One recent and very positive development at US airports has been the work of airlines, airports and US TSA to deploy “automated screening lanes” at a select number of large U.S. airports. For those who have not been through one of these new lanes, US TSA has a good overview video.
Deployment of the lanes began in 2016, just when frustration with long passenger lines was peaking. To date, they have been deployed in a limited number of security checkpoints in Chicago, Newark and Atlanta. The response of the public and airlines (who are helping to fund the systems) has been positive, and as a result, TSA is planning to deploy more such lanes in 2017.
How do these automated lanes actually help reduce passenger lines? The key is how they move passenger bins more quickly – “automatically” - through the checkpoint. In traditional lanes, the entire line moves only as fast as the slowest passenger in it – e.g. the dreaded family of four with two baby strollers.
In an automated lane, passengers first put their items in bins at their own speed. Then they put the bins in the automated conveyor system. Empty bins are automatically returned to the beginning of the line. As a result, people with fewer items or people who are just faster are not delayed by people who need more time, and total passenger throughput increases.
“… the real bottleneck at airports are out-of-date 2D X-Ray scanners …”
It’s a positive step, long overdue in U.S. airports as even more sophisticated versions of automated lanes have been deployed in Europe and the Middle East for nearly a decade.
Automated Checkpoint Lanes – Only Part of the Solution
However, as these international airports have found, streamlining the flow of bins solves only part of the problem at checkpoints. While automated lanes help, there is much more we can do to dramatically improve passenger throughput. The key is to replace legacy 2D X-Ray scanners with more cost-effective systems that use 3D Computed Tomography (CT), such as Analogic’s ConneCT Checkpoint System.
Image: Analogic's ConneCT Checkpoint System. Designed to integrate with automated checkpoint lanes
because the main bottleneck at security are the legacy 2D X-Ray scanners which fundamentally have not changed in almost 25 years. Because these X-Ray scanners have limited threat detection capabilities, passengers have to divest liquids and electronics from their bags. Furthermore, because they only provide a 2D view of items in a carry-on bag, TSA operators often have to stop and rescan the bag. And the scanners generate many false alarms, forcing operators and passengers to undergo lengthy secondary inspections of a bag.
Those problems go away with Checkpoint CT security systems. CT generates data rich, 3D images that make it possible to detect potential threats even in cluttered bags – and to so automatically. With CT, passengers do not have to divest liquids and electronics, which reduces the number of bins each passenger uses.
These benefits are not just marketing hype. Large international airports have tested Analogic’s CT technology and found that passenger throughput increased substantially.
Furthermore, Checkpoint CT’s systems such as the ConneCT were designed from the beginning to integrate with automated checkpoint lanes, regardless of who manufactures them.
International airports and airlines have recognized this, and increasingly, they want to see future checkpoint designs that include both advanced screening technology and automated lanes. Let’s hope that in 2017 this trend takes off in the United States, as well.