Bristol Airport has conducted a recent passenger screening trial. Tom Allett reports on passenger and operator response.
Essential pat-down searches during passenger security checks have proved unpopular, but with continuing advances in technology such intrusive screening may soon be eliminated.
Bristol Airport in the South West of England has recently conducted a successful test of the Iscon Mini-Portal body scanner. The semi-automatic scanner uses thermal technology to provide video images that identify items such as plastics that are not currently identifiable with existing equipment. Importantly, it detects hidden objects – including previously unidentifiable items – without penetrating clothing, so the operator never need physically touch the person being scanned. Because it is able to identify what were previously unidentifiable items, it minimises the need for physical pat-down searches, thereby preserving passengers’ privacy.
The mini-portal test was organised by the security provider ICTS VeriSys service and used alongside and in addition to Bristol’s pre-existing screening processes.
It was conducted under the technical guidance of the service’s manager, Dr Marian Langford, at a passenger checkpoint at Bristol Airport. VeriSys selected five airport security operatives to be trained and to scan volunteer passengers. Following image and technology overview training, hundreds of passengers volunteered to be screened over a five-day period. The Bristol test was a significant milestone in preparing it for regulatory approval by the European Civil Aviation Commission (ECAC).
Dr Langford said: “The Iscon Mini-Portal performed well as a standalone scanner and as an adjunct to the larger existing system. Almost 40% of passengers said they actively disliked pat- downs or that they would prefer to be screened by a portal and, therefore, the appearance of another portal in the security market is very welcome.”
Izrail Gorian, CEO of Iscon, explained: “As we continue to expand further into airport and correction facility screening, this evaluation serves as important validation of our technology. It was proven to be highly effective in detecting suspicious items revealed in the whole-body scan at Bristol Airport and was significantly less intrusive than a pat-down search. The imaging system is also effective as a standalone scanner and completes a whole-body scan in less than a minute.”
The manufacturer says its mini-portal can locate a wide variety of contraband including weapons, pills and powdered substances, tobacco, precious metals, gemstones, and: “other articles of interest.” Iscon says the portal is less expensive than other whole-body imaging systems, requires a smaller floor footprint and completes scans and detection in one minute without radiation or privacy issues.
The company says it is the only advanced imaging system that can be integrated with various ID and biometric technologies such as fingerprint, facial recognition, magnetic card and barcode readers to provide a one-stop personal identity and contraband check.
After the test was complete, Chris Ware, Head of Security at Bristol Airport, told Airports International: “Bristol Airport’s security provider, ICTS, was asked to trial the equipment in a live airport environment prior to submitting it for regulatory approval. The airport hosted the trial and identified jointly with the supplier further developments and improvements necessary.”
Mr Ware pointed out that the evaluated scanner was a prototype, not the finished product, noting: “It was a little slow [to use], but that should be expected with a prototype, and a few passengers said they felt a little uncomfortable about the hot air blown on to them by the scanner, but they weren’t seriously concerned.”
He thought it was unlikely that the thermal scanner would completely replace existing screening equipment, but he believed, “it could develop into a good addition.”
Jacqui Mills from the airport’s press office said: “We are always looking to improve the passenger experience at Bristol Airport by supporting the development of less intrusive but efficient technologies. This trial will hopefully help in the development and future use of these passenger-friendly security systems.”