x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

It is time to make dignified exit

An airline industry trade group hopes to introduce a "checkpoint of the future" and make air travel hassle-free.

Security check: IATA has outlined plans for a 'checkpoint of the future' to alleviate inconvenience.
Security check: IATA has outlined plans for a 'checkpoint of the future' to alleviate inconvenience.

The maddening inconvenience of airport security is the bane of any business traveller's existence.

Shuffling towards the X-ray machines like cattle, removing one's shoes and belts, the pat-down and the scramble to retrieve bags from the conveyor belt add precious and costly minutes to every trip.

Now, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has outlined plans for a "checkpoint of the future" it hopes might one day alleviate all the stress and inconvenience of air travel while reducing the US$7.4 billion (Dh27.18bn) airlines must spend on such transit procedures every year.

"Passengers should be able to get from kerb to boarding gate with dignity. That means without stopping, stripping or unpacking, and certainly not groping," Giovanni Bisignani, the director general and chief executive of IATA, said during the industry's annual gathering in Singapore last week.

The proposed IATA system looks for "bad people" rather than bad objects, and uses a risk-based approach.

This includes integrating passenger information into the checkpoint process and maximising throughput for the majority of travellers deemed to be low risk.

New technology, such as "sniffing machines" that can detect explosives particles, and body-scan X-rays are being evaluated, although some governments including the UAE are wary of introducing these new machines until long-term effects on health are better understood.

The checkpoint would be laid out with three security lanes. "Known travellers" who have registered and completed background checks with government authorities will have expedited access. "Normal screening" would be for the majority of travellers.

And those passengers for whom less information is available, who are randomly selected or who are deemed to be an "elevated risk" through certain criteria, would have an additional level of screening.

IATA's proposals to introduce a common standard across the industry come at a time when individual nations, including the US and Australia, are introducing their own systems to speed up passenger flows.

Saif al Suwaidi, the director general of the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority, said the Emirates had been studying aviation security improvements for some time.

"The UAE is planning something very similar [to the IATA proposal]," he said. "It is still under study but hopefully we will finalise it as soon as possible.

"Each country has its own concerns and circumstances. We always try to achieve maximum security but we also don't want security measures to slow down passenger movements in the airport."

Today's X-ray checkpoints were designed four decades ago to stop hijackers carrying metal weapons, Mr Bisignani said.

"Since then, we have grafted on more complex procedures to meet emerging threats. We are more secure, but it is time to rethink everything.

"We need a process that responds to today's threat. It must amalgamate intelligence based on passenger information and new technology."

IATA is working with the International Civil Aviation Organisation, which along with 19 governments, including the US, is working to define standards for the new checkpoint. "We could see major changes in two or three years time," Mr Bisignani said.

Screening technology is being designed to allow passengers to walk through checkpoints without having to remove clothes or unpack their belongings.

Moreover, it is envisioned the security process could be combined with outbound customs and immigration procedures, further streamlining the passenger experience.

IATA is also co-ordinating closely with the US department of homeland security's "Checkpoint of Tomorrow" programme, which has similar goals. "We have the ability to move to the biometric scanning and three-lane concept right now. And while some of the technology still needs to be developed, even by just re-purposing what we have today, we could see major changes in two or three years time," Mr Bisignani said.

Until then slip-on shoes and plastic belt buckles will remain must-have items for every savvy business traveller.