Innovations at airports have historically focused on one or both of the following primary factors: improving the customer experience, and securing passengers from ‘terminal to the plane.’
For example, the ‘Automated Screening Lane,’ originally proven to be successful in many European airports, have been widely adopted by U.S. airports in the past two years. In addition, new scanning technologies are making it possible to rapidly detect explosives, firearms and other weapons hidden on a person, without requiring them to remove layers.
On the customer experience front, more than 15 airports started testing and using biometrics to dramatically improve the customer experience. Airports are using advanced facial recognition to make it much easier for travelers to check-in at self-service kiosks, drop their luggage off at counters, and board planes – all without showing passports, IDs or other credentials.
While many airports are still in trial phases for these technologies, early results of reduced wait times and improved service levels are encouraging.
Despite these advancements, there has been little innovation in two critical areas: terminal-side security and employee screening to protect against the insider threat. Though some airports actively identify new technologies to improve these areas, many play a game of ‘wait and see’ to find out what the TSA will support or mandate.
Based on my experience, the airports that are proactive with their technology are the ones that set the future trends. When projects are successful, the TSA embraces those airports as models.
Security has traditionally been separate from the customer experience, but based on the early success of biometrics, we’ll see a big shift on this front in 2019. Airports will increasingly leverage successful customer technologies to improve their security apparatuses as well. This will set the trend for what airport security will look like for terminal side and employee screening in 2019 and beyond.
Here are two big ways we expect to see the combination of biometrics and security deployed this year.
Battling the Insider Threat – Improving Employee Screening
According to a recent economic impact study conducted for Airports Council International – North America, about 1.2 million people work at 485 commercial airports in the U.S.
In a risk-based security model, airport employees don’t require the same level of scrutiny as passengers, but they still need to be screened. Because there are no TSA mandates of physical screening for employees, many airports deploy new security programs only after several noteworthy incidents have occurred, including the Horizon Air worker who stole and flew a commercial aircraft over the Seattle area, and the multiple arrests for various smuggling charges.
These incidents have put many aviation security veterans, including myself, on high alert and increased the possibility of a mass casualty act conducted by a disgruntled or radicalized employee. While many airports have added physical screening procedures for employees, the use of biometrics for employee screening for employee screening will start to explode in 2019.
Here’s why. Security and customer convenience are constantly at odds in traditional airports. Adding additional physical security procedures for employees can be cumbersome and cause delays for travelers because the employees are held-up at security checkpoints. This is why biometrics, combined with the power of new physical threat detection systems like Evolv Edge, will become the defacto standard for employee screening.
Customer Biometrics Provide Another Layer of Security
The early success of biometrics from a customer satisfaction standpoint will crossover to the security side as more airports employ biometrics at security checkpoints for another layer of security for passenger identification.
In fact, the TSA recently announced their roadmap for expanding the use of biometrics to improve passenger identify verification. This will be a departure from the current process of examining physical documents and processing biographical information on every traveler.
But, by adding biometrics scanners at security points like TSA Pre-Check, U.S. Customs and Border Protection points, and more, the TSA and the airports will be able to improve the customer experience, while strengthening their ability to verify each passenger.
These advances in technology will allow airports to treat security and the customer experience in the same way, while improving both at the same time. The combination of biometric identification, along with the ability to rapidly scan travelers for weapons and explosive materials without requiring them to take off layers of clothes, shoes, belts and more, will result in more secure, more convenient travel.