Smoothing The Flow

Security officers at Changi International Airport are able to verify, in real time, if passengers’ boarding passes are genuine and/or valid with ARINC’s passenger reconciliation system – VeriPax. (ARINC)

Jim L Martin, Managing Director, ARINC Asia Pacific Division, discusses the need for screening optimisation.

Security officers at Changi International Airport are able to verify, in real time, if passengers’ boarding passes are genuine and/or valid with ARINC’s passenger reconciliation system – VeriPax. (ARINC)

Smooth passenger flow is vital for every aspect of airport operations.  Yet rising passenger volumes, together with demands for enhanced screening, have the potential to result in substantial bottlenecks.  The need to clear passengers as quickly and effectively as possible to proceed to a terminal’s airside areas, whilst ensuring boarding agents are immediately alerted to any violation, is of paramount importance in the pursuit of operational efficiency.  Thus, passenger screening is a vital process not only as a safety measure, but also in how it can contribute to the travel experience.
The main role of passenger screening is to determine whether the person is clear to travel.  This can be done in a variety of ways at various stages throughout the travel process.  For example, immigration departments may use electronic borders (e-borders) technology and applications to allow passenger information to be examined long before check-in, helping to optimise efficiency and passenger flow as critical new security requirements are instituted.  This can be carried out by utilising the Passenger Name Record (PNR) or Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) data.  At the airport, passenger reconciliation systems (PRS), like those installed at Changi International, validate passenger and flight information in real time to identify and screen for fraudulent boarding passes.
There has been interest recently in the implementation of electronic borders in the Asia-Pacific region as more and more countries, such as the US Customs and Border agency, which has mandated advance passenger information systems (APIS) for flights in and out of the USA.  In Korea, with more than 77 million foreigners visiting the country in 2010 alone, and 1.4 million taking up residence, the Ministry of Justice implemented various policies such as fingerprinting and APIS to keep better track of them.  In addition, electronic borders are also designed to fulfil the requirements of IATA’s Passenger Experience initiative, which states that passenger screening is not limited to physical screening and document scanning at the airport.
However, from a passenger perspective, the screening experience may not be entirely smooth.  One of the key reasons is that a number of stakeholders are involved in the screening process throughout the journey, including airports, airlines, border control agencies and the police.  Each of these stakeholders has specific requirements regarding how the passenger is to be screened, according to what information is required for clearance.  This could potentially lead to redundancies or inefficiencies in the process.
In addition, although screening is recognised as a key component for passenger processing, some agencies may not be familiar with the regulations and technologies involved to implement infrastructure such as electronic borders effectively.  Budget constraints are also another reason preventing some countries from implementing such systems, preferring to keep to manual processing instead.  At the extreme, some may also feel that passenger screening takes up valuable processing time.  Thus, it is important to maintain the right balance between security and passenger convenience, and that screening should not, as far as possible, lead to congestion at airports and impact airline operations.
The challenge right now is to understand how passenger screening can be effectively designed and implemented, and at the same time, provide passengers with an even more secure and pleasant travelling experience.
First of all, it would be helpful for all stakeholders to get together to co-ordinate their efforts in optimising the screening process, so as to be more efficient and reduce passenger inconveniences.  This streamlining should also work towards a common goal, whether it’s a local government initiative or motivated by a mandate from another country or agency (eg APIS).  However, this is not likely to happen overnight and thus a good strategy and rollout plan will help ensure its success.
Jim L Martin, Managing Director, ARINC Asia Pacific Division.

Next, we need to determine how to leverage technology to automate the screening process as much as possible to reduce delays.  Changi International Airport was the first in the world to roll out the PRS, where security officers stationed outside the immigration area, using hand-held screening machines, verify that passengers’ boarding passes are genuine and valid.  It only takes a few seconds for the real-time system to connect to the airlines’ database for validation.  This is a timely solution considering the rapid use of home-printed boarding passes and the potential for fraud.  There is also an added benefit: travellers with self-printed boarding passes and no bags to check in will gain the most from time saved by proceeding directly to immigration, bypassing the check-in counters.  Thus, this is a prime example of how passenger screening can improve travellers’ experience and, at the same time, enhance security at airports.
Taking the concept of PRS one step further and applying it to screen and process passengers throughout their journey from check-in to boarding, airports and airlines can adopt a multi-step approach and implement the system to: validate passenger boarding passes before they enter the airport/secure holding area; facilitate seamless entry into the airport for passengers with mobile boarding passes and home-printed boarding passes; replace the manual stamping process (at some airports) with an automated validation of passenger boarding passes and, finally; reconcile departing passengers from the entry point, to the secure holding area, to the boarding gates.
We can see from this example that PRS doesn’t only enhance airport security, it is also able to improve operational efficiencies through passenger tracking and increased passenger throughput.  The beauty of this solution is that it is able to fulfil these functions without any increase in passenger processing time or additional manpower.
With this in mind, stakeholders should also consider tweaking their standard operating procedures to be in step with technology adoption.  Certain manual processes could be replaced by automation to increase throughput and accuracy, and information can also be shared with the other stakeholders so as to avoid any redundancies.  Over and above that, industry groups should also take the lead to standardise regulations and processes for passenger screening, so that the travellers’ experience is consistent.  With standardisation and consistency, the screening process will become much more predictable, secure and efficient.
Another screening solution is registered traveller programmes.  These programmes seek to identify passengers who pose a minimal security risk, and then provide those passengers with an enhanced security checkpoint experience, which at most times allows them to quickly clear immigration checks through a dedicated gate and card reader.  This ‘pre-screening’ of passengers helps to improve the travelling experience while simultaneously reducing airport delays.  For instance, Gatwick Airport recently launched its new South Terminal Security area which utilises scanning technology and automated processes to screen passengers in less than five minutes.  Each passenger will take approximately one minute and 36 seconds to pass through the security checks.  Travellers are required to swipe their boarding passes or scan the 2D barcode on their smartphones and this will determine if they are put through more checks or if they are clear to proceed to the boarding area.
Passenger screening has become essential, and will become more sophisticated as new technologies are being introduced and adopted, such as Near Field Communications (NFC) and mobile 2D barcodes.  The challenge is for airports and all other relevant stakeholders to meet the expectations of the travelling public, who are increasingly choosing self-service options, whilst enhancing the security infrastructure.  Reducing passenger processing times with a speedy, reliable and seamless check-in and screening will result in shorter queues and happier customers.