Visitor Management | 6 min read

What you need to know about the future of airport security.

With the Australian and New Zealand Airport Safety Week commencing this week Sine is focusing on our aviation industry. So, why is security such a big issue for airports, and more importantly, where can we see it progressing in the future?

Current risks facing airport security

In 2001 three airplanes were highjacked, and an attempt was made on a fourth, in what is commonly known as the 9/11 attacks. This terrorist attack was for many a big wake up call on both the vulnerability and importance of our aviation industry. Indeed, since that date there has been an ongoing effort to ensure the safety and protection of the traveling public, as well as aviation infrastructure, without infringing upon the privacy and comfort of individuals. 

Australia at risk

It is a sobering thought, but Australia’s current national terrorism threat level is ‘probable’, meaning individuals and/or groups have developed both the intent and the capability to conduct a terrorist attack in Australia. July saw the first of such threats, with the aborted attempt by alleged terrorists to plant a bomb on a plane at Sydney airport. With this attempt came the starker knowledge that passengers were not the only danger that our airport security faced; infiltration of the aviation industry itself was now a viable threat.

To provide scale, Australia has 664 aerodromes, nine designated major airports, and almost 2,000 operational airports and landing strips throughout the country. In 2016 alone, 60 million passengers travelled on Australian domestic commercial aviation. For international travel, approximately 33.9 million overseas arrivals and departures were recorded between 2014-2015. That’s over 90 million people at risk, not including the numerous staff, construction workers, pilots, aircrew and contractors that work within the industry on a daily basis. Their safety and security is of primary importance.

Australia’s security standards under review

Roger Henning, founder and CEO of Homeland Security Asia/Pacific, identified a number of shortcomings in airport security in his submission to the 2014 Australian Aviation Safety Regulation Review. He states: “All Australian commercial airports remain easy to access and vulnerable soft targets for terrorists and extremists.” He went on to outline seven recommendations to improve what he believed to be some of Australia’s biggest risk factors, including:

  • Enhanced screening of all airport employees.
  • Banning the practice of casual, untrained baggage handlers not cleared by ASIO.
  • Identification of all domestic, as well as international, travellers prior to boarding.
  • A greater focus put on human intelligence.

Henning states that Tel Aviv and Singapore are the world leaders in airport security, with Tel Aviv’s use of behavioural profiling a significant contributor to their safety record. 

Can overseas standards work in Australia?

In truth Israeli methods, while efficient, are unlikely to ever be employed in the relatively low-level risk airports in Australia and New Zealand. They are both invasive and time consuming, and would be largely rejected by the Australian and New Zealand traveling public who are unaccustomed to such rigorous, harrowing and hard-lined security checks. Behavioural profiling technology however could well be a possibility, and is currently under review in both the US and Canada.

Aviation security technology; the now, the new, and the future

AVATAR

The Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessments in Real-Time, more commonly known as AVATAR, is the latest in behavioural detection technology. Functioning as a scanning device, AVATAR is used to interact with passengers and detects changes in their eyes, voice, posture and more. From the data it gains during these interactions, AVATAR is able to produce a profile detailing the likelihood of a passenger being a security risk. Passengers, thus flagged, are then further assessed by a human screener. Should the trials in the US and Canada go well, it is entirely conceivable that AVATAR could be distributed in Australia and NZ.

Iris Recognition

A potentially impressive development in airport security comes from Californian-based company, Tascent. Tascent makes current generation iris-recognition machines, with a stated 99% accuracy and a two second scan time. Efficient and accurate, Tascents technology could significantly reduce the time it takes for passengers to complete check in, whilst remaining a higher level of security then currently employed. Currently, Tascent tech is used for facial recognition in London and Dubai, but could easily be employed further to create a more secure, yet more streamlined and open airport experience for travellers.

CT Scanners

High-definition, three-dimensional CT scans of carry on luggage are on the horizon for airports. Although CT scanners have been utilised for over a decade by airports to scan checked luggage, the machines were considered too large and noisy for public spaces. Instead, static x-ray scanners remain in use, greatly reducing accuracy, and allowing for possible slips in security. 

Thanks to advances in the medical industry, CT scanners are both smaller and quieter then previous standards. With the barrier of size and sound removed, the use of scanners in public areas will have a two fold benefit. One) The scanners are highly accurate, reducing risk of misidentification. Two) CT scanners are accurate enough that travellers may even be able to leave laptops or liquids in their bags for scanning, significantly lowering security check times. 

What we can expect next in airport security

While the above enhancements are currently being tested overseas, it could be some years before we start seeing them in Australian and New Zealand airports. In the meantime, there are several smaller changes to be expected in the near future. Some may slow travellers down, such as photo-ID checks for domestic flights and stronger restrictions on taking liquids on domestic flights. Others may impact positively upon travellers experiences, such as diverting any suspicious carry-on luggage to another conveyer belt automatically, preventing line hold ups. 

Airport security is set to remain an ongoing and evolving topic of conversation. Improvements and changes are expected all over the board, as technologically savvy developers work to enhance our existing processes and procedures. With such goals in mind, aviation security specialists are hard at work, making travel as smooth, easy and above all secure as possible, from curb to gate.

Sine and Security

Sine is currently working with Adelaide, Parafield, Gold Coast and Townsville Airports to provide safe and secure visitor and contractor management. To learn how Sine can help keep you and your airport secure, visit our website. To trial Sine for free, visit our get started page.