Life in the Fast Lane:

Life in the Fast Lane:

Well-designed checkpoints have been shown to improve passenger satisfaction and compliance, reduce stress for security personnel and improve efficiency. This is why Airports Council International (ACI) World and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) have teamed up to develop Smart Security, a programme that incorporates design, technology and common sense to keep our screening lanes moving faster. Jeffrey Barrow explains why improving throughput rates no longer means compromising on security and focusses on speed-enhancing innovations at the checkpoint peripheral to the actual detection technologies themselves.


With ever-present aviation security threats, coupled with growing passenger numbers, airports and screening authorities have begun to transform their passenger checkpoints both to improve security and focus on a better experience for the passenger. This has included leveraging new screening technologies such as computed tomography (CT) to increase detection capability in the cabin baggage screening process; or increased use of explosive trace detection (ETD) equipment and liquid scanners to identify explosive materials. However, there have been a number of innovations at the checkpoint peripheral to the actual detection technologies themselves that have resulted in increased throughput and improved passenger experience.

Smart Security

Over the past six years, the Smart Security programme has focused on innovation at the passenger screening checkpoint. Smart Security is a joint initiative between ACI World and IATA with the mission of developing a more sustainable, efficient, and effective passenger and cabin baggage screening process that strengthens security, increases operational efficiency and improves the passenger experience. It aims to achieve this through the introduction of risk-based security concepts, advanced screening technologies and process innovations.

For the past several years, various research activities, trials and proof-of-concept implementations have taken place in close co-operation with a group of airports, regulators and screening authorities. The knowledge gained and lessons learned from trials and proof-of-concept implementations have been gathered into a comprehensive set of guidance materials available for wider use. This includes detailed guidance on: passenger screening; cabin baggage screening; checkpoint management systems, and design and automation, as well as justifying the business case for the checkpoint.

Airports, airlines, regulators and ACI/IATA partners have access to this information, which includes a number of information papers, guidance documents and other resources to support stakeholders seeking information as well as technical and operational guidance to aid trials and deployments.

Checkpoint Design

The Smart Security guidance includes checkpoint design and automation solutions supporting security screening, such as lane configuration, automation and ‘look & feel’ elements. Design and configuration are critical elements to checkpoint effectiveness and efficiency, not to mention passenger experience. Regardless of whether a checkpoint is largely based on manual processes, or incorporates elements of automation, some generic design principles and considerations will apply.

Passenger pre-divestment awareness signage (Credit: Toronto Pearson)
Passenger pre-divestment awareness signage (Credit: Toronto Pearson)

Dedicated preparation areas with clear communication provide passengers with screening information and the opportunity to dispose of liquids and other restricted items before they join the queue. This helpful yet basic addition has aided in decreasing queues through reduced preparation time at the actual lane.

Smart Security has found that airports have benefited from including dynamic signage or videos explaining the process as well as pre-divest stations with liquid and restricted items disposal bins.

Passenger security information mobile application (Credit: Copenhagen Airport)
Passenger security information mobile application (Credit: Copenhagen Airport)

Most airports are subject to significant divest requirements (shoes, coats, laptops etc.), increasing the time spent by passengers before and after the baggage screening equipment and increasing the volume of items (trays or baggage) required to process a single passenger. All these consequences of divest requirements, which are intended to mitigate the threats faced by the aviation industry, negatively impact checkpoint efficiency. This is exacerbated in cold climates where bulky coats and boots are often worn.

“…dedicated preparation areas with clear communication provide passengers with screening information and the opportunity to dispose of liquids and other restricted items before they join the queue…”

Benefits of effective design and configuration include improved passenger compliance, allowing security officers to focus on core activities and thereby improving security effectiveness. Passengers will enjoy a smoother process with minimised stress and disruption, and security officers will enjoy improved working conditions.

Making a simple change can significantly increase efficiency and improve passenger experience by removing the last-minute panic factor at the front of the line. In a standard checkpoint without parallel divestment, lengths of divest and repack areas can be balanced so that the same number of passengers are able to divest and repack simultaneously. This enables a constant flow of trays into the X-ray and reduces belt stoppage or X-ray starvation.

“…enabling a constant flow of trays into the X-ray and reducing belt stoppage or X-ray starvation…”

Providing space for repacking away from the security lane can also improve efficiency as it reduces the number of trays located after the X-ray and, as a consequence, the frequency of die-back (when a passenger tries to repack their items in-lane which can, especially if the passenger has multiple trays, lead to a cascade effect whereby trays ‘log-jam’ resulting in a stoppage). Several airports have made reclaim stations and tables available to passengers, and have located them between lanes to reduce the distance passengers need to carry their bins, therefore discouraging repacking on the lane itself.

Automated Access

To manage access control at checkpoints, some airports have moved away from manual processes requiring passengers to show an officer their boarding pass in favour of automated access gate solutions. Also known as e-gates, these solutions reduce the need for staffing and facilitate a continuous flow of passengers. E-gates can aid in the reduction of queues in public areas of the airport, which helps to reduce operating costs and has a positive effect on landside security. Longer term, they can potentially be used as part of a wider identity management, tracking and access system to optimise checkpoint lane utilisation and segregation of passenger types if needed.

Checkpoint Automation

Traditional security screening for passengers and their cabin baggage has been a largely manual process. With the trend towards larger and heavier carry-on baggage and as security threats evolve, passengers are increasingly required to divest more thoroughly, while airports are challenged to manage the security screening process with legacy infrastructure.

Limitations of traditional checkpoints include:

  • Static tray loading often allows only one passenger to divest at a time, causing gaps between trays, increasing X-ray operator wait times and limiting the efficiency of the checkpoint.
  • Inconsistent tray spacing reduces the efficiency of the X-ray and the security officer (creating dwell time) and potentially complicating X-ray image assessment.
  • Manual stoppage of belt when a bag requires secondary screening, reducing X-ray throughput.
  • Manual data collection and compliance tracking diverts resources from core activities.

These legacy layouts can also have a negative impact on passenger experience, such as noise, confusion at the repack area and shortage of trays. Equally, as officers seek to manually address these issues, they may be required to undertake repetitive manual tasks, which can lead to a higher number of occupational health and safety related claims.

Security lane at Chicago’s O’Hare with parallel loading and ATRS, (Credit: US Transportation Security Administration)
Security lane at Chicago’s O’Hare with parallel loading and ATRS, (Credit: US Transportation Security Administration)

As the market develops, automated solutions for many of the above challenges are becoming available, allowing airports to enhance the passenger experience, improve security officer performance and satisfaction, and drive operational efficiencies. Some of these new lane elements include:

  • Refined passenger divest and X-ray in-feed models
  • Automated bag divert concepts
  • Automated reclaim belt
  • Networked secondary search stations
  • Checkpoint management systems
Security lane with parallel loading and ATRS (Credit: Amsterdam Airport Schiphol)
Security lane with parallel loading and ATRS (Credit: Amsterdam Airport Schiphol)

Divest and Loading

In recent years, airports have sought divesting and loading solutions that allow them to automate the process and remove the need for manual handling by passengers and staff. One in particular is parallel loading, which has become the new norm for many of today’s large international airports like Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and London Gatwick in Europe, Kansai Airport in Japan, as well as Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, Chicago O’Hare and Toronto Pearson Airports in North America. In this model, several passengers line up at the same time to use loading stations along the rollers. These loading stations may be demarcated for example, through the use of different colours and small barriers between them. The passenger prepares their tray and then simply pushes it onto a second powered roller bed directly in front, which feeds into the X-ray machine. In this case, passengers will have more time for divesting as others may simply bypass them and divest at another station. This means that the system should remain fully loaded with trays, regardless of a passenger’s individual divest time.

Similar to parallel loading, many airports now implement automated tray return systems (ATRS), intended to remove the burden of tray management from the security officers in the checkpoint, reducing manual handling and allowing officers to focus on core activities. These systems automatically take the trays from the back of the lane, returning them to the front where they are presented for passenger collection.

Airports that have invested in new checkpoint configurations have seen significant enhancements in customer and security satisfaction scores as a result of calmer, more efficient, and more intuitive processes. Several airports have reported an increase of up to 20% in passenger satisfaction after having implemented innovative automation measures designed to enhance the checkpoint environment.

Checkpoint Management Systems

Aided by networking within the checkpoint, checkpoint management systems (CMS) are a tool providing airports with a holistic view of the checkpoint operations that integrates data streams produced by the various equipment and software related to screening and security operations, as well as data from external sources. Through this data integration, airports should be able to plan their resources in more efficient way, obtain real-time information enabling them to dynamically adjust their operations as needed (flight delays, staff absenteeism, etc.) and assess how their checkpoint and staff operate based on accurate information. This information can also be used to improve the passenger journey and experience, and enable the airport and airlines to make decisions based on accurate, real-time information.

Recent trials and deployment across the globe have proven the value that a CMS can bring to an airport. As an increasing number of airports upgrade their checkpoints with automation capabilities and connectivity, CMS are fast becoming a baseline requirement with more manufacturers now providing CMS offerings.

Screening checkpoint at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas (Credit: Transportation Security Administration)
Screening checkpoint at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas (Credit: Transportation Security Administration)

Smart Security guidance on checkpoint management provides airports, screening authorities and other stakeholders with a set of key performance metrics to measure the efficiency level of a specific passenger checkpoint using standardised definition and data collection methodologies. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list but rather aims to ensure a common base and a common language with regard to checkpoint efficiency.

Although the length of an automated lane usually exceeds that of a traditional lane, the resultant benefits will generally outweigh its larger footprint by providing more efficient throughput, optimisation of staff and better utilisation of space.

It is important to note that while passenger throughput remains an important element for airports to measure, Smart Security recommends that it should not be measured in isolation, but always combined with measurements regarding the number of staff and the surface area required to achieve this throughput, as this provides the full efficiency picture. Furthermore, anyone examining throughput metrics should be mindful that local circumstances and design objectives will dictate the throughput of a particular airport.

Centralised Image Processing

Centralised image processing (CIP), also referred to as remote screening, multiplexing or matrixing, is the networking of checkpoint X-ray screening systems to allow for the real-time management and transmission of X-ray images to location(s) that are not necessarily located with the X-ray machine itself. The X-ray image processing and interpretation can occur in a location remote from the checkpoint screening area, where a security officer can review X-ray images from multiple checkpoint screening lanes in a purpose-built environment (remote operations facility) or located within the checkpoint screening area itself, or a combination of these two options.

Live airport trials of CIP began in 2013. Trials were largely driven by increasing recognition that large infrastructure changes to meet the demand of increasing passenger numbers were not practical or achievable within the existing footprint, and that an improved operational model was required.

In particular, airports noted that the limit for processing passengers in a security screening checkpoint is affected by the speed of the cabin baggage X-ray system, and that the maximum speed of the cabin baggage X-ray is in part determined by the rate at which the screener can review and analyse an image. Airports identified an opportunity to enhance passenger throughput at the checkpoint by optimizing X-ray image analysis within a CIP framework.

Drawing on the experience gained in hold baggage screening, as well as similar domains such as air traffic control where operators manage multiple locations for periods greater than the typically regulated 20-minute screening period, CIP offers a solution to ease the bottleneck of passenger flow at the checkpoint without compromising security effectiveness.

Implementation, trials, and assessments at a number of airports have shown the operational and infrastructure benefits of CIP, and airports are continuing to work through options for optimising CIP with networking through a variety of X-ray technologies and increased lane automation. Operators are identifying significant gains, choosing to expand deployment efforts and are investing in complimentary checkpoint enhancements to further leverage CIP as a new and better way of operating.

Some benefits included increased detection of threat image projection (TIP) images when operating in a CIP environment, suggesting a possible improvement in security effectiveness. Importantly, covert test results remained the same in CIP environments compared to traditional environments, indicating no negative changes in security effectiveness.

Greater benefits of CIP can also be leveraged in the context of checkpoint automation. Automated bag diversion can be of great benefit in a checkpoint, allowing the X-ray operator to focus on image analysis rather than the manual triage of bags; however, it is recommended airports deploy automated bag diverter when using CIP given that the screener is no longer physically present to manually remove alarmed bags for additional screening.

“…with the advent of artificial intelligence and further equipment capabilities, in the future we expect that interactions with security staff at the airport will be fewer but more qualitative…”

With advanced cabin baggage screening equipment and the ability to track a tray throughout the lane, airports have seen benefits in networking and reconfiguring secondary search stations to allow for the improved resolution of alarms generated during the X-ray screening process. These networked secondary search stations include a monitor that is networked to the X-ray giving the search officer access to the X-ray image, together with an indication of suspected threat items to help resolve the alarm. Notably, however, airports using CIP will most likely require a networked secondary search station given that the X-ray operator is no longer physically present to communicate with the secondary search officer concerning the nature of the alarm.

In the longer term it is envisaged that CIP will become common, and future initiatives may include a move away from the checkpoint or on-airport location to where labour or infrastructure costs can be optimised. With the potential for wireless networking, hardwired connections between the checkpoint and remote locations may no longer be necessary if appropriate operational resilience, information security, integrity, and assurance can be provided.

Future of Airport Screening

Automated solutions will continue to counter the challenges of legacy equipment and infrastructure. However, work has begun on identifying tomorrow’s opportunities that will help shape the future of airport security screening in the next 15 to 20 years, potentially changing the design of the checkpoint.

Recent trends have seen more of the traditional passenger pre-flight functions occurring at home, such as mobile boarding passes, seat selection and advance purchase of baggage fees. Some jurisdictions are permitting mobile declaration on arrival and in advance of entering border control. With this trend in mind, the future of passenger screening has started to focus on off-airport and at-home applications that would potentially rely on more advanced passenger information and a risk-based focus. Early steps have been realised in the various global ‘trusted traveller’ programmes whereby pre-approved and low-risk passengers are provided with modified screening, enabling a more efficient journey through the security process, or conversely, enhanced screening of high-risk passengers.

Signage and checkpoint at London Heathrow (Credit: Heathrow Airport)
Signage and checkpoint at London Heathrow (Credit: Heathrow Airport)

Along the same lines, further thought is being given to stand-off screening as passengers move at walking pace through the airport in advance of the traditional checkpoint (such as on the curb, in the car parks or at the terminal entrances). Focus here would be on advancing technology and capabilities while containing threats outside of sterile areas. Future applications could see security processes and infrastructure dispersed ahead of checkpoints and at various points at the airport, building a picture of the passenger’s risk.

Focus on the future of checkpoint automation and its implications for human factors are being considered. With the advent of artificial intelligence and further equipment capabilities, in the future we expect that interactions with security staff at the airport will be fewer but more qualitative, with security officers deployed to perform more analytical and customer-facing tasks (i.e., assisting passengers, analysing behaviour) while equipment performs primary screening decisions.

Whether security officers move from behind the counters and X-ray equipment to interact more with passengers, or the evolution of stand-off detection equipment allows for walking pace screening, future innovative ideas will likely necessitate a change in the checkpoint – both in design and function, and resulting in a higher security regime and a better experience for the passenger.

Jeffrey Barrow is Manager, Smart Security at ACI World. To obtain more information including access to Smart Security’s guidance material, information papers, and future Smart Security guidance online training, please contact or

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