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Three ways technology is speeding up your trip at the airport whilst keeping you safe

From the first fixed-wing services in the early 20th Century, to the departure of airships from the market and the advent of jet propulsion - the size and complexity of aircraft, and the ground facilities built to service them, have increased dramatically. Security threats to airports and aircraft have also evolved and increased over the past century of commercial passenger flights.


The rise of scheduled international flights made aircraft attractive targets for hijacking and acts of terrorism, with the early 70s and mid 80s particularly troubling periods for this problem. However, since the early 80s, security at airports has increased to counter emergent threats, initially from conventional weapons (knives, guns, grenades), through to improvised weapons and explosive devices designed specifically to defeat screening methods.

In today’s world, smart technology has the potential to dramatically improve security at airports, as well as improving our experience as passengers, from e-tickets to facial recognition. Passengers at airports are familiar with security checks, but going through the process - from metal detectors to hand baggage and body scanners, not forgetting trace detection for explosives - all takes time. Particularly during busy periods, queue management is one of the most time-consuming parts of a security operative’s job.

Three ways in which technology will speed up your trip: 

1)     Speeding up the line by 1/3

Using current screening processes, in order to provide the operator with a clear enough image to give a go/no-go on a piece of hand luggage in 15-30 seconds, it is necessary for you to remove items from your baggage. This takes time and when some passengers make mistakes it causes great frustration and delays.

Taking inspiration from the manufacturing industry, where slowing a production line has a tangible impact on the bottom line, we're moving towards continuous baggage screening belts, set up so that individuals can approach an empty space at the screening conveyer, deposit their baggage and continue to personal screening without being held up by someone struggling to remove a shoe. Research suggests the current average throughput times could be cut by as much as a third in this way, while screening technology itself is also developed alongside.

2)     Sharing data and monitoring passenger transit

Paper ticketing has all but vanished from the aviation industry and electronic boarding passes are rapidly taking over.

We are already enjoying the benefits of this in a number of ways:

  • Sharing information between databases allows for different stakeholders in an airport (Airport operator, airline, immigration etc) to satisfy their requirements for each passenger automatically rather than adding additional delays.
  • Combining information from different databases makes it increasingly difficult for tickets to be transferred between individuals. Passenger information generally needs to be added at the point of purchase making travelling by air under false documents all but impossible.
  • As passengers pass through different checkpoints, the time taken can be monitored and if there have been delays they can be tracked and managed by redistributing airport resources. For example, by moving security staff from one security checkpoint to another.


3)     Real-time tracking

Further advances in Video Surveillance Systems will allow for passenger tracking in real-time through the airport with a high degree of accuracy. One issue that has plagued facial recognition in the past has been capturing facial features from different angles under different lighting conditions. The technology is now so advanced that it can be applied via existing video surveillance systems. Knowing where passengers are in the terminal building will facilitate smoother boarding as it will no longer be necessary to corral passengers at a departure gate anything up to an hour before the plane is ready to board, let alone depart.

But what about security?

The new technologies mentioned above are all focussed on speeding up transit-time through an airport’s passenger bottlenecks that have developed around security check hotspots. Getting a device to the aircraft is now all but impossible and in recent times we’ve seen that groups of passengers have become the direct targets – groups of passengers such as those queueing to check-in.

By speeding up the passenger experience through technology, not only can we minimise the queues that could represent would-be targets, but security staff are also freed up from queue management and able to focus their time on the more important task of identifying and addressing threats.

By Peter Allsopp, Senior Security Engineer, WSP

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