Six years after IATA rolled out its vision - ‘Checkpoint of the Future’ - of a more effective security screening process, offering enhanced passenger facilitation, Steve Wolff takes a look at the original plan, what has been achieved and where we still need to go. Nowadays, with ACI on board and the concept re-branded ‘Smart Security’, is it living up to its name?
As with many ideas, Smart Security (or ‘Checkpoint of the Future’ as it was originally known) was borne out of desperation. As air traffic rebounded after the Great Recession and security became more stringent after the 2006 UK liquid explosive plot and the failed 2009 ‘Underpants Bomber’ attack, it became clear that two opposing trends were set to collide in a potentially calamitous manner. First was annual passenger traffic increase, projected by IATA to rise around 6% per year worldwide. Running counter to this was a slower passenger and bag screening process, dropping from over 300 passengers per hour (pph) before 9/11 to around 125 pph as new regulations added new burdens to checkpoint operations.
In 2009, US industry and government veterans, who played different hold-baggage screening roles, formed the Association of Independent Aviation Security Professionals and put together position papers to brief governments on how to improve the checkpoint process (also known as ‘central search’ or ‘search cone’). IATA realised early on that their members needed a solution, and in 2010 engaged some Association members. The goals were ‘simple’: rethink the end-to-end security process to speed up the passenger screening checkpoint while improving effectiveness, reducing costs and space requirements and, oh, improving passenger convenience using available or near-available technologies. Thus the ‘Checkpoint of the Future’ programme was born.
Where We Were - the Original Plan
The checkpoint is much more challenging than checked bag screening. It must contend with a wide range of disassembled IED components, as well as disassembled firearms, that may be spread across – and be well concealed by - different passengers.
After much discussion, the small team of consultants came up with the following strategy, now known as Risk Based Screening, based on six critical elements:
Use available data to pre-screen and segregate passengers into trusted, elevated risk and normal lanes subject to different detection requirements and standards. While known travellers could threaten an aircraft, it’s unlikely they’d be trained in IED fabrication. However, the elevated risk screening standards must counter the broad threats and concealment methods trained terrorists could use.
- Equip each lane type with appropriately selected and configured technology.
- A rapid, low-cost process to screen properly vetted/ ‘trusted’ travellers.
- A combination of the best technologies configured to compensate for each other’s weaknesses into an elevated risk lane.
- Speed- and cost-optimise an intermediate process to screen everyone else.
- Integrate pre-screening, scanner data and operator decisions into a comprehensive ‘passenger security record’ at least for elevated risk passengers.
- Devise a new flight-based screening process to consider all elevated risk passengers on the same flight as a single team-based risk entity prior to boarding and develop a procedure to resolve any concerns prior to boarding.
The team leveraged several historical developments to develop an end-to-end strategy.
In the mid 1990s, Northwest Airlines developed Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-screening (CAPPS) to analyse PNR data to determine which passengers’ hold bags needed to be screened by CT systems back when the US considered 100% screening to be impractical. It would have caught 11 out of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 had they checked in bags. The idea was to combine this with a ‘risk query’ to existing government databases and behaviour detection.
In 2002-3 a private industry initiative was developed by MDI and Rapiscan and validated by National Safe Skies Alliance: an Advanced Technology Screening Checkpoint (ATSC). Technologies were selected and combined into an end-to-end process to counter each other’s weaknesses. Each passenger, along with his or her bags and divested items, was considered a single security entity, with data stored in a Passenger Security Record and a Combined GUI shown to a well-trained operator. This strategy formed the basis of the elevated risk lane.