Security Checkpoints of the Future May Be Tunnels

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A trade group for the world's airlines thinks it has found a way to make airport security less of a hassle. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is proposing a future airport security tunnel system that would focus on finding "bad people, not just bad objects."

The idea of the three-tunnel system is to speed passengers through airport security checkpoints -- eliminating sometimes intrusive security checks for many passengers, IATA officials say.

Frequent travelers deemed low risk would walk through a "Known Traveler" tunnel, while others would be directed to two other tunnels, either "Normal Security" or "Enhanced Security."

IATA says it's time to do away with a "one size fits all" screening process and use intelligence information, with separate lines for those deemed to pose more of a security risk.

But group officials stress they are not talking about racial profiling.

"It's not based on, the agent looks at you once and makes a decision. The decision is based on data and intelligence that the government already collects. It's not based on appearance. It's not based on skin color," IATA spokesman Steve Lott tells AOL Travel News.

Under the proposal, travelers would identify themselves with a fingerprint, biometric passport or mobile phone boarding pass and be directed to the appropriate line. Security officials would be able to see details such as whether the passenger paid by cash or credit card and names would be checked against security intelligence lists.

All the tunnels would be equipped with sophisticated sensors, metal detectors and other security equipment. And most passengers would be able to walk right through without having to stop for searches of carry-on luggage or having to have a pat down, full body scan or other screening.




"With today's terror threats, we need to be able to find bad people, not just bad objects. We can only do that by combining technology with intelligence. This will allow us to assess passengers for risk with appropriate security checks to follow," IATA CEO Giovanni Bisignani explained at a recent media briefing.

But why is an airline association spending time and resources on a government-run security process?

"At the end of the day it comes down to hassle," Lott says. "The checkpoint of today is 30 or 40 years old and agents don't know anything about the passenger. They (security officers) are just looking at a screen for shampoo bottles and tweezers."

The proposed tunnel system brings "intelligence and data about the passenger to the checkpoint," he says.

"We are concerned there is a lack of long term strategy envisioned," Lott adds. "Government is looking for that silver bullet when it comes to a technology and frankly that silver bullet doesn't exist today. We need to come up with a strategy for the checkpoint where we can increase security and eliminate the hassle."

IATA has already presented its concept to about a dozen countries including the U.S., Lott says. The group plans to refine its proposal next year and hopes to have a pilot test in place by 2013.

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