Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 2:44PM
Whether it's for tracking baggage, boarding the planes themselves or eliminating homeland security hiccups, researchers continue to develop innovative techniques to eliminate inefficiencies and increase reliability at airports.
However, in installing such complex (and often costly) equipment, many airports are running into difficulties -- often budgetary limitations, political snags or just the hesitation to upgrade from traditional systems -- and the need for a standard only continues to grow.
While some sort of security standard across all national airports can be expected down the road, with the economy as it is and a new administration at the reigns, it remains to be seen how far off this is.
The TSA is currently in the process of creating and requiring standards for a unified airport access control system (involving biometrics and smart card personnel credentials) that could be read at airports nationwide. However, this initiative to issue credentials to more than 1.5 million airport workers and hundreds of thousands of airline employees has received mixed reviews. The infrastructure to exchange such biometric data and allow common identity vetting through the aviation community is nonexistent, and the nature of airport design is not conducive to such a communal system.
Many are quick to note the unique nature of individual airports and that the 'one-size-fits-all' mentality does not apply. In addition, other airport executives fear they'll have to start from scratch and tear out existing assets if a standard is put in place. I liked the quote from Mark Crosby, chief of public safety and security at the Portland International Airport and the Port of Portland who said: “Each airport is different and needs something that works...if you’ve seen one airport, you’ve seen one airport.”
Despite the difficulties, some airports are deploying individual systems aligned with their specific needs and budgetary concerns, such as the fingerprint and iris access control systems in cargo areas (and also operate vehicles) tested by the Port Authority of New York (and even our own 3VR system installed at Evansville Regional Airport). On the other hand, some are holding off in anticipation of government-prescribed standards being announced. Should we be holding our breath?
Jeanne Olivier, general manager of aviation security and technology at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, seems to think so:
“We’re about 80% of the way there for biometrics as a security solutions for airports,” Olivier said. But it’s probably still a couple of years before wide scale deployments begin. “We’re very close and there will be significant advances in the next two years.”She's much more optimistic than others who note three to five years before a widespread deployment make their public debut.
While I don't know how quick the battle will be won -- we very well may be a few years off from concrete results -- the wheels are in motion to allow standardization in airport security, at least on the personnel level -- and that's progress in itself.
With these strides behind the scenes, as well as new technologies for passenger security (such as new surveillance mats that measure gait and may do away with frisking episodes), I'm impressed with the progress being made. Baby steps are just fine as long as we're going in the right direction.