Wide Area Network screening – widening the net

Centralising hold baggage security screening from multinational and international airports has huge potential but is it a realistic option?

Although relatively new at the passenger checkpoint, remote image analysis is a long established feature of hold baggage screening systems. Typically, images from HBS EDS systems are delivered for on-screen resolution via a central server to workstations based in dedicated control rooms within each Aviation Security Location (airport or terminal).  Take this a step further from the local airport network environment to a Wide Area Network (WAN) and images can be transmitted between airports, regions and even continents – offering huge potential for operational economies.

Technical challenges

The efficiencies of centralisation have already been proven at several major global hubs where images from all terminals are already sent to one team of analysts.  So what are the technical implications of using a WAN?

In essence, this is technically much the same as streaming Amazon movies around the world – the difference is, if the connection goes down, a break in your entertainment does not have quite the same impact as a break in security screening.  Most operators are likely to already have connections to each of their airports so it is fundamentally about ensuring the dedicated network connection is particularly robust, secure and provides sufficient bandwidth for real-time distribution of the images.

The things to consider beyond bandwidth and latency are; IT and cyber security; the inclusion of storage and management functions; and the variations in baggage handling system design.  Another crucial factor is foolproof failure and redundancy capabilities.  Passenger checkpoints are always designed to have operators at the lane, so if the network connection went down, it would be relatively easy to fall back on on-site image analysis.  However, this is usually not the case for hold baggage systems, therefore a technical solution with additional infrastructure has to be put in place to ensure screening can continue.

Potential applications

The most obvious set-ups to benefit from centralisation on such a grand scale are twofold.  Firstly, countries such as Brazil, Norway, Sweden or even New Zealand and Canada where smaller airports spread across large distances experience huge seasonal variations in traffic.  In these circumstances, it makes sense to link all or some of the outlying locations to a key airport where business is more consistent, rather than keeping staff on hand at every site.

But this is not just a geographic issue, it is also about logistics.  For example, many airport groups have concessions across different countries and centralisation would certainly offer them substantial economies of scale.

There are also several other potential applications such as larger airports offering an outsourced service to smaller airports; or using one set of scanned images for both outbound security and also inbound customs clearance at the destination.

Operational benefits

Beyond image screening, there are substantial benefits to be gained as the network can also be used as an intelligent source of management data and statistics generated across the entire WAN. This invaluable information supports TIP management, health monitoring, preventative maintenance, resource allocation and general administration.  Indeed, centralised management via WAN is already in operation at some security screening installations globally – but none are yet handling real-time image analysis in the same way.

It is certainly a more cost-effective approach in terms of resources, infrastructure space and, with built-in redundancy, offers a higher level of system availability.  To take even more advantage of centralisation, image consolidation can also be extended to include both HBS and checkpoint screening – and in future perhaps trace equipment, body scanners and CCTV.

Centralisation is not a new concept

Remote air traffic control towers handling flights in and out of multiple airports are already up and running.  *Established in 2015, the first one was set up in Sundsvall, Sweden to control traffic from three airports hundreds of kilometres apart.  Norway is consolidating 15 northern airports into one tower with potential to add 17 more.  Airports around Europe and the USA are busy testing the idea – including London City which plans to close its control tower in 2019 and transfer air-traffic control to a centre 145km away. The objective here is to improve both security and operational efficiency rather than link airports.

As a concept, centralisation is proving itself in many different ways throughout the aviation industry – and it looks like image analysis could well be the next function to widen its net.


* Source: The Economist: https://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2017/05/economist-explains-21