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Airlines Plan for Fast, Touchless Security Checkpoint of the Future

Singapore played host to a mockup of what airlines are calling the Checkpoint of the Future, which could soon be replacing security checkpoints around the world. The mockup was presented by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), whose members number around 230 and account for some 90% of international air travel. It’s hoped that these fast and high tech scanners will get travelers to their planes faster without having to deal with personally invasive security procedures.

In this future model, travelers are directed toward one of three 20-foot long corridors: A normal scan, an enhanced scan, or a “known traveler” lane. Which corridor passengers go toward is based on background checks carried out by the traveler’s government. “Known travelers” would likely have to pay a fee and submit to more thorough background checks, but have a lower-security screening.  This information will be stored on chips embedded in travelers’ passports, and their identity will be confirmed using retinal scanners.

Once at the correct lane, travelers begin their security check. But in the IATA’s vision, it’s far different from what we know today.Instead of unpacking bags, taking off shoes, or being patted down, travelers simply walk while sensors embedded in the corridor walls scan their person. The system is also designed to reserve some forms of scanning, such as full-body imaging, only for the enhanced security lane. The system is designed to keep passengers moving forward, “with dignity.” It’s hoped that such a system could reduce security wait time to mere minutes, as opposed to the curent average of over half an hour.

Key to this new system is the idea of sorting passengers by threat level. The TSA has already begun work on such a plan, and it may be implemented soon. This facet alone is expected to reduce wait times dramatically, since 30% of the passengers will be shunted into a different lane.

While the new checkpoint is designed to be highly secure, its showpiece is the speed and ease with which travelers traverse the system. While this is ostensibly good for regular folk, the emphasis is not wholly altruistic. According to Yahoo News, the IATA is expected to see a $4 billion dollar profit this year — down some $14 billion from last year. It’s believed that these awful financial figures spring from passengers disenfranchised with the hassle of flying and seeking alternative transportation. These new, fast, safe, and touchless checkpoints are aimed at winning back some of those travelers.

The IATA says that the checkpoints could be up and running in five to seven years, though there are many obstacles yet to be overcome. Cost is certainly an issue, and some of the technologies necessary for the walk-through scanners aren’t currently available. Some have already objected to the level of automation, claiming that a computer will never be able to make better judgement calls than a human. The model also calls for sharing of passenger data between nations, something governments may be unwilling to do.

Even if this model checkpoint never gets off the ground, the technologies and methodologies it displays could eventually make their way into airports. With the current hectic and stressful state of air travel, any improvements would surely be welcome by a wary populace.

(CNNYahoo News via Slashdot, image via IATA)

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