An update on the IATA/ACI Smart Security initiative – 60 Seconds with Sébastien Colmant

We spoke to Sébastien Colmant, Development Manager for Smart Security at IATA, about his role collaborating with airports, regulatory bodies and other security stakeholders to enhance the security effectiveness and the efficiency of the checkpoint – whilst improving the passenger experience. He takes us through his thoughts on innovations in security, challenges faced, and his future predications for the industry.


What have been the main benefits / learning points from the programme?

Over the years, the combined IATA/ACI Smart Security initiative has allowed us to learn from early trials of innovative solutions, to full deployment of proven solutions. This has enabled us to improve efficiency, security and passenger experience.

A close relationship with airports leading the adoption of advanced solutions has proven extremely useful. This allows us to gather early results from trials happening on their premises, which could help airports across the world benefit from their experience and improve their own passenger screening process.

To summarise, the main learning points are it is important to acknowledge that every checkpoint is different, and that you shouldn’t presume that what is working well in one environment might be the best solution for another location. For instance, a terminal serving Low Cost Carriers will have a totally different passenger demographic to a terminal serving legacy carriers. These differences will influence elements such as divest and reclaim time, the number of trays required to handle a single passenger’s belongings, the clutter level of the cabin baggage, etc.

It is also very important to understand that early and close collaboration between stakeholders when implementing new technologies or processes is a must. For example, the best-automated lane process will not generate efficiencies if the security service provider has not been involved in the project, and failed to adapt its staff training and quality control process.


Where do you think innovation is required in screening passengers and bags?

If we look back, the range of available solutions for passenger and cabin baggage screening has significantly increased compared to legacy checkpoint where Walk Through Metal Detector, single-view X-ray, tables and roller beds were the only options.

Centralized Image Processing (CIP also known as Remote Screening) , Security scanners, Explosive Detection System for Cabin Baggage (EDS CB), lane automation etc., are now available for deployment to meet specific operational and regulatory requirements. However, innovation is still needed to meet the constant evolution of threats, and facilitate the adoption and deployment of new technologies and concepts. If I were to select one medium term area of focus, I would say that working to reduce the operational impact of EDS CB implementation is key.

Finally, it is also important to note that innovation is not only about technologies, regulations could also be innovated to improve the security outcome with greater efficiency and passenger experience.


What could technology suppliers do better?

When promoting their equipment, suppliers should take a transparent approach with the stakeholders, specifically regarding its operational impact. Convincing regulators of the security value of equipment, such as security scanners or EDS CB is one thing, but if topics such as the alarm resolution process are not discussed early on at regulatory level, airports might end up not adopting the equipment due to local regulation. This can result in not accommodating a smooth and efficient implementation.

A supplier should also advise the customers on the right direction. One small victory would be for a supplier to move away from the “increased throughput” mantra and promote the benefit of the staff and/or surface efficiency and what their solution will deliver.


Are regulators keeping up with new capabilities and processes demanded by your industry?

Adopting requirements that are mitigating the risks our industry is facing is a primary focus for regulators, whilst airports and airlines are always looking to provide the best experience possible to passengers and limit the negative operational impact of additional security requirement.

It is possible to meet these different objectives in a better and faster way by developing a close collaboration between the regulator and the industry, and there are great examples across the globe which should be promoted as best practice.

Unfortunately, we also have examples of situations where trust is not strong enough between the national regulator and local stakeholders. This leads to an extremely slow and difficult process to deploy technologies and concepts that may have been adopted years before in other countries.

A final comment regarding the position of regulators on new technologies is that there’s often a tendency to try to address all the issues, or look for a fast solution, rather than looking at what solutions there are available, compared to what is currently in existence.  While this is understandable from a policy perspective it often slows down or even stops the adoption of solutions that could provide benefits for all the stakeholders.


What will be the next big thing for aviation security?

As history tells us, it is difficult to predict the next challenges the industry will face.  However, the following factors should be kept in mind by regulators and the industry when thinking about future solutions:

  • Forecasts show that the demand for air transport will continue to increase in the coming years, adding pressure on checkpoints – which are already the operation bottle neck in many airports.
  • Reaction to new threats may introduce new security requirements that apply to 100% of passengers, further increasing checkpoint capacity issues.
  • The next BIG thing is largely dependent on the airport you are considering. One of new ICAO Annex 17 Standard And Recommended Practices (SARP) introduces specific explosive detection methodologies in the passenger and cabin baggage screening process. This could be seen as a non-event for airports where this capacity has been mandated for many years.  However, on the other hand, it could be viewed as a significant step forward where such capacity is currently missing. In a more advanced regulatory environment, the gradual switch towards “alarm-only” checkpoints where primary detection are based on technologies and where staff are focused on the alarm resolution could be seen as a major change from the current process.


Which airports have implemented smart security and what benefits have they seen?

It is difficult to list all the airports that have implemented Smart Security, as the combination of solutions deployed locally varies from country to country, or even from airport to airport. However more than a hundred airports have implemented elements of Smart Security, and many of them have seen some level of improvement in capacity, passenger experience and future-proofing their checkpoint

Finally, the most important components to deliver significant improvements to the project include:

  • Measuring your own baseline;
  • Understanding and sharing your issues based on facts and figures;
  • Setting your goals in an objective manner;
  • Defining a solution to meet your specific goals;
  • Monitoring progress and challenges using the same methodology;
  • Sharing baseline, progress and challenges with stakeholders.