The Future of Airport Security

Security at airports has always been tough. But the terrorist attack on New York, showed that it was not tough enough. The airports employ various security systems already today to try and identify anyone or anything that may pose a threat to the safety of passengers, airplanes or the airport itself.

Some systems have been around for years, like vigilance on the part of security guards, the police and passengers. Others like the next generation of CCTV surveillance cameras, or intelligent video, that can detect someone slipping into a secure area on the heels of someone with proper credentials – this is alternatively known as tailgating, or piggybacking – are more futuristic.

But one of the primary lines of defense at airports worldwide is access control to make secure areas inaccessible for those without authorization.

Fences, locked gates and security patrols have been used for years and as the basic building blocks, they still have to be in order, and up-to-date.

Smart cards and biometric recognition
Today, people who need access to secure parts of an airport get a smart card – magnetic, or optical – loaded with all pertinent information allowing or disallowing access to a door, lock, gate, turnstile or area on a particular day or at a particular time.

In addition, according to the US Federal Aviation Regulation 107, American airports have the responsibility of providing security identification badges for each employee who must work unescorted in airport security areas.

HID Global, an Assa Abloy company, together with Bioscrypt, supplied the Mexico City airport with a combination access control system that uses both biometric recognition and smart card technology. The Bioscrypt V-Smart iCLASS system provides dual authentication security by ensuring ‘what you have’ and ‘who you are.’

“With nearly 20,000 cards in use on a daily basis, issued to a variety of personnel including airport employees, airline staff, airport cleaning and maintenance staff, and luggage handlers, the biometric and smart card solution was deemed the best system to allow precise access control to restricted areas virtually eliminating the possibility of counterfeiting,” says Doug Wheaton, marketing at HID Global.

X-rays and X-men
On the passenger front, everyone must walk though a metal detector before boarding an aircraft. X-Ray baggage inspection systems screen luggage and carry-on bags for weapons and explosives. Based on the different levels of X-Ray absorption, an airport security guard can identify whether something is organic, inorganic or metallic. Organic materials like explosives usually show up orange on their screens.

It is not uncommon today to see heavily armed police patrolling an airport. In the US, the Air Marshal program was substantially stepped up after 9/11 to put armed Marshals on more US flights, although their exact assignments are kept secret. And after 9/11, new laws have forced major airlines to install locks on cockpit doors.

Into the future
In 2001, the US Congress passed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act which directed the newly formed Transportation Security Administration, part of the Department of Homeland Security, to evaluate and test new and emerging technologies for providing access control and other security protections for closed or secure areas of the airports.

This Airport Access Control Pilot Program (AACPP) was rolled out in late 2004 at eight US airports, a second phase was launched at ten other airports in 2005. Results were analyzed in 2006 but were not made public. But US international airports do take fingerprints and snap digital photos of foreign nationals today.

The categories of technologies that were to be tested at selected airports included biometric devices, which includes fingerprint recognition, voice recognition, iris scans, hand geometry recognition; intrusion surveillance and tracking, which includes RFID tagging; door controls, which includes access control card readers; anti-tailgating methods like intelligent video to prevent people from sneaking in behind authorized people; and optical license plate readers to detect cars.

Smoother, faster, safer
While biometrics can help spot a bad guy, it can also be used to make travel easier. A pilot project underway at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport has reportedly cut immigration wait time down to 11 seconds for passengers on the program.

During the testing phase of the AACPP, the Minneapolis- St. Paul international airport tested an intrusion detection system using intelligent video. And the T.F Green State Airport in Providence, Rhode Island tested controlled access to a secure area by using an iris biometric recognition system, along with anti-piggybacking detection using RFID technology that was installed on humans.

While the results of these tests were not immediately available, it is certain to say that technology and security are two fields that are closing in on each other real fast.

Advantages of biometric access control

• Increase security more effectively by knowing the identity
• Transferability of Access cards or PIN codes no longer exists
• Reduction of human mistakes for identification
• Automation of security (identification) functions
• Increase of convenience for users

Courtesy of the Schiphol Group 

Footnote: HID Global operates international offices that support more than 100 countries and is an ASSA ABLOY Group company. To learn more, please visit

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