Air Transport World

Fruition or frustration? Airport security continues to evolve, but the pace and scope of change seem glacial to some.(SECURITY)

SIX YEARS AFTER A SEISMIC SHIFT IN ALL ITS PARADIGMS, aviation security is still shifting gears, still testing technology that holds the promise to accelerate, automate and--most importantly--integrate the process. It is doing so in the face of shifting challenges, as evidenced by the 8/10/06 terror plot in the UK that led to current draconian restrictions on the transport of liquids in the cabin.

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Fourteen months ago, Randy Null, then assistant administrator-operational processes and technology for the US Transportation Security Administration, told this magazine that sensor fusion--so-called "don't break stride" lanes that eschew shedding of shoes and coats and unloading of laptops at airport security checkpoints--wouldn't happen until 2008 or 2009 (ATW, 10/06, p. 50). Yet when ATW interviewed TSA Administrator Kip Hawley for this article, he declined to put a timetable on it, saying that while such a solution may be possible someday, "I don't think it's near enough in the future I could give you a date that you could write down."

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It is hyperbole to say the system is halted, stalled in its tracks. There are bona fide breakthroughs in checkpoint screening of both bags and passengers. Airport perimeter security is increasingly sophisticated and at the same time reassuringly fundamental. In-line innovations are accelerating belly-bag screening by cutting false alarms. It's all coming, but it doesn't quite seem to be coming together yet.

"It's been six years since 9/11," says Matthew Farr, homeland security analyst for Frost & Sullivan consultancy. "We're testing these things now? My experience as a passenger is absolutely no different than it was on September 10 [2001] other than the people checking me are government employees." He contends vendors are frustrated. "Why [should] GE, L-3, Reveal and everyone else continue to beat their heads against the wall developing new technologies, such as the shoe scanner, when they have no partner in TSA?"

TSA begs to differ. It points to several partnerships it believes are underpinned by a policy of prudence. …

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