The practice of screening people and baggage is about to take a leap forward after slowly evolving over more than four decades.

Future checkpoints will harness channels of personal data to differentiate between passengers and assign to them—depending on how they score on a screener’s confidence scale—varying levels of technological screening. The physical configuration of checkpoints is likely to change as best practices of processing people come into play.

James Marriott of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is leading this effort. As chief of the aviation security branch, he is overseeing “a clean-sheet” approach to formulating a checkpoint to both frustrate terrorist attackers and make passing through airport security more tolerable for travelers.

Marriott knows the import of his assignment. Passenger and cargo traffic is rising and aircraft flights are increasing from the same number of airports. If the effort fails, checkpoints will become chokepoints more than they are now.

In recent months in Frankfurt and Geneva, ICAO hosted gatherings of security specialists who reviewed promising advances across three major components of security—intelligence, behavior analysis and technology. At a follow-up session of the 27-member Aviation Security Panel at ICAO’s Montreal headquarters, 10 areas of study were identified and subgroups organized to pursue them. Reports are expected in March.

Marriott acknowledges that travelers are raising valid questions about the amount of personal information being collected about them. The focus, he says, will not be on a person’s race or religion. Instead, the information will be coupled with characteristics that arise from patterns of behavior, such an individual’s travel history and the manner in which he or she acquired travel, particularly anything egregious that would “make for more careful scrutiny.”

But this future development could be an Achilles heel. The success of a redesigned checkpoint will depend on access to complete information on individuals from airlines and governments. Information is available from the U.S., but “probably not” from other governments, says Billie Vincent, a former FAA chief of security who is president/CEO of security firm Aerospace Services International of Chantilly, Va. “The European community has made a big issue of releasing any personal data to the U.S., even from that collected from the airline passenger data,” he says.

Vincent believes that total profiling of passengers is inevitable, “though it may take another disaster before we do [it].” He also advocates implementing risk-management procedures that, aided by complete individual profiles, thresh out suspects. A deep concern of his is that some advocates of checkpoint revisions may be motivated to “eliminate some of the other layers, which would disarm us.”

A related development under study at ICAO is expansion of the practice, already under way by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA), to post behavior detection officers at checkpoints. The accumulative knowledge from various sources, when interpreted by security officers, will lead to “more attention being paid to some rather than others,” says Marriott.

The flurry of activity over a future checkpoint follows expressions of discontent by airline and airport officials last September in Pittsburgh at a conference of the Airports Council International-North America, which attracted international security professionals (AW&ST Oct. 11, 2010, p. 44). At about the same time, a vocal minority of travelers launched a campaign against full body scans and enhanced pat-downs. At the Pittsburgh meeting, Kenneth Dunlap, director of security and travel facilitation of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), called for a new checkpoint paradigm. He later defined it more fully at the association’s Geneva headquarters.

Dunlap argues that the screening system “is showing its age.” He proposes a checkpoint that looks “for bad people and not just bad objects,” with the sideline aim of rebuilding public confidence in security. That would be accomplished best by creating a total security picture of the traveler with information largely from government databases as well as from airlines.

The process would equate with that at many customs and immigration inspection stations. Once the risk level of a passenger is defined, he or she would be directed to one of three security lanes, or tunnels, depending on security ranking. One lane would be for known travelers, another for regular users, and a third for enhanced screening.

Dunlap puts it this way: “IATA envisions an interruption-free passenger transit from curb to aircraft. Combining biometrics, stand-off screening and passenger data, travelers would walk uninterrupted through a tunnel of technology where security and customs processing occurs in a transparent manner.”

Vincent is not so sure. “In order to feel comfortable to exclude so-called known and frequent travelers from the full boat of checkpoint screening,” he says, “one would have to know a great deal about each individual and have vetted that data in a comprehensive process that includes criminal history checks, passport checks, nature of business or travel reasons, and a host of other data.”

It is uncertain where the data exchange now stands.

Security specialists say much can be accomplished by focusing on best practices and using new technology. Andrew Goldsmith, vice president of global markets with Rapiscan Systems, suggests the ICAO security panel select airports to serve as checkpoint testbeds and adopt a system of measurements to aid determination of success or failure.

Goldsmith says Manchester Airport in England has mastered the process of moving passengers through security. It was recognized in 2010 by Airports Council International for its program, which combines Rapiscan technology and an automated Smart Lane processing and gate system developed by MacDonald Humfrey (Automation) Ltd. Manchester security development manager David Pendlebury attributes the increase of passenger throughput to 250 from 220 per hour to the airport’s effort to “turn the process into an experience, to make it enjoyable, exciting and different.”

A recent survey of travelers at Manchester indicates that 95% preferred body-scanning by Rapiscan’s AIT X-ray machine over a pat down.

The one clear technology trend that will continue in future is body scanners such as advanced imaging technology (AIT) machines produced by L-3 Communications and Rapiscan. Both companies are testing units that produce a stick figure and home in on anomalies in a process called automated target recognition. The TSA test of the new software started last week at Las Vegas.

Current AIT machines use either backscatter X-ray or millimeter-wave technology to produce images. Advances in millimeter-wave wand technology may make pat-downs more of a long-shot alternative deployed strictly as follow-on procedures.

Security consultant Rodger Dickey predicts a future of dynamic screening and a risk-informed system that can defeat security threats. A former FAA and TSA official, Dickey says the future checkpoint will be more capable of utilizing multiple technologies. He notes that as the TSA is only nine years old but maturing fast, workable policy and procedures will soon be in place to govern the future checkpoint.