Securing complex airport operations
So what does the future look like for airport security? Christopher Kirby investigates
The likelihood of future attacks against the infrastructure of commercial air transport is considered a persistent threat. Thus there remains the need for systems and measures that aim to protect and deter potential acts of terrorism, targeted against the air transport sector. Moreover, we have seen that terrorist organisations have demonstrated innovation in their means to by-pass existing security measures in order to carry out their attacks. With increasingly stringent security measures imposed on air travel, it is highly unlikely that we will witness another terrorist attack on the scale of September 11, 2001. However this does not mean that future terrorist operations will not be conducted with air transport in mind.
The plot to bomb trans-Atlantic flights using explosive liquids in 2006 and the failed attempt to blow-up a Northwest Airlines flight over Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009, using explosives concealed in the perpetrator’s underwear, strongly indicate that aviation infrastructure is still regarded as a highly valued target. Airlines are internationally recognisable, representing or symbolising a particular country to the rest of the world and thus by attacking, terrorists adopt a perception that they have directly struck a state.
The ability to combat potential threats to air transport in the future will depend on the effectiveness of security measures to screen passengers, baggage and cargo. The aviation industry is effective in its response to incidents and introducing improved measures to counter the evolving threats that are presented to air travel. Conversely, the systems and processes of aviation security is often referred to as a ‘one-solution-fits-all’ concept and is thus predictable providing terrorists with a working knowledge to derive means of by-passing security processes.
With regard to targeting air transport infrastructure, terrorism has demonstrated its ability to be particularly innovative and adaptive in its means of committing violent acts. For example, when screening of hand luggage was introduced, terrorist organisations shifted away from acts of hijacking to aerial sabotage, using explosive devices concealed in hold luggage. More recently, the foiled liquid explosives plot in 2006 and the incident of the Northwest flight over Detroit, demonstrated the ability of terrorists to find new methods of committing acts of terrorism that could potentially be undetected by current processes of screening.
A COMPLEX OPERATION
The ability to continue protecting the travelling public from these evolving threats will remain a significant challenge to those responsible for aviation security. Moreover, increasingly stringent security measures are leading to longer queueing and waiting times at airport security checkpoints. This adds to the complexity of airline and airport operations, particularly if an airport is a major hub for connecting flights with delays being detrimental to an airline’s overall operation and finances. Security costs are usually reclaimed by airport operators from airlines and passengers. Thus, the impact of security costs feed all the way through to ticket fares and other sources of revenue.
There is the perception that the current systems of airport security we are familiar with as air travellers, are becoming more inefficient and less sustainable when considering the future of air travel. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) air travel is predicted to grow, and with the current systems of airport security, growth will exacerbate the problems that are currently highlighted. Therein lies the question as to how aviation security measures can be optimised without jeopardising the safety of the travelling public.
IATA is currently working on a programme entitled, Checkpoint of the Future, which collaborates security experts and solution providers from across the world to develop a progressive route for the evolution of airport security up to the year 2020. This is part of the wider Security and Facilitation initiative to work with governments, regulatory bodies and other international organisations to introduce passenger security processes that adopts a risk-based approach. The desired objective of this is to enhance the overall and security and passenger facilitation by achieving strengthened security, greater operational efficiency and improving passengers’ experience at security checkpoints.
The solutions proposed by Checkpoint of the Future, concentrate on a risk‑based approach that will allow for the appropriate screening processes to be implemented according to what is known about the passenger. The first of these evolutions outlined by the project are due to be implemented from 2014. These will introduce new procedures and risk-based concepts for screening and decision making, optimising resources and integrating new technology and re-purposing existing equipment. Some countries will also make use of national known traveller programmes which are linked to security screening. New technologies that are designed to provide seamless and secure journeys will include automated entry gates and biometric technology. Other advances in technology will permit screening staff to observe items away from the security checkpoint and also the screening of liquids and gels which are more than 100ml in quantity.
By 2017 and 2020, there will be major advances in risk-assessment and automation, ultimately providing a better passenger experience. Some countries will have the ability to analyse passenger data to provide input for risk-assessment and integrate this behaviour analysis and known traveller information. This information could also be combined with other factors including the type of flight and destination. It is expected that there will be international recognition of known travellers and the automated delivery of risk score to the security checkpoints linked with a passenger’s belongings.
Beyond 2020, it is expected that passengers will be able move through airport security without interruption unless the advanced technology has identified a potential threat. From a passenger’s perspective, there will minimal or no waiting time as a result of enhanced screening speed. Biometric technology will control automated entry to a security checkpoint and known traveller programmes will be trans-border. Passenger profiles will have a level of security screening derived from information provided by multiple countries and sources through real-time bilateral risk assessment.
This risk-based approach is likely to make the security screening process for airports more unpredictable and thus more difficult for terrorists to plan and conduct acts of violence. The integration of known traveller programmes and information with screening processes will allow airport authorities and security personnel to allocate the appropriate methods of screening accordingly, thus shifting away from a one solution-fits-all concept, which is predictable and easier to exploit. This will make better use of resources and also process passengers more efficiently with less delay should the system identify them as low risk. In comparison, this should make it more difficult for individuals with high risk status to pass through security checkpoints. The prospect of being identified with a high risk score and undergoing increased levels of screening might encourage greater deterrence from targeting air transport infrastructure. Furthermore, this could restrict trans-border movement of international terrorism.
From a passenger’s perspective, these new practices and technologies should enhance the airport experience. New screening technologies will eliminate the time consuming and disrupting process of divesting particular items such as liquids and electronics from hand luggage providing a more fluid screening system.
Moreover this will also have a positive impact on airline and airport operations in terms of passengers meeting connecting flights and a mitigation of costs resulting from factors such as delayed schedules. However we will only begin to see the full extent of these benefits of these new procedures and technologies of airport security screening once they are introduced and become standard practice on a global basis.