Technology, training and teamwork: The Future of Airport Security
For most passengers, navigating through an airport is not a pleasure, but a chore to be endured. Passing through security checks and immigration desks, being scanned and ID checked, these are elements of the airport experience that the majority of air travellers dread. However, they are an entirely necessary process for keeping the airport, flights and everyone in between safe and secure.
As the threats facing airports increase in severity and range, so are the means to counter them effectively. As the following technological advancements and improved strategic protocols demonstrate, airports are getting smarter when it comes to security. This doesn’t apply purely to stopping criminals either, the airports’ goal is to improve security while also alleviating the ‘hassle factor’ for their millions of customers who pass through their gates every day.
Airports are the main entry point in many countries for both legal and criminal travel purposes, and the immigration checkpoint is the last line of defence against the latter. To keep up with the ingenuity of criminality, airports are having to respond in kind, with technologies capable of determining the authenticity of passengers’ identity and supporting documents.
From advanced biometrics to improved ID checks and integrated databases, airports are finding new and improved ways to deter and ultimately stop criminals while allowing legitimate passengers pass through their gates quickly and without difficulty. While basic fingerprint and even retina scanners are quickly making an appearance in airports around the world, some are going a step further. For example, Dubai International has recently brought its Smart Corridor (tunnel) emigration system online. Designed by emaratech, this is a project four years in the making, with constant improvements being made to the point where passengers can now simply walk through the corridor and let its integrated system of scanners, cameras and other analytical tools correctly ID them. No more human error, no more false alarms, and no more long waits at the immigration desk!
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) says that around 1,000 cyberattacks on aviation systems occur each month. The combination of rising cybercrime threats as well as tightening regulatory controls around data protection mean that airports need to consider the extent and efficacy of their cybersecurity capabilities more carefully than ever before. While the interconnectivity of digital age tools provides remarkable benefits, it also creates new and significant vulnerabilities against the most sophisticated level of cyberattacks, necessitating a more comprehensive security setup capable of protecting the whole airport, its networks, assets, employees and customers.
Ultimately, cybersecurity experts agree that there is no one single protective setup that can be uniformly effective can all airports, given the scale and complexity of their operations. Accordingly, we are beginning to see airports upgrade their cybersecurity measures in a more holistic manner, integrating systems to provide a more flexible and layered approach to the widening range of hackers’ tactics being utilised against them.
Equally importantly, the future of cybersecurity of airports will be a more collaborative one, as various organisations within the aviation industry, such as EASA, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques (SITA) and the Airports Council International (ACI), are demonstrating greater will to forge international cybersecurity standards for airports. Not only will this kind of proactive regulatory development encourage airports to ‘up their game’ in order to achieve compliance, they will make it easier for individual airports to share best practices, collaborate on common challenges and perhaps even pool their resources where appropriate.
Smart security checkpoints
Even as security improves online and at immigration, the physical security checkpoint area of any airport remains its critical hub for ensuring that all passengers and their carry-on baggage are legitimate. Despite being vital for security, these checkpoints can easily become chokepoints as well. Without the proper equipment and well-trained personnel to operate it, passing security can quickly become a long, tedious and inefficient ordeal for passengers at peak times.
Fortunately, the swift advance of technology means that high throughput rates can be achieved without compromising the integrity of the checks being made. The latest generation of smart integrated security checkpoints from leading providers such as L3, Analogic, Smiths Detection, and ScanTech utilise industry-leading CT (Computed Tomography) scanners, automated screening lanes, desktop explosives trace detectors and data integration networks to give security staff and their managers the optimal mix of complete operational oversight while at the same time reducing false alarm incidents and maintaining the highest possible throughput rate. Not only does this approach save time and money, it also improves customer satisfaction levels by making the traditionally painful part of the airport visit as painless as possible.
Improved cargo screening processes and technologies
Improving airport security doesn’t stop with the passengers – the cargo carried underneath them also has the same potential to harbour illegal or hazardous materials. However, time is of the essence once again, so the best technological approach needs to be employed to quickly and accurately screen all airport cargoes without the laborious process of checking them by hand.
With this in mind, security solution providers are finding ways to give airports a more complete view of their cargo, beyond the limits of conventional x-ray tech. Newly emerging products, such as Astrophysics’ Multi-View and CT Capable (MVCTC) air cargo pallet inspection system, allow for high resolution imaging as well as 3D CT reconstruction of an entire pallet or any given ‘threat region’.
As with passenger security checkpoints, gaining a more accurate view of exactly what goes onto every flight through cutting-edge technology combines the benefits of faster processing and heightened security for the airport as a whole.
Coupling the physical devices already listed to the power of AI may eventually mean that passengers will no longer have to remove their electronics and liquids from their cabin bags when they get to the security checkpoint. That’s the hope held by a widening range of researchers, including those at Durham University in the UK. Their team are currently developing AI solutions capable of analysing images captured from security scanners and then learning how to identify all manner of threats and proscribed objects. The programme’s ability to continually learn from every scanned image means that it can quickly reduce false alarms and even pick up on threats that are too difficult for the human eye to detect.
Keeping one step ahead
Criminality in all its forms is cyclical – new defences and countermeasures to crimes are created, so criminals think up new ways to circumnavigate them, inspiring new defensive techniques and technologies, and so on. Airport security is no different in its need to continually outthink and outpace the various criminal elements trying to attack and undermine its systems. Fortunately, various technological advances allow for wholly new ways of conceiving airport security, from the moment the passenger arrives to the moment they leave their destination airport.
Don’t miss the opportunity to see the likes of emaratech, L3 and Smiths Detection presenting their cutting-edge solutions for the most advanced challenges facing airports this April.