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ACI World director general, Angela Gittens, reflects on the security challenges facing airports today and ACI/IATA’s Smart Security initiative which aims to make the passenger security process more intelligent.

For decades, the aviation industry has had to counter and respond to threats to the security of the travelling public and aviation infrastructure and civil aviation and airports remain a high-profile target for terrorists and criminals.

Improvements in aviation regulations have led to a significant decline in the number of incidents involving safety, but the global security risk is still active.

The continued emergence of new threats to the system, such as suicide bombings, over the last 20 years presents a very real and persistent risk to civil aviation.

As these new threats emerge, additional layers of security measures are usually applied. However, the efficiency of airport and airline processes has been affected by these layers of security measures and it is debatable whether they have made a significant improvement to the already high levels of airport security.

Queues at security checkpoints lead to apron and terminal congestion and may lead to aircraft departure delays. Delays and congestion can also have implications for revenue and passengers’ experience.

The balance that must be struck between the unarguable need for security and the need for efficient and safe facilitation of passengers need to be reviewed and improved.

There is a need for a new risk and evidence-based approach to aviation security that will continue to allow airports to protect their infrastructure, staff, aircraft and passengers while also continuing an efficient customer experience.

Airports and airlines need to work together to make the routine passenger screening processes more intelligent. ACI is working with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) on the Smart Security initiative that promotes advanced screening technologies and process innovation.

With these elements in combination, Smart Security seeks to deliver:

  • Strengthened security: Focus resources based on risk, increase unpredictability, make better use of existing technologies, and introduce new technologies with advanced capabilities as they become available
  • Increased operational efficiency: Increase throughput, optimise asset utilisation, reduce cost per passenger, and maximise space and staff resources.
  • Improved passenger experience: Reduce queues and waiting times and use technology for less intrusive and time-consuming security screening.

Smart Security concepts and solutions are now available and can be seen at airports around the world. These includes security scanners, parallel divesting of cabin baggage, central image processing and advanced cabin baggage screening technologies – all of which are the subject of detailed Smart Security Guidance Material.

Airports, including Geneva, London Heathrow, Amsterdam Schiphol, London Gatwick and Dubai International are among those leading the way, with many more now looking at how Smart Security concepts can be incorporated into their operations.

This year marks the end of what we call ‘Wave 1’ of this work, and we have already started exploring more advanced concepts under Wave 2. This will include a more risk-based approach to the screening of passengers and common standards for sharing information among different stakeholders.

Smart Security does not provide a one-size-fits-all approach to what a security checkpoint should look like; instead, it offers a menu of options from which airports can choose, in line with their unique operational and risk environment.

We are also starting to define the longer-term vision for Smart Security. How should passengers be screened in the future, and at which point(s) along their journey? Should our focus continue to be on the detection of items, or turn to behaviours and intentions? ACI will continue to work with key stakeholders on these crucial questions.

The ICAO High Level Conference on Aviation Security taking place in Montréal at the end of November will provide us with an ideal platform to get the conversation started with regulators.

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