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Security - Advance Warning

Decisions made now will determine the security processes of the future. With pre-screening measures on the horizon, an optimum combination of technology and human intelligence looks set to protect borders

A new concept for the aviation security process promises enhanced security and more efficient throughput.

The basic premise is pre-screening passengers. Even before boarding passes are issued, governments will use existing data sources, such as intelligence agencies and customs, to vet travelers. This will be a more thorough process than is currently the case with Passenger Name Record (PNR) data. The checkpoint will no longer be the first line of defense but rather a second look. This will disrupt any threats long before they reach the airport. Screeners will look for any clues that warrant a closer inspection of the passenger. As IATA’s Director General and CEO Giovanni Bisignani puts it, the search is now on “for bad people and not just bad objects”.

The key to this future lies in leveraging all the passenger information collected by governments before the start of the trip. Data collected by customs and immigration needs to be merged with data collected for security. This overview must then be analyzed by intelligence agencies. This generates three possible outcomes. The first two are clear. Either a passenger is cleared to board or not.

It is the third option that marks a significant improvement over previous processes. The detailed results of this vetting will be made known to screeners at the checkpoint. They can then decide if a more thorough physical search is warranted even if the passenger has passed the initial vetting. This process will be combined with screener training in advanced behavior detection. The end result is a stronger and more efficient checkpoint.

For example, a frequent flyer with reams of data attached to the name will require different questioning techniques from someone whose name has generated very little intelligence. The more information that is at screeners’ disposal, the more confidence they will have in choosing an appropriate level of screening.

Technology in the wings

The role of additional technology in the process has yet to be determined. Ken Dunlap, IATA’s Director for Security and Travel Facilitation, says technologies will doubtless complement the work done by screeners at a checkpoint, but plans are yet to crystallize.

“We know that technologies such as biometrics and explosive detection will be important components, but how they fit into the bigger picture is still being debated,” he says.

A Global Expert Panel has been convened by IATA, in conjunction with Airports Council International (ACI), to discuss that very point, as well as review the entire security process. It will pass on recommendations to aviation stakeholders.

One technology that needs further scrutiny and peer review is body scanning, which is being viewed as the silver bullet for the future. However, there needs to be a more thorough investigation of its detection capabilities and potential vulnerabilities.

Passenger throughput is also an issue. “IATA surveys show that an additional 45 seconds per passenger at a checkpoint could lead to a two to five-hour delay, given a 300-passenger load,” says Dunlap. “Body scanner providers say the scan takes no more than 30 seconds. Well, even that will be too long.”

Time for governments to act

Putting any next-generation security checkpoint in place will rely on government action. IATA presented a high-level paper outlining new screening concepts to the ICAO Aviation Security panel in March 2010, and feedback has been very positive.

Several key steps must be pursued to make a new checkpoint a reality. To begin with, states will need to align their own passenger data collection systems. Personal information comes from a variety of sources and governments will need to combine this into an accessible format. “The complete set of information then needs to be sifted by governments so airlines know whether or not to issue a boarding pass,” says Dunlap.

Passing that information on to a screener would be a minor, technical hurdle. The big challenges will come in combining technology with the use of intelligence and ensuring states recognize each other’s protocols. They must also share any threat information. For example, some states have no-fly lists, others don’t. Such discrepancies will need to be resolved.

“The political will is now there to overcome these challenges,” insists Dunlap. “But a lot of work still needs to be done to ensure that we get next-generation security checkpoints and not chokepoints.”
The bombing threat late last year on a Northwest flight has elicited a strong response and several positive changes from the US government. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano met with IATA and an airline high-level delegation in January. Recommendations put forward included better government/industry cooperation, practical implementation targets and harmonization across borders.

There have since been regional meetings in Santiago and Abuja, and a third meeting will be held shortly in the Middle East. Already blacklisting of states by DHS has been eliminated and more emphasis put on passenger data screening. The US has announced it will begin profiling inbound passengers.
“The Obama administration has brought a much-needed attitude change to aviation security by proactively engaging industry,” says Bisignani. “Combining government intelligence with airline operational expertise is the way forward.”

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