The Next Generation of Aviation Security

By Lauren Beyer, A4A Vice President of Security and Facilitation

Airlines for America (A4A) and the U.S. airline industry prioritizes security and investments in strategic measures to mitigate and proactively address risk. We know our success in keeping our employees, passengers and aircraft safe is not the product of happenstance. Rather, it is the result of deliberate, systematic improvements over many years of collaboration with our federal government partners, and constantly challenging ourselves to meet and exceed the highest standards.

Following many years of increased requirements for the screening of passengers, employees, baggage and cargo – at times using systems of limited capability, manual processes and time-consuming, cumbersome practices that are anything but customer-friendly – we have seen significant strides in recent years in our ability to leverage technology to enhance security. Our industry has always been at the forefront of innovation, and technology has been a key driver to enable an increase in security effectiveness as well as enhancing passenger facilitation and the customer experience. While security is always paramount, we have learned that these are not mutually exclusive goals.

The airline industry is doing our part. U.S. airlines have partnered with Silicon Valley technology companies, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate, the DHS Centers of Excellence, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to pilot security innovations and enable other research and testing. In recent years, these projects have included Advanced Screening Lanes, Computed Tomography for accessible property screening, use of biometrics and mobile ID and the development of explosive trace detection applications for cargo screening purposes. And, in many cases, airlines have donated technology to the TSA through the Capabilities Acceptance Process. Our members’ proactive partnership on technology innovation projects has expedited research and development, field testing and full deployment of technologies that have significantly increased our security posture.

The U.S. airline industry has been eager to identify opportunities to incorporate technologies like biometrics and mobile ID into the passenger travel experience, combining advanced security technologies with customer service. Airlines are partnering with TSA and CBP to implement facial recognition capability and the use of mobile IDs at check-in, baggage drop, the security checkpoint and boarding. And, as we continue to make progress towards broader implementation of these capabilities, airlines have remained strongly committed to strict privacy principles that include robust passenger communication efforts and opt-in options.

The COVID-19 public health crisis has played a significant role in expediting the rollout of technology solutions – including increased use of biometrics, enhancements to smartphone applications and touchless check-in options – that not only enhance security but also reduce touchpoints throughout the travel experience. We are pleased that data continues to indicate that there is enormous appetite among travelers to utilize these technologies.

We look forward to working closely with DHS and TSA to mirror TSA’s same success in driving the innovative marketplace for passenger and baggage screening technologies toward new cargo screening technology options. The mass scale movement of critical, life-saving personal protective equipment, vaccines, food and other goods during the pandemic illustrated to the world what the aviation industry already knew: the movement of these time-critical goods by air cargo is vital to our modern world. Unlike passenger and baggage screening, the industry remains responsible for screening of air cargo and investing in the screening technology to be used. We need the ability to pool knowledge and leverage TSA’s “market demand signal” to expand and incentivize research and development for additional cargo screening technologies beyond the tools available today. The industry stands ready to expedite this important work in the same spirit of partnership that has been achieved in other areas.

U.S. airlines recognize the importance of continuing to invest in new technologies and systems to stay ahead of the evolving threat landscape and continuing to support efforts that ensure our federal government partners – particularly TSA and CBP – are appropriately resourced. There is much work to do, and we are committed to ensuring that commercial aviation remains the safest mode of transportation in the world.

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