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Becoming a resilient airport: The power of smart screening

Becoming a resilient airport: The power of smart screening

COVID-19 has hit the aviation industry especially hard. Faced with plummeting passenger volumes and disrupted operations, many airports are now fast-tracking their digital transformation plans to both gain critical operating efficiencies and optimize health and safety. Prioritizing the adoption of automated, contactless screening technologies can minimize the need for manual procedures during this pandemic and beyond — providing a strong foundation for resilient, next-generation digital airports.

An industry in flux

Seven months after COVID-19 lockdowns began, passenger volumes in the U.S. are still only one-third what they were in 2019. Even with that lighter traffic, screening has become much more time-consuming with the addition of necessary public health measures, such as scanning travelers’ temperatures with handheld thermometers. The resulting bottlenecks have a negative impact on passenger experience - and confidence - that will only intensify as airports get back to full capacity and traffic trends upward once again. (Before COVID-19, worldwide airport traffic was expected to double by 2037 from 2018 levels.)

Current supervised screening processes require significant personnel and resources. They also pose a very real health risk for airport staff. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 2,000 employees of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have tested positive for COVID-19, with seven dying from the virus.

While airports must take critical steps before and during passenger arrival to facilitate safe screening operations, given the recent disruption to their business, they also need to keep operating costs under control. With other, safer, easy to implement and faster screening options available, adding additional headcount simply for this process isn’t a cost effective option, now or over the long term.

Automated, contactless screening can help streamline operations and keep airport guests and staff safer. Industry associations such as Airports Council International (ACI) are recommending contactless process points at every stage of the passenger journey as part of their guidance on smart security practices to help airports through their post-COVID restart and recovery. At Nokia, we can help airports cost-efficiently implement that guidance with our Nokia Automated Analytics Solution (NAAS) for Access Control.

Designed for next-generation digital airports

NAAS is the industry’s first fully automated passenger screening solution. It allows contactless screening to be easily implemented in multiple locations: security checkpoints as well as main entrances, staff entrances, parking garages, gates, food/retail areas and more. That means passenger traffic can flow more freely throughout the entire airport. It also means there are more places passenger data can be compiled and analyzed to identify potential health and safety issues, but also to help manage overall guest flow through the airport.

Figure 1

Today’s passenger screening systems require both an image camera and a blackbody thermal camera, plus at least two staff on rotation per screening position to manage passenger flow. NAAS automates the screening process to eliminate the need for hand searches and other interactions between airport staff and the public. It enables real-time identification of travelers with fevers or those not wearing face masks, and redirects them in real-time using automated signage.

The solution also calculates the speed of passenger flow so that if any delay-causing incidents happen (such as an equipment failure at a security gate or if a guest’s carry-on luggage spills all over the floor), additional queues can be opened or passengers rerouted to another checkpoint to avoid bottlenecks. The solution integrates with badge systems at staff entrances, identifying potentially at-risk employees (e.g., those with fevers, and those around them) and preventing access to the facility.

Beyond COVID-19 screening

Contactless screening will have many post-pandemic applications as well. NAAS is ready to support them with an open architecture and customizable algorithms that allow airports to design their own data analytics processes and automated actions, tailoring our solution to their safety, operational and business priorities.

A variety of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and cameras could be used to determine anomalous traffic patterns and crowd movements anywhere in the airport, then automatically alert security or first responders as necessary. Hot/cold spots can be detected and indoor temperatures adjusted in real time for a better guest experience.

Advanced technologies like these are essential for airports to climb ACI’s levels of digital maturity, going from “digitally enabled” to “fully digital” and “next-generation digital” — and to position themselves to successfully and efficiently operate through the pandemic and beyond. Automated screening is a key piece of the airport transformation journey and should be a planned priority for any airport digitalization project going forward.

With our extensive, proven experience serving the needs of the aviation industry, Nokia can help you build the fabric of the next-generation digital airport — and ultimately bring greater resilience to airports and a confident, safe and healthy airport experience for airport guests.

Learn more about Nokia Automated Analytics Solution (NAAS) for Access Control for airports.

Richard van Wijk

About Richard van Wijk

Richard van Wijk is the global practice lead of the Aviation program inside Nokia. With over 25 years of experience in Telecommunications business development & consultancy, Richard has been instrumental in many projects for a number of companies like Lucent, Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia: From contracting the first SDH/DWDM projects to contracting the first LTE Air to Ground Aviation project in Europe.

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