Friday 28 July 2017

The dawn of hassle-free flying

No fuss: The new security system would divide
passengers into three categories for scanning
No fuss: The new security system would divide passengers into three categories for scanning

Gemma O'Doherty

Clearing airport security is one of the most miserable experiences a traveller can face. Even if you've managed to bag an upgrade, there's no escaping the hassle of having to shuffle through the metal detector or the inconvenience of removing your coat, shoes and belt, not to mention all those liquids.

But happily, those days are coming to an end. This week, a glimpse into the future of flying revealed a new type of airport scanner that will allow passengers to clear security in as little as five seconds, without having to remove their personal belongings.

On Monday, plans for this sophisticated new screening system were unveiled in Singapore by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents the world's major airlines.

A new 20-foot tunnel, due to undergo trials later this year, will replace old-fashioned metal arches as part of IATA's drive to take the stress out of security.

Under the new system, passengers will simply walk the length of the tunnel and, as they do, all of the normal safety checks will be performed, including X-ray, liquid scan, shoe scan and explosive detector without the need to stop and remove anything.

Before entering the tunnel, passengers would be divided into three categories using iris-recognition technology. So-called 'known travellers' who have been pre-screened would only face an X-ray, metal and liquid detector.

'Normal travellers' would also have their shoes scanned automatically and pass through an explosive trace detector.

Anyone whose behaviour raised concern -- such as a passenger buying a one-way ticket in cash -- would go through a different channel which would also feature a full body scanner.

IATA hopes to introduce the new system in major airports by the end of next year.

For decades, existing airport security has relied on a combination of metal detectors and pat-down searches. But it was found wanting in Christmas 2009 when the so-called underpants bomber, Umar Abdulmutallab, managed to board a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit with explosives hidden in his underwear.

Although the bomb failed to detonate, it led to the rapid introduction of full-body scanners at major airports. Passengers can now be asked to go through a body scanner as well as passing through the existing metal detector.

But there is growing frustration within the aviation industry and among the public at the antiquated security regime, in which passengers face multiple checks.

Last week, the Texas House of Representative approved legislation that will make it a criminal offence for an airport official to conduct a body pat-down at security that is deemed 'indecent'.

According to IATA, the checkpoint of the future will make flying more civilised.

"Today's security was designed four decades ago to stop hijackers carrying metal weapons," Giovanni Bisignani, director general of IATA, told delegates this week.

"We need a process that responds to today's threat. That means moving from a system that looks for bad objects to one that can find bad people.

"We spend $7.4 billion a year to keep aviation secure. But our passengers only see hassle. They should be able to get from curb to boarding gate with dignity," he added.

"That means without stopping, stripping or unpacking, and certainly not groping."

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