Originally posted on the Seeing Clearly blog 27/04/17.


In January of 2017, the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Industry Community for Aviation, Travel and Tourism published a white paper, Digital Borders: Enabling a Secure, Seamless and Personalized Journey. Although the focus is mostly on border security, there are several key insights for the aviation security (AVSEC) community to consider.


Risk-based screening in AVSEC is still in question.

The WEF views eligibility to travel as being based on the individual rather than the legacy system of the country of origin. Whereas border security has always focused on the individual and his/her identity, AVSEC operators routinely focus more on a thorough and effective baseline screening of the passenger and his/her belongings—irrespective of identity.

Border authorities will check the admissibility of a passenger while AVSEC professionals will question whether the person is carrying a prohibited item or Improvised Explosive Device (IED). These are clearly very different challenges.

A continued focus on the individual and the digitalization of certain risk-profiling processes is quite natural for border authorities, but the transition to passenger risk-profiling and the tailoring of screening measures to match these profiles is less straightforward in AVSEC. Authorities are not comfortable assuming risk by lowering requirements for certain passengers so they might go faster. As well, authorities fear that screening “high-risk” passengers to a different level might call into question the effectiveness of baseline screening requirements. These challenges are evidenced by the low number of risk-based security screening processes in place globally.

If technology manufacturers can build screening systems that provide an efficient baseline for all passengers, will a tailored approach be required? And, if there’s no tailored approach, does an identity check at checkpoints even make sense? Unlikely.

It remains to be seen whether next-generation technologies will meet the “walk-through frictionless security devices” expectation outlined in the WEF document, thereby eliminating the need for a true risk-based security approach to passenger/cabin baggage screening. If operators are meeting the speed expectation, why assume additional risk to go even faster?

Although technology vendors like Morpho Detection are making strides in operational efficiency, until we reach the “walk-through” security screening expectation, the risk-based screening debate will remain.


Automation begets automation.

US AVSEC authorities have long required airlines to physically verify passengers’ identity when checking baggage as part of the passenger-bag matching process. This requirement has slowed the roll-out of automated bag drop solutions in many global airports, most notably in the United States.

As additional approved automated identify verification solutions become available, airlines and airports will be granted the authorization necessary to deploy more bag drop systems, thereby enhancing operational efficiencies. In addition, the incorporation of biometrics into identity checks in the travel process will allow for further automation at the checkpoint in locations where identity checks are conducted and/or where risk-based screening paradigms are already in place.


Exception-proof a must.

WEF’s talk of a single platform for identity verification and possible risk-profiling is admirable, but will be exceptionally difficult to realize for all travelers. Ensuring that the 1.5 billion people currently with no form of identity receive one, is similar to the challenge of bringing every airport in the world up to a baseline AVSEC standard. There will always be exceptions to the rule, and the systems we create must be modular and flexible enough to address them.


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