How technology is making aviation safer

Kevin Riordan, head of airports & checkpoint solutions at Smiths Detection, talks about the various technologies that will dominate airport security over the next decade and the impact they are likely to have on the overall customer experience.

Travellers have long-since resigned themselves to a less-than-enjoyable process of getting through airport terminals and their various security checks.
Passengers understand the necessity of strict security processes in order to get us from A to B safely, but wish it could be a quicker process.
Airports around the world understand how tedious queuing in long lines to go through security can be. They also realise the amount of time and resources the process can take up to ensure the flight is secure. So they know they need to find ways to make the progression through the airport more streamlined.
Of course, airports cannot compromise on the levels of security. But they can look to find ways to make the process better for travellers – while deploying increased capability at the same time. This is where they are turning to new technologies, helping them be more efficient while complying with regulations.
With that in mind, here are my predictions for technology over the next decade and how it will change the airport experience for all of us.

Enhanced detection – CT technology

Computed tomography (CT) technology is going to see its role become far more significant over the next decade. First used in hold baggage security systems in the early ‘90s, we’ve already seen regulatory and technological advancements leading to CT being increasingly used in the cabin baggage screening process too.
European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) C3-certified scanners, which allow screening of cabin baggage containing liquids, aerosols and gels, laptops, and other large electrical items, will mean passengers (subject to approval from the appropriate local authorities) will be able to keep their liquids and electronic items in their hand luggage, rather than needing to put everything in a see-through bag when they get to the security gate.
Not only will that make the process much quicker, but it’ll be a better experience for passengers who can pass through the airport with their liquids remaining stored in their hand luggage.
Longer-term integration of X-Ray diffraction technology is being explored along with other techniques to reduce the false alarm rate and minimise delays for passengers at the checkpoint.

Increase in artificial intelligence

This year will see airports embracing artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance aviation security and operations – both in terms of passengers and their baggage, as well as cargo.
Currently, whether a tray passing through the security screens is a bag filled with goods or simply contains a belt, it’s treated with the same level of severity and undergoes the same level of checks.
As technology in this area becomes more sophisticated with the adoption of machine learning, it will be easier to detect weapons and other prohibited items. So, rather than spending a lot of time focusing on images of lightly-packed trays or bags that pose no threat, systems will be able to concentrate on suspect baggage, and not show operators the images of bags cleared by the X-ray system. This will have the additional benefit of improving throughput.

Data and risk-based screening

With the amount of available data increasing each minute, the insights we’ll be able to gather from it over the next decade are only going to be more and more beneficial.
The information we get from databases, screening processes and more refined algorithms can be used to support enhanced methods of screening – known as risk-based screening (RBS).
The concept of risk-based screening is based on the principle of differentiating passengers and applying appropriate screening protocols to them. This differentiation is based on a ‘risk score’ derived from an analysis of their destination or status as a passenger. The precheck scheme in the US is a form of risk-based screening.
Future developments will incorporate biometric data and dynamic risk assessment to better inform decisions on appropriate screening measures.
I believe that, within the next few years, data taken during the booking process will be combined with that from customs, border control and other sources, to help support the passenger journey through the airport, including the security process.
Passenger data can be assessed in advance of travel and prior knowledge of the passenger, their needs and potentially their behaviour, will help inform the level of security measures they undergo when they get to the terminal.

Biometrics at the checkpoint

Thanks to AI and the increasing availability of data pertaining to a passenger’s journey, we’ll see biometric recognition more widely implemented; including for instant identity verification as the traveller moves through the airport.
Biometric identification reduces the need for physical documents and credentials at every touchpoint, promoting a paperless and seamless journey and supporting risk-based screening. Passengers around the world will soon be welcomed by biometric terminals or even biometric boarding gates at airports.
Travellers have said they’d definitely be interested in using biometrics if it makes the boarding process faster, according to the 2018 International Air Transport Association (IATA) Passenger Survey Report.

Cyber Security

The increasing use of data in airport operations highlights the importance of protecting this data and the networks used to store and process it.
Although the threat actors and tactics may change, cyber threats and attacks will continue in the years to come.
A joint approach between regulators, airports and suppliers is required to ensure ‘cyber-compliant’ equipment is available and that it is deployed and maintained securely to protect the wider aviation network. This will continue to be a key concern for both operators and equipment suppliers in the years ahead.
All of the above have one thing in mind; getting us through the airport as swiftly as possible, but without compromising on our safety in any way.
Thankfully, airports and airlines understand the impact technology can have on the experience and are investing heavily in this area. The next decade will see a lot of changes accordingly – and it will be exciting seeing it all come to fruition.