Efficiency in airports will be integral to industry recovery

Guest Author by Guest Author | Feb 23, 2021

Written by Richard Thompson, Global Market Director Aviation, Smiths Detection

As the fight to recover from a more than difficult year continues, air travel is certain to face further challenges through 2021. Testing and vaccination will have a positive impact on passenger confidence, but numbers are unlikely to reach pre-pandemic levels until 2024.

Never has it been so important to take advantage of solutions that are already proven to drive down costs by increasing productivity and reliability. Although the industry has started to embrace emerging technologies aimed at refining operational efficiency, it is not yet widespread across the sector. Now is the time to accelerate adoption.

Fast, safe, and secure

The checkpoint screening process can create bottlenecks in the passenger journey and the challenge is to keep things moving smoothly and quickly through a safe environment – and all without compromising security. While further innovation is in the pipeline, there are solutions readily available to drive productivity.

For example, existing checkpoint screening and management platforms save operational expenditure; support flexible use of resources; and also improve the security outcome. By bringing all checkpoint components on to one intelligent network, these software solutions improve screening results and processes and deliver a host of management and data-driven performance insights.

One of the core functions is remote (or central) screening – delivering airport-wide X-ray images direct to analysts based in a location away from the checkpoints. Multiplexing images to the first available analyst with no specific lane assignment, further optimizes resources as the ratio of operators to lanes can be optimized and meet the peaks and troughs of demand and individual operational objectives.

A calm environment is conducive to faster, more accurate decisions and a streamlined flow through the screening process. This is not only more efficient but also safer as there are fewer people on the checkpoint and less bunching, making it easier to keep people apart. Rechecks are also quicker and less intrusive as the software marks and classifies any suspicious areas on the images for precise and targeted secondary inspection.

Taking it to the next level

Centralized image analysis within an airport is an established concept but taking it to the next level offers huge potential for further operational savings. Moving from a local network to a Wide Area Network (WAN) means images can be securely transmitted for analysis between airports, air cargo or mail processing facilities, regions and even continents. Protocols for routing images between sites and the central screening hub can be configured to meet individual requirements and ensure resilience as well as smoothing demand and utilization during peaks and troughs.

The analysts’ work can be load-balanced and with fewer people achieving the same throughput, productivity is massively increased, and costs reduced accordingly. There are also substantial benefits beyond image screening as a secure, robust WAN can deliver intelligent management data and statistics from across the entire network – the insights needed to produce accurate projections of current vs future operational costs.

Visible, predictable, and reliable

Reliability is also pivotal to flow and capacity as delays can be costly, put additional pressure on already strained resources and disrupt operations. The key to optimizing and managing the operation and integrity of security screening assets lies in the intelligent application of analytics and machine learning.  

Driven by the vast quantity of data generated by X-ray systems, Asset Performance Management (APM) application suites are designed to improve reliability and availability whilst minimising risk and operating costs. APM provides the intelligence needed to ensure optimum performance and is an important step on the journey towards zero unpredicted failures.

With data to hand on asset history, current health and how to mitigate the risk of failure, APM helps answer questions on the consequences of a given interruption and what action should be taken and when. Controlling stock based on the available insights also means critical parts are in the right place at the right time.

Whether for checkpoint security or hold baggage screening, APM maximizes operational efficiency and longevity while minimizing interruptions, downtime and associated operational delays. This technology helps airports respond to the current economic fallout and delivers a lower overall cost of ownership and stronger ROI.

Moving towards ‘alarm only viewing’

APM reflects the trend within security screening towards leveraging big data analytics, AI, machine learning and networks to advance both security standards and operational efficiency.

The large volumes of data produced by security screening processes are also being used to develop smart, adaptable, deep learning algorithms for the automatic detection of dangerous, prohibited and contraband goods and substances. Highly accurate automatic detection of these items improves security and efficiency by supporting image analysts and reducing the risk of human error. The growing list already includes lithium batteries (a serious issue in air cargo operations), and further dangerous goods and prohibited items, such as compressed and liquefied gasses, flammable liquids and solids, guns, gun parts, ammunition and knives.

Perhaps the most exciting potential for these algorithms is the acceptance of ‘alarm only viewing’ of X-ray images at the checkpoint – a development which really could revolutionize the efficiency of this process. The concept has been used for many years in hold baggage screening where guns and knives pose little or no threat and detecting explosives is the clear priority over recognition of other objects.

Although the issue at the checkpoint is more complex, regulators in several countries are already working towards standard certification and test methodology. Manufacturers, including Smiths Detection with its iCMORE object recognition algorithms and partnerships with 3rd parties, are ready to move forward to the approval process as soon as it is implemented.

In addition to increasing security levels, ‘alarm only viewing’ would also reduce operational expenditure and improve throughput.

Act now

The drive towards maximum efficiency is now acutely relevant. Performance and reliability can significantly impact recovery and now is the time to take advantage of the technology on offer.

By working together and using all the tools at our disposal, the airport industry can capitalize on these tools that can drive cost down and will prevail.


Richard joined Smiths Detection in June 2016 in the role of Market Head UK, Ireland and Israel, being responsible for sales, service and programmes across the region. In September 2019 he took over the position of Global Market Director Aviation. Richard’s role is to define and execute the strategy for the aviation sector; not only in terms of complying with security regulations, but also driving operational efficiency and improving customer experience.


The article was provided by a third party and, as such, the views expressed therein and/or presented are their own and may not represent or reflect the views of ACI, its management, Board, or members. Readers should not act on the basis of any information contained in the blog without referring to applicable laws and regulations and/or without appropriate professional advice.

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