicious as explosives, since their atomic structures are similar, although their density is different. Thus, the number of false alarms will drop and passenger screeners will have to open fewer pieces of baggage, speeding up the screening process.

The device automatically signals if it encounters suspicious baggage. The operator can divert such baggage onto a separate belt with the push of a button. Thus, baggage considered ‘unclean’ does not hold up the queue.

The new AMDs are much more intelligent than their predecessors were. Whilst the old devices were equipped with six transceivers generating electric fields, the new ones have 20. They operate with a lower margin of error and the smaller number of false alarms results in a quicker, seamless process. Budapest Airport’s new AMDs are also capable of detecting objects with a low metal mass, concealed in footwear, and their operation cannot be disturbed by external factors such as draught or neon lights.

At present, the systems used at Budapest Airport are considered cutting-edge technology in Europe, since these models by Smiths and Heimann appeared on the market only last year.

Q: What did you aim to achieve from the investment?

The main reason for our investment was to replace the old equipment that we had, triggered by two things; one was that we experienced queues becoming longer due to the intensive screening process; therefore, we wanted to provide a higher throughput in the passenger screening areas and so reducing waiting times for passengers. The reason why we have decided to do this now, although it was originally planned for a later stage (we were going to start the construction of the new terminal building in September 2008 only), is in order to reduce these queues before the start of the summer season of 2008; we want to reduce the number of complaints we receive and to increase the convenience of travelling for our passengers.

Q: What were you looking for in each system in your research process?

In each system, we looked for the latest technology that was available. We decided to take the latest model of Smith Heimann, for which a number of orders have been placed already with airports such as Heathrow and Frankfurt. We examined this technology and found that it suited us, particularly as we found that the throughput rate is 20–30 per cent higher than that of our old Smiths-Heimann system. These were just a sample of a number of reasons. Ultimately, the decision to invest this amount of money, which was approximately EUR 3.5 million, was made quickly.

Q: Did you incur any problems that you had to overcome?

We procured the equipment a few months ago. We received our first line a week ago which has just now gone into operation. We are planning to receive more, maybe 12, larger screening devices by the end of June, and so far, our experiences are very positive. However, we will obviously be training our staff and ensuring they are able to cope with the new technology and general security processes.

Q: Did you need to employ any more staff?

We didn’t need to employ any more new staff. Instead, we are focusing on training our existing staff on the different processes. Essentially, this equipment is in the installation process. It is going to be certified by local authorities and after this, we will be able to go into operation. We are expecting to be operational by early July.

Q: How will it improve the passenger flow through the security check-points?

Passenger flow will be improved in four elements:

The first element is that the security screening lines are longer, approximately 13.5 metres. They are based on the logistical principles of a separate passenger flow, strictly separating the clean baggage from the suspicious baggage which ensures the passenger flow and the luggage screening does not interfere with each other.

The second element is the preparation phase. The physical room available for preparation is much bigger. Now three or even four passengers can organise themselves simultaneously, put their luggage on the line, and then go though the passenger screening device at the same time. The same applies to where they collect their luggage again; three to four passengers can pick up their luggage, remove it from the line and move through to the waiting lounges, as opposed to the old process where a maximum of only one or two passengers could do this at any one time.

The third element is that the passenger screening units produce fewer false alarms due to advanced technology than the old machines. This in turn means fewer manual searches for passengers, which again means a faster overall process.

The fourth element is that the technology for screening the luggage has improved. One machine now scans with four x-rays as opposed to a lower number before, so we are increasing the machines’ capability to screen luggage and laptops, etc, from different angles and it detects explosives better than before. This all obviously improves the speed of the process, as the manual searching of the luggage is then also necessary to a much lesser extent than before. All of these elements lead to a much higher throughput than appreciated with the old equipment. From experience and estimation, we hope this to be 25-30 per cent and perhaps even more in the future.

Q: What are the benefits from the new equipment?

The important factor in all these benefits is that the passenger experience is good. The experience needs to be comfortable, faster and more relaxing. Now passengers will not need to queue up as long, and during the screening process itself, they will be able to move through security much quicker, and can then relax in the passenger halls and lounges. This is a huge benefit, particularly at busy and hectic times; with all this, we are able to process the passengers much, much quicker than before. It is also easier for the screening staff as they can now concentrate more on each passenger and any possible potential danger.

Another benefit is that the line of the trays in which the passengers put their luggage now operates automatically. This means that once a tray is empty a camera will identify this and the tray is then automatically pushed from the back of the line to the front, so there is no need for the security staff do this process as it is taken care of automatically by the machine. We have invested EUR 3.5 million for the 12 screening devices. We have also procured 22 new state-of-the-art magnetic gates for passengers. We are going to introduce them on all departure halls, on all three terminals in the airport.

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