Processes and technologies currently exist to begin implementing a risk-based approach to airport checkpoint security that is focused on looking for bad people, not just bad things, according to a leading association that is helping to drive an international push for improving the checkpoint experience for travelers without compromising security.

For the past 18 months or so the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has been exploring how to bring changes to the checkpoint and recently it unveiled a mock-up of an intelligence-driven checkpoint of the future that differentiates the level of screening passengers would experience based on risk.

The intelligence component of the future checkpoint begins with the pre-screening of passengers using data about them that governments already require from airlines. Additional data would also be gathered from passengers who voluntarily submit information in the hope that they will be cleared as low-risk fliers and therefore are subject to minimal screening at the checkpoint.

In its mock-up of a future checkpoint, IATA divides the screening experience into known traveler, normal and enhanced security lanes. Known travelers are those who volunteer certain information to permit governments to make more informed background checks and would receive expedited access at the checkpoint while passengers that are either randomly selected or considered to be higher risk would receive a higher level of screening at the enhanced lane. Most passengers are expected to go through the normal screening lane.

IATA’s checkpoint of the future has 27 components, most of which are available today, but “the fact of the matter is when you strip the technology away, there are a lot of processes that we can use today” at the checkpoint to implement risk-based screening, Perry Flint, a spokesman for IATA, told sister publication TR2. U.S. Customs and Border Protection already permits expedited entry into the U.S. through trusted traveler programs such as Global Entry, NEXUS and SENTRI and Dutch customs are using Privium, so “we’re just saying let’s try to figure out how to use it at the checkpoint,” Flint said.

“And we don’t think that’s an entirely big leap either,” he said.

Implementing these process changes–which involves differentiating travelers according to risk–could speed throughput overall at checkpoints by about 35 percent, IATA believes.

The checkpoint mock-up displayed by IATA at its Annual General Meeting in Singapore last month incorporates biometric verification–in this case a biometric-enabled passport– at the entrance to the security lanes. Flint said the biometric could be embedded in some other type of document but the essential point is the technology is ready, “we just have to figure out how to take advantage of it at the checkpoint.”

While IATA’s checkpoint plan relies heavily on the use of background checks and various detection technologies, it continues to rely on human involvement, particularly for behavioral analysis. IATA is putting “a lot of effort” into understanding what is meant by behavioral analysis and making sure that privacy rights are respected, Flint says.

While IATA believes that most of the technologies already exist to adequately screen people and their belongings–although it has to be used with the idea of looking for bad people and not just bad things–some technology is still further out in terms of being usable at checkpoints. Stand-off explosives detection, whether it’s some sort of vapor detection, X-Ray, millimeter wave or something else, is about five to seven years out, Flint said.

Stand-off detection systems will be one of the “linchpins” that enable people to keep walking through a checkpoint without having to stop, Flint said.

In the United States, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is actively exploring how it will implement some sort of risk-based screening at airport checkpoints. The agency, working with the Airline Pilots Association and the Air Transport Association, will be implementing trials later this month or in early August at two airports to expedite screening of airline pilots at checkpoints.

The KnownCrew program will have trials at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago and Miami International Airport. Final details and security protocols are being worked out but it will basically allow a quick check by Transportation Security Officers of the pilot against individual airline pilot crew databases to make sure there is nothing new in the database that would raise a red flag about a particular pilot.

This fall TSA is also expected to begin pilot testing risk-based concepts for passengers at select airport checkpoints with the aim of expanding these efforts throughout 2012 if all goes well.

Internationally, 19 countries working under the umbrella of the U.N.’s International Civil Aviation Organization are also working toward checkpoint of the future concepts.

In Asia, particularly China and India, there is an increasing number of airline passengers and new airports being built so it is imperative that countries find new ways of doing passenger screening that maintain security while accommodating higher throughputs.

“This is a real world issue that governments have and they’re not going to be able to put it off,” Flint said.