Open Aviation Security (#OpenAVSEC): Lowering the Barriers to Innovation

Nathalie Herbelles by Nathalie Herbelles | Mar 10, 2022

By Nathalie Herbelles, Senior Director, Security and Facilitation, ACI World and Billy Shallow, Director, Innovation and Technology, ACI World

This is an exciting time for airport security. Startups and technology giants are entering the security screening market, bringing with them new algorithms, fresh ideas, and technological breakthroughs. While aviation security remains tightly regulated, barriers to entry are starting to fall as the aviation community realizes the potential that open platforms and artificial intelligence bring.

A critical building block is open architecture. Open architecture allows security equipment interfaces and systems to speak the same language and be interoperable, which gives airport operators the ability to select from a wide range of software suppliers and to deploy solutions that meet their needs. A number of regulators and airports, including the US Transportation Security Administration, Avinor AS and Heathrow, have already embraced the concept and are including it in their procurement for new screening equipment.

Open architecture is somewhat new to aviation security systems, but it already exists in other sectors. Banking and healthcare have had open platforms and standards for some time. The healthcare community uses international standards called Health Level Seven or SL7 to allow clinical and administrative data to be transferred and used across various providers. DICOM Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine (DICOM allows doctors to interpret the same healthcare image across different equipment. Digital Imaging and Communications in Security (DICOS), which is the same concept but for security equipment, is becoming more popular as it facilitates interoperability across different brands of screening equipment.

The promises of AI and machine learning for airport security

Open architecture has huge benefits for aviation security: it can help lower costs, reduce the inconvenience to passengers, and provide a more agile and dynamic detection of threats. This is where artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) hold most promise. Today’s screening systems normally detect what they are programmed to detect (i.e., known threats)—explosive substances with other prohibited items needed to be detected by a screener. Several airports are looking into systems leveraging AI that can automatically detect prohibited items, such as sharp items and firearms. Others are working on self-screening pods, where intuitive processes would direct passengers through screening without the need to interact with an agent.

AI-based algorithms can also help spot unknown threats—things that are “not quite right.” They can help identify patterns, making sense of different datasets in a way that could help operators predict a coordinated attack, for example. Combined with other promising solutions, such as networking and sharing of screening images, this opens the possibility for customs authorities to review images captured during security screening, before the passenger takes off—which can help detect criminal activities such as wildlife or drugs trafficking. This is another way in which barriers are being lowered, but it will require cooperation between aviation security and border control agencies, with a shared outcomes mindset.

In that sense, artificial intelligence will augment the role of human screeners—but they will not fully replace them. In Smart Security Vision 2040, we anticipate that “security staff will be more qualified, highly skilled with expert training to complete tasks in 2040, including data analytics, questioning and behavioral detection during the [alarm] resolution process.” We also envisage that this will open the door to security officers, or separate airport “facilitators,” to carry out greater passenger engagement tasks, guiding them through new processes if they need help, and ensuring that they receive an excellent experience.

An evolving airport security workforce

The security workforce is already evolving, as COVID-19 has led to labor shortages and difficulties in retaining staff. Airports are investing in automation and robotics to boost productivity and increase sustainability throughout the airport, from baggage handling to aircraft pushback and security screening. This is merely accelerating developments that had started before the pandemic, particularly in countries with an ageing population: the NEXTT vision developed by ACI and IATA considers that the top three emerging concepts for the air transport journey of the future will be greater off-airport activities, advanced processing and interactive decision-making.

The evolution of the airport workforce is a hot topic that ACI World will be delving into in 2022. A multi-disciplinary task force has been set up to draft a White Paper that will analyze workforce trends, challenges, and opportunities, and develop short-term and long-term recommendations for the global airport industry.

A fascinating webinar organized by ACI in January 2022 discussed the potential for open architecture, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to trigger profound change in aviation security screening. The webinar gathered the US Transportation Security Administrator, Google Cloud’s Technical Director (Office of the CTO), the UK Department for Transport’s Deputy Director for National Security Science and Research, and Pangiam’s Chief Strategy Officer.

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Their key takeaways for airports were:

  1. Make sure your system does not resolve around a single vendor or system, including interoperability and portability requirements in your procurement process
  2. Engage with regulators to make sure the regulatory framework supports innovation and does not impede it
  3. Do not be afraid to move forward, because the solutions are available now

Ongoing ACI initiatives around innovative security

ACI’s Smart Security program is looking to further develop ongoing initiatives around AI and ML in 2022 through new guidance for airports and regulators, looking at the technology in more detail, and how to approach implementing the exciting initiatives. Later in the year, the group will focus on the human factor element of security screening, evaluating how data can improve security checkpoint operations and lead to better decision-making across the board.

The barriers are breaking down between a closed aviation security community and an open technology community that engages with external parties to help them solve problems. In that sense, open architecture, and the promotion of #OpenAVSEC are just the start of an exciting journey – one that will benefit passengers, staff, and the whole aviation community.

Billy Shallow

Director, Innovation and Technology

Billy joined ACI World in March 2019 to lead the Smart Security program. His role focuses on developing and advocating the future vision of passenger and baggage screening for airports. Billy has over 8 years of aviation experience, including five years leading London City Airport’s security improvement program, as well as international consulting assignments.

Nathalie Herbelles

Nathalie Herbelles

Senior Director, Security and Facilitation, ACI World
Nathalie Herbelles' is ACI’s point of contact for global airport security issues, representing the world’s airports and helping deliver the association’s priorities. A French national, Nathalie has over 15 years experience in aviation security in different parts of the world, having worked for IATA, AEA, the European Commission and Air France. 
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