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IT Last modified on May 3, 2012

Friendly and secure

New passenger screening technology will help make airport security more efficient and customer-friendly, writes Peter Kant.

Airports are on the frontline of protecting national and international borders and the ongoing advancements in security mean that manning these gateways into the country is no mean feat; the terrorist threat across the globe is a continually evolving problem and fraught with many challenges.

Yet one aspect that does not vary is the requirement for technology to be flexible and able to adapt to new threats as they emerge, at the same time as providing customers with a stress-free experience of these checkpoints.

Whilst today’s checkpoints are seen mainly as control points to inspect bags and people, they are now evolving to utilise highly advanced technologies and automation that screen large numbers of people and their baggage, facilitate throughput and deliver a positive customer experience.

Working with airports
The key challenge for security screening equipment manufacturers is to design solutions that both enhance security and improve the passenger experience.

One way that Rapiscan Systems achieves this is by constantly working alongside airports to make the security checkpoint is less intimidating and time consuming for passengers.

For although most airport passengers appreciate the need for security, the fact remains that they are there to catch a flight and do not want to be held back by security protocols that are in place.

In the past, long queues, the need to remove copious amounts of clothing and items from hand luggage, and the following need for pat-down searches have been a cause of much irritation and have dramatically hampered the passengers’ experience.

Yet with technology now available it is possible to reduce the time spent at checkpoints whilst simultaneously providing a higher level of security.

Passenger screening
For the best part of the last 40 years, metal detectors have proved to be very successful in screening passengers. They still are, though new screening technology has had to be developed to combat the threat of terrorists prepared to conceal explosives in their clothing.

One of the biggest areas of discussion within the aviation security industry at the moment is the use of full-body imaging of passengers at airport terminals.

There are a number of technologies available that can scan the human body for potential threats: passive millimetre wave (PMMW), active millimetre wave (AMMW; and backscatter, each with its own benefits and advantages.

Passive MMW uses background radiation and body heat to shows images of what is beneath someone’s clothing. Active MMW beams microwave energy over a person to create an image of the human body, whilst backscatter technology bounces very low energy X-rays off a person to generate an image. 

While all can be used to detect anomalies, backscatter-based systems are far better suited to situations which require the detection of the smaller threat items, such as in aviation security, and they also give a generally higher level of security and faster throughput.

This is because backscatter technology is inherently better than MMW at producing uniformly high quality images with less blind spots and interference. Unlike MMW, the quality of the image generated with backscatter does not vary significantly with a normal range of clothing materials and environmental conditions such as damp clothes and sweat patches. 

As a result, potential threats are easier to detect – and each inspection of a passenger can be done more quickly.  

In the UK, the use of backscatter technology has been a source of industry discussion with the government and, in November 2011, Britain’s Secretary of State for Transport, Justine Greening, issued a statement supporting the use of full passenger scanners at UK airports.

Her announcement came shortly after a statement from the EU stating backscatter was not going to be added to the listed of authorised technologies pending safety studies.

Yet a number of independent studies from government and private organisations, such as the American College of Radiology, the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement, and the UK HPA that have supported the use of backscatter technology and confirmed that it is safe to use.

Indeed, it is argued that by using backscatter technology, airport operators will conduct fewer pat-down searches, which research has shown that both passengers and security staff find distasteful.

This is essential as the efficient management of passenger throughput is vital in the smooth running of any airport operation, at the same time as providing a positive passenger experience.

In the near future, scanners will look to use automatic threat recognition, as opposed to images, in order to identify potential threats.

Rapiscan, for example, is already working on developing an automated threat detection system for the body scanners.

Such technology will take the human element out of the equation by automatically recognising and flagging up suspect items to security staff – in a similar way to the old metal detectors – so may assist in helping to make passengers feel more at ease.

Fundamentally, fully automated checkpoints will allow people to pass through more quickly, increasing throughput and improving passenger and staff satisfaction overall.  

The future of passenger screening
Today, passenger screening in airports is jointly handled by screening systems and staff. Staff must be on hand to assist a detection system by ensuring, for example, that shoes are removed and laptops are taken out of bags.

By 2020, there is likely to be significantly more integration between components. For example, much of the development effort is currently focused on technologies that remove the need for divestment, whether that be the removal of laptops and liquids from bags or the removal of shoes from passengers.

We will, therefore, be seeing a more intuitive checkpoint that is able to adopt roles once taken on by airport staff and allow passengers to pass through more quickly and easily. 

As a result of these advancements, the checkpoint of tomorrow possesses enhanced operational efficiency, whilst ensuring that people feel secure and calm whilst passing through.

Travelling can create a lot of stress and confusion, particularly for passengers at airports with numerous security demands, so new screening technologies must endeavour to be as efficient and stress-free as possible.

Leading designs must also be able to efficiently and quickly guide people through advanced gating and signage systems; this in turn will dramatically speed up passenger throughput, meaning a more positive experience for passengers and checkpoint staff alike.

Passenger friendly security
Airport security is inherently there for a reason and to chiefly protect the national borders, however, that does not mean that passengers should expect an unpleasant and drawn out process at security checkpoints – far from it, in fact.

To further enhance the customer experience, security equipment manufacturers and airport operators need to work together, particularly as passengers are seeing a marked change in the length of time spent at the checkpoints.

With the next generation of technology coming online, airport security will be able to both keep ahead of the international threat of terrorism, while minimising the impact on passengers.

Helping hand
Automated tray return systems at airport security checkpoints can significantly reduce passenger stress levels, reduce queue sizes and save airport operators seven figure sums, according to UK-based Herbert Systems.

The company, which will showcase its Herbert TRS system at the Passenger Terminal Expo in Vienna this April, claims that the technology can speed up passenger throughput by 50% allowing for less security lanes and subsequently fewer security staff.

Herbert’s business development manager, Andy Dowe, said: “Passengers can load the tray immediately, without having to wait for airport staff, speeding up the whole process. At the end of the line, the trays are automatically returned, without staff having to lift or move them.

“With fewer lanes, you need fewer X-ray machines and reduced staff requirements too. In fact, in one year with five or six staff on a single lane working two shifts, a saving in staff costs alone can easily be in seven figures. You also free up the space for a wider circulation area or even additional valuable retail space.”

About the author
Peter Kant is executive vice president at Rapiscan Systems.

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