The United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recently responded to technology manufacturers on their applications to participate in new “Innovation Lanes” across the US. Some applicants were happy with their results (i.e. demonstration and then possible direct access to a U.S. trial); others were not (“thanks but your technology does not meet the qualification”).

Beyond individual scorecards, we’ve outlined our thinking on what the Innovation Lanes might mean for the technology builders among us:

  • Visible Solutions Are High-Priority

When security lines get long, as was the case last summer, TSA-bashing becomes a favorite US national sport. If passengers and the executive branch are yelling, what’s a TSA Administrator to do? Set-up a Task Force to tackle the problem and visibly change something in the checkpoint to show action (i.e. more bodies and better tech).

The first wave of Innovation Lane trials will focus on the installation of “automated lanes” or, more specifically, new “skin” that wraps around traditional composure areas and cabin baggage screening technology, and automates the trey return system. These solutions are not new. TSA designed and implemented an automated lane solution in a newly designed checkpoint at Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI) in 2007. When the then TSA Administrator asked Congress to fund additional automated lanes? No money. And when he asked industry to support? No interest. Had he created a wait-time crisis, perhaps he would have gotten his way.

Automated lanes do not require the time-consuming certification process seen with detection technologies, yet they’re highly visible to the passenger. TSA can quickly install them in major US hubs and, voila, the agency looks proactive. Even CT for checkpoint is making a move as a visible piece of technology, with promise to reduce divestiture and increase throughput. Technology builders with visible checkpoint products are urged to take note.

  • European is Beautiful

U.K. provider McDonald Humphry is the first manufacturer out of the gate with a technology installed in a TSA Innovation Lane. Other European manufacturers are seeing positive TSA responses and a new openness to allow small to medium-sized European manufactures into the sandbox. In addition, TSA decision-makers are swooning over Schiphol’s new re-designed checkpoint as a beacon of hope for the future of passenger screening. If you’re a European technology company, there seems to be a big window of opportunity in the US market to make airport checkpoints more “Euro” in look and feel.

  • Airports & Airlines Playing a New Role

Perhaps the biggest shift that’s occurred over the last few months is U.S. airlines’ willingness to pitch in for checkpoint technology if it promises to speed things along and improve the experience for their travelers. Both Delta and United have opened their pocketbooks to accelerate change, recognizing TSA’s budgetary limitations when the focus is most heavily weighted toward shorter wait times.

Now, more than ever, major US carriers and airports are open to new ideas that will reduce the number of flights their passengers miss as a result of security screening. Whether this trend will continue will depend on the positive impact the automated lanes have on operations and the carriers’ continued openness to pay for activities that have traditionally been viewed as TSA’s responsibility. Regardless, there is an opportunity today for technology companies to engage directly with the airports and airlines to help finance pilot activities, and advocate for broader TSA support.

  • Innovation Lanes for the Little Guys a Possibility

TSA’s requires a “Technology Readiness Level 6” for access to an Innovation Lane. In short, this means that a product must be operational in an airport environment somewhere in the world. Hey, what about the guys in the garage with an outstanding Minimum Viable Product (MVP) but no operational traction…yet?

Accelerating change requires the creation of an operational playground or customer development loop to help transform good ideas into disruptive products. If you only allow companies with a validated use case to the table, you’re limiting the realm of possibility. Understandably, TSA does not want to assume additional risk in a live airport environment. However, perhaps there’s a creative way to mitigate any assumed risk throughout a trial period – in the spirit of innovation?

Fear not! There may be hope that the start-ups will get a shot. Rumor has it that TSA is considering a separate process for Small Businesses. Calling all disruptors!

  • More Where This Came From

No one quite knows if the Innovation Lane effort will continue under the Trump Administration. President Elect Trump and his Team are certain to continue to look to the private sector for new and innovative solutions to screening challenges, and the Innovation Lane initiative has created a strong precedent for showcasing to TSA the range of solutions available in the US and beyond. We should expect even more TSA initiatives to bridge the divide between the TSA Towers and industry innovators, or at least we hope this for the future.

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