The future checkpoint – Digital transformation in airports

Digital transformation in airports

Airports are undergoing a significant digital transformation. On the back drop of increasing passenger numbers forecast to be growing at around 5% year on year, airports are investing and developing terminal infrastructure to increase automation and create more intelligent systems to better support connected travellers.

The evolution of technology has brought a range of opportunities to operations and has driven the smart airport concept. The foundation of these concepts is to help airports better understand their customer, provide better and more tailored services, and enable seamless travel. The figure below shows some of the largest transformational shifts in airports over the next 15 years.

The Evolving Airport Environment – Major shifts over the next 15 years

One of the key considerations in this transformation is the security requirements. However the critical challenge of is how to provide high levels of security whilst increasing passenger throughput and decreasing wait times remains. There is continued focus on checkpoint and security screening operations which are a stress point for passengers. If these are not delivered in a smooth and efficient manner it can significantly affect passenger’s opinion, experience and expenditure at the airport.

Heightened security events and attacks on airports over the last five years have driven conversations about airport security and the checkpoint of the future. Airport security and legislation have been reactive to emerging threats such as Liquid Explosive Detection and explosives in shoes and laptops.

However, many of the recent high profile attacks such as those at Brussels Zaventem International Airport in March 2016 and Ataturk Airport in Turkey in June 2016 have all occurred before the security checkpoint. It has fuelled the debate on the security checkpoint of the future, and whether these should be placed before entering the terminal building. In many airports throughout the world, including Turkey, there is a screening process to enter the terminal buildings. However, this still did not prevent the attacks being carried out at the site.

Whilst moving checkpoint infrastructure further outside the terminal will keep threats away from the main terminal, it will still cause a large gathering of people that could be targeted therefore not solving but simply moving the problem.

Whilst the conversations and debates are ongoing, large scale changes across airports are unlikely to be made in the immediate future. However as they continue to invest in digital solutions and implement transformation plans in terminals, so the checkpoint of the future will emerge and with smarter airports we will start to see smarter security.

Currently IATA and the Airports Council International are driving the SMART security concept, looking to disrupt traditional screening across a number of processes including: Passenger Screening; Cabin Baggage Screening; Alternative Detection Methods and Unpredictability; Checkpoint Environment and Management; Centralized Image Processing.

Moving forward we will see security checkpoints becoming more free flowing without requiring passengers to remove laptops from bags, liquids, belts and shoes. By 2030 we would expect pre-qualified security and walk through security tunnels to become the standard with no need to unpack. This is, however, reliant on authorities understanding the risk before passengers or persons of interest arrive at the terminal.

The level of security is non-negotiable and the focus remains on ensuring that this stays at the highest possible levels. This will continue to be driven by legislative and regulatory requirements, but also by the evolution of newer terminals and infrastructure. Whilst we are likely to see the streamlining of the screening process, this will remain a crucial part of airport security for decades to come.