The airport security line, where passengers are juggling coats, belts and shoes, along with liquids and laptops, is one of the dreaded rituals of flying.
And that’s why it desperately needs to be updated, says the head of a group representing the world’s airlines.
“It’s hugely expensive and it’s bursting at the seams,” said Tony Tyler, director-general of the International Air Transport Association, which represents 240 airlines. “Business as usual is not going to work.”
Tyler acknowledges that the current system works today, but with air passenger travel expected to soar in the coming years, there’s a limit to how many more machines can be installed at airports.
Airlines are forecast to carry 7.3 billion travellers by 2034, and Tyler says the current system will not be able to handle such demand.
He estimated that since the 9/11 attacks in 2001, $100 billion (U.S.) has been spent on security measures. For airlines, it adds up to about $8 billion a year. Add on what airports and governments pay, it’s a hefty tab.
Tyler’s group is working with Airport Councils International to develop what is known as smart security, which uses risk-based passenger screening along with new technology to speed up inspections.
Pilot programs are under way at airports including at Amsterdam’s Schiphol, allowing passengers to move faster through screening, such as centralized X-ray analysis at a remote location, so that lines aren’t delayed by a single inspection.
Technology could also play a key role with biometric tests, automatic document scanning, tray handling systems and flow control gates. Vancouver airport tested a “wishbone” lane design model to maximize floor space, and giving passengers more time to get their belongings ready for screening.
Multi-view X-ray systems can be used for cabin baggage, allowing passengers to leave laptops, tablets and liquids in their bags during screening.
“It would enable passengers to move smoothly through a process, past scanners and so on, that would screen them without having to stop,” Tyler said. “Of course, if there’s any doubt, they will divert to manual or more thorough screening.”
He also pointed to the use of risk-based screening that is already under way with programs such as the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s Pre-Check program and Nexus in the United States. In those cases, the traveller has already been pre-screened and can move through lines without removing a jacket or belt.
“Of course, there must always be random checks,” Tyler said.
But he added that it doesn’t make sense in terms of allocations of resources in choosing to screen a 90-year-old grandmother in the same way as a young man with a one-way ticket to a conflict zone.
Smart security doesn’t mean there will be a sudden switchover on a given date, but Tyler says in the next five years, passengers can expect to see more and more new technology used in screening.
As well, he believes there should be some reciprocal use of “trusted traveller” programs among different jurisdictions, saving resources.
“If you have been checked out by the Americans, in their pre-check scheme, then that would qualify you to use the fast lane in a similar trusted traveller scheme in another country,” he added.