Operational tests of processes and technology in 2013 aimed at enhancing security at airport checkpoints while improving the passenger experience showed promise and will drive a new series of pilots tests this year aimed at making further progress toward checkpoints of the future, an official with one airline association tells HSR.

The processes and technologies do work in an operational environment, says Paul Behan, head of Passenger Experience at the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Based on blueprints IATA created more than a year ago for its vision of an intelligence driven, risk-based checkpoint of the future, the association and other aviation security stakeholders in 2013 tested and evaluated a number of technologies and processes last year including remote X-Ray image processing, screening of laptop computers without divesting, clear bag algorithms, new security lane configurations and automation, changes in body scanner locations to increase throughput, and using explosive trace detection as a primary search method for crew screening (HSR, Dec. 17, 2013). The blueprints were created to show how airport checkpoints could operate in the future, with detailed concepts for 2014, 2017 and 2020 (HSR, Jan. 2, 2013).

Behan says that testing of Advanced Technology X-Ray systems for screening large electrical items such as laptop and tablet computers without passengers having to divest those items showed that the existing systems can do this. Behan said modifications were made to the systems to provide this enhanced detection of explosives and other potential threats but exactly what changes were made to the X-Ray systems he didn’t know.

The AT X-Ray systems, which are in use at airport checkpoints in the U.S. and even for hold baggage screening at some international airports, provide dual-imaging capabilities, which when combined with software algorithms enables some automated threat recognition. However, this capability isn’t used at U.S. aviation security checkpoints although the Transportation Security Administration has been working toward this for years.

Remote image screening was done at two airports in London and Brussels. Rather than have security officers view X-Ray images right beside the AT X-Ray systems at the checkpoints, which can be noisy, images were viewed in quiet rooms that were remote from the checkpoints, allowing greater “concentration” on the images, Behan says. The security staff located at the checkpoint were then alerted to inspect any suspect bags more closely, he says.

Regulators in Belgium and Britain wanted to see if this remote image screening worked and it does, Behan says. They “seem to believe that it offers something better than we had before so it goes into our menu of options for 2014 and onward.”

Behan also says that changing where body scanners are used in the screening process also appears to be having positive results. The body scanners, called Advanced Imaging Technology in the U.S., have been pushed forward in the screening process in some airports to be used for primary screening instead of walk-through metal detectors.

Behan says that using the body scanners as primary screening machines, equipped with automated threat recognition and privacy enhancing software, is “starting to look quite attractive” although it remains in the early stages of pilot testing.

This year airports, regulators and airlines that will do the testing will pick and choose from the list of successes in 2013 to do additional pilots, this time combining multiple technology and process upgrades and changes to test “end-to-end” impact on security and the passenger experience, Behan says. The approach in 2014 isn’t one-size-fits-all and instead will allow the various stakeholders to select what combinations of processes and equipment they want to test, he adds.

The specifics of the tests are still being discussed, Behan says. He adds that IATA and Airports Council International, who are combining resources on the Smart Security (SmartS) initiative, have asked the pilot sites to at least pick a technology component and a process component for use in a live environment, which will involve regulators having to participate as well.

“The fruit of all if that will be to make sure the regulator says, ‘We believe that is better than what we had previously and that the throughput hasn’t suffered in any way and also we get positive feedback from passengers that they believe it is a better experience,’” Behan says. “That’s kind of the framework around the pilots this year.”

And by testing different mixes of equipment and processes, this may show that different mixes can be just as effective, allowing different regulators and airports to select what works best for them, Behan says.

The 2014 pilots so far will include the United Kingdom Dept. of Transport and British Airways working at Heathrow Airport in London, Dutch regulators working with KLM Airlines at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, and another in the Middle East that is being finalized.

The SmartS project also plans to include “unpredictable measures and steps towards risk-based differentiation” of passengers, according to briefing slides that Behan presented at IATA’s global media day in December. A consultant’s report is still being prepared on this and should be finalized in late January, he tells HSR.

Data driven risk assessments of passengers by regulators is currently being done by the TSA in the U.S. through the PreCheck program that allows trusted travelers some expedited screening benefits at airport checkpoints in return for submitting some personal data for background checks. Behan says that the idea is to move this toward a “mass implementation.”

He says that dynamic screening, which essentially involves altering screening protocols in real-time for each passenger based upon an individual risk assessment, is still “some years away.” He says that’s “still a goal but I don’t think the market and technology are ready for that.”

IATA and ACI announced their SmartS initiative last month, which superseded IATA’s original Checkpoint of the Future initiative. SmartS takes advantage of the synergies of each organization and combines their respective programs, Behan says.