Lessons to be Learnt

Airports and air travel have to be more secure and passenger friendly

Younis Ahmad Kaloo

India is set to become the largest civil aviation sector in the world by 2030. Domestically, the country’s air traffic nearly doubled to 117 million passengers in 2017 since 2011. According to the data released by Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in January this year, a hundred flights took off every hour in 2017 compared to 67 in 2011.

A security person searches a passenger at an airport

While the increase in air traffic in India is welcomed, the security protocols adopted at airports are, however, found ‘embarrassing’ by frequent travellers.

“Given the fact that air traffic is increasing day by day and with our security apparatus not being up to the mark to meet that flow, there are definitely a lot of issues we face at airports,” said a highly placed source in civil aviation industry.

“In India, you go through a metal detector and then you come across a person who again scans you with his hands and a handheld detector. But when you go to west or even Dubai, the metal detector is now improved to a level that if you go through it and it doesn’t beep, nobody questions you thereafter,” he said.

The source also questioned the need for checking a passenger’s boarding pass on different occasions before boarding an aircraft in India. “There are far too many security levels at airports in India. For example, when you enter the terminal building, you have a security person to check your boarding pass. Then you go to boarding gate, your boarding pass is checked and when you go to the aircraft, another person checks it. I have never seen boarding pass being checked these many times,” he said. He further added, “You are, basically, not building efficiency, and I don’t think there is any study which says that if you have seven layers of security, you can consider it as a safe travel. I don’t think we are learning from the environment. We have to start learning from the environment”.

Outside India, countries are testing and using the latest technology to improve the efficiency in security and cut down on the time. According to recent media reports, in Aruba, KLM passengers flying to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport go from check-in all the way to boarding without a ticket and with just one passport check. Similarly, making air travel easy, a trail conducted recently by JetBlue in conjunction with the US customs and border protection (CBP) at the boarding gate at Boston Logan allowed passengers to board their flight to Aruba hands-free.

In both the cases, the results were achieved through the deployment of biometric facial recognition technology, which only requires the passengers have their photo taken. The system checks the face against the image held in the biometric chip of the e-passport or against the airline’s passenger manifest. It does away with the need for a manual identity check and allows passengers to move on through the airport.

In the US, transportation security administration (TSA) also introduced computed tomography three-dimensional (CT 3D) bag screening as a pilot programme, apart from biometric fingerprint identification, to speed up the screening process. The new 3D scanners are said to be better than two-dimensional X-ray machines, which do not always show exactly the contents in the bag. The 3D scanners create a clear picture of what is in the bag and can automatically detect explosives, including liquids ones.

Whereas in India, the source said, the human interface in not going down, which is only possible when technologies are brought in. “If I am coming back with an Indian passport I should be able to just scan my passport in the machine and get out. I still have to come back to immigration. That is why the efficiency is going down. We have to look into the future considering the fact that civil aviation is growing. We have to bring in technology, reduce the human interface, and all that has to be done in an intelligent manner.

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