60 seconds with Desmond Lian – Best practices in checkpoint design

  1. What is Checkpoint design and what experience do you have?

Checkpoint design is concerned with optimising the design and operation of passenger screening areas in airports. It is about designing checkpoints that provide effective airport security whilst also being efficient and conducive to a positive passenger experience.

At Smiths Detection we work with airports from the consultation stage to full design through to implementing the best solution for them. Often it isn’t clear from the outset what kind of design will work best, so it’s exciting working with clients to understand their needs and tailor a solution for them.


  1. For which airports have you implemented solutions?

I work with airports from across the Asia region, from domestic to major regional and international hubs. One of our clients is an airport in Japan with whom we have worked for many years to develop a range of solutions for different terminals.

They recently awarded us a 16 smart lane programme which will incorporate an integrated checkpoint solution and technology that allows existing sensors and components to communicate with each other.

In 2016 we won a programme to deploy Japan’s first ever ‘smart lanes’ programme. ‘Smart lanes’ are typically 15 metres or longer which allows for more people to use the lane at the same time, thereby increasing screening capacity: 300 passengers per hour is entirely possible when the process, operators and technology are deployed is an optimized manner. Both of these programmes will significantly increase efficiency, capacity and passenger comfort at the airport in Japan.


  1. What is important in the planning phase of Checkpoint projects?

There is lots to consider in the planning stage – in many ways it is the most important part of the project. It is essential to consult extensively with the customer to understand what their motivations are and the profile of their passengers. Usually this stage takes a number of conversations.

At the same time we gather data and combine it with a modelling tool to create the best solution. Once consensus is reached, we conduct additional data collection and simulation to validate the design. This process can take several rounds, but it does ensure we create the best solution for the client.


  1. Do airports with mainly low cost carriers have different requirements?

In general, yes. Low cost carriers attract a different type of passenger and airports used by low cost carriers are typically interested in checkpoint design with as high performance as possible in order to meet tight turnaround times and manage passenger flow. However, it’s also important to consider the nature of the routes and who the passengers are. For example, are they tourists or domestic travellers? Ultimately, as with any project it’s about understanding the passenger profile – once you establish this you are in a much better position to design an optimal solution.


  1. Are ‘smart lanes’ the future of security screening?

There are a few schools of thought on this question. It is certainly the case that the market is heading towards ‘smart lanes’. However digital transformation e.g.: installing more sensors along a checkpoint and integrating bio-metrics information are also playing an important role. Risk based screening, which involves moving away from the ‘one size fits all’ approach to security screening of passengers and their luggage, is also trending at the moment.


  1. Do airports consider their airline carriers when designing checkpoints?

This very much depends on whether they have centralised screening or not. If they do then they are typically less likely to tailor their solution to the passengers and carriers. On the other hand, if the airport has gate screening, they are more likely to consider the carrier’s profile. For example, if the airport has a premium A380 carrier, the passenger experience is usually more important and they are likely to want a faster screening process.


  1. Can a lack of space prevent airports from implementing the most efficient solution?

Yes, this is a common scenario. Before ‘smart lanes’ became popular, screening halls were designed to be much smaller, which means we often have to manage significant space restrictions. The good news is that modern designs mean that we are able to fit a smaller number of more efficient lanes into tight spaces by expanding them horizontally. In short, it’s possible to get higher passenger efficiency with fewer lanes.


  1. What do different aviation regulators mandate around checkpoint design?

The biggest regulatory influence on our work usually comes down to the technology we use and the physical impact of this on checkpoint design. In some country regulators may also have different screening requirements that can effect design and performance. For example, some government is the region also provide subsidies for airport to purchase the most advanced CT machines. These typically require fewer trays, take up less room and are more efficient.


  1. What role does culture play in influencing how you design your checkpoints?

Culture is an important consideration but easy to overlook. The reality is that there are certain cultural quirks that can have a big impact on how passengers cope with the checkpoint experience. More importantly, if these are ignored the effectiveness of your design can be seriously compromised. For example, in some countries it is essential that there is extra room for women to be searched in private. Inevitably, this means more space is required in the overall design.

Another less obvious example are behavioural considerations. For example, in some countries there is a tradition of following instructions and signposting. This means that by the time a passenger reaches a checkpoint they have effectively been ‘pre-screened’ and are ready to be processed. In contrast, in other countries we have found that one cannot assume that passengers will follow the rules as strictly ie: removing certain luggage items before screening. Consequently, there are often delays by the time passengers get to the checkpoint, which holds up the process.


  1. What future innovation in checkpoints will have the biggest impact on the passenger experience?

If we look beyond the current move towards ‘smart lanes’, the most obvious future innovation is around advanced x-ray machines. With the most advanced CT machines, passengers will not have to remove anything from their bag and there is minimal interaction between officer and passenger, so it is a much quicker and more pleasurable experience. The use of big data to optimize operations in real time and will also help airports to achieve greater efficiency and achieve more commercial benefits.

Looking ahead a few decades I think the ultimate vision would be to create some kind of non-intrusive scanning portal through which passengers and their luggage can walk. This is a long way off but the potential advantages for passengers, airport operators and carriers are enormous.