x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Dubai has its eye on new security

Al Mabhouh case highlights the importance of high-tech surveillance systems

All in the eyes: Dubai Airports will use state of the art security equipment to ensure the safety and quick processing of passengers. Pawan Singh / The National
All in the eyes: Dubai Airports will use state of the art security equipment to ensure the safety and quick processing of passengers. Pawan Singh / The National

Dubai Airports is pushing deeper into technology that boosts security and improves the flow of passengers, as a new focus on surveillance takes root following the murder investigation of Hamas commander Mahmoud al Mabhouh in February. This month, Dubai Police announced they would spend Dh500 million (US136.1m) to install security cameras across the emirate to improve surveillance and security, in addition to the 25,000 cameras already being used.

Existing surveillance and security systems were instrumental in helping a team of investigators unravel the mystery surrounding al Mabhouh's death at a Dubai hotel. Paul Griffiths, the chief executive of Dubai Airports, said the use of biometrics, which verifies a person's identity through an iris scan, for example, "certainly played its part" in the investigation. "We all understand how security in Dubai is incredibly important - that is why the whole country is so safe," Mr Griffiths said.

The new security equipment will be added, he said, to ensure the airport had the best safety tools available and make sure the processing of passengers through checkpoints was as quick as possible. The airports operator will link up with agencies such as Dubai Police and the immigration authorities. "There are all sorts of technology out there," he said. "What our strategy will be going forward will be a collaborative decision with all the various authorities."

Dubai International Airport has a comprehensive network of closed-circuit television cameras (CCTV). It also uses biometric scanners to verify the identity of visa holders. The growth of the airport and its main airlines such as Emirates Airline and flydubai is likely to push the facility's annual throughput to a record 46 million passengers this year, up from 40.9 million last year. The airport has undertaken a comprehensive review of its procedures to maximise the use of its terminals. Mr Griffiths made his comments on the sidelines of a summit on aviation and IT last week in Brussels, which was hosted by SITA, the air transport IT specialist.

In an address to delegates he criticised the way passengers were handled worldwide and said technology could enable airports and airlines to improve everything from baggage handling to eliminating the need to queue repeatedly during a multi-stop journey. "Security is unnecessarily intrusive and inefficient," he said, suggesting the use of targeted profiling to spend less time on low-risk passengers and more on those deemed more of a risk.

"Customers are treated with the same level of suspicion whether they are taking their children on holiday or they bought a ticket with cash and are travelling alone to a hot country in a very furry coat with no check-in baggage. Other security agencies have got around this by profiling customers." With baggage, airports and airlines could link up with ground transport operators, Mr Griffiths suggested. By picking up a passenger's bag earlier in the process - at their hotel, for example - it would eliminate several steps at the airport.

The bags could then be delivered to the passenger when they reach their destination. "We need to move baggage to much earlier in the process and deal with it as early as possible and deliver back to the customer as late as possible in the journey," Mr Griffiths said. The focus on IT comes as Dubai expands its aviation industry with the eventual aim of building and operating the world's largest airport.

When it is fully complete Al Maktoum International in Jebel Ali will have five runways and the ability to handle 118 flight movements per hour, for a total capacity of 160 million passengers a year. "The current technology and processing is just not going to work at that scale," Mr Griffiths said. igale@thenational.ae