Mention “air travel regulations” and “technology” and many will instantly conclude these terms are mutually exclusive, at least within the realm of aviation security and airport screening. Long lines, particularly during peak holiday and seasonal travel periods, generally evoke thoughts of discouragement and anxiety, punctuated frequently by “hurry up and wait” processes. If there is any surprise at all awaiting the passenger, it is usually not a pleasant one.

Airports in general offer unique and demanding design challenges. Crowded spaces, aging infrastructure and growing passenger counts only expose those challenges. Although forecasts vary by region, IATA predicts that passenger demands will double over the next 20 years.

Passenger demand and security threats will continue to accelerate. Designing flexibility into airports is the new norm — and not just from an architectural perspective. Technology must be designed into new or renovated facilities to help the aviation sector keep pace with security demands. Air travel regulations, security screening and technology do not have to be mutually exclusive. We’ve identified five ways in which technology will help aviation security innovate for the future.

Queue Monitoring/Behavioral Analytics

Queue monitoring solutions forecast wait times for passengers. Airport operators can use this information to make better decisions, not only with long-term trends but during disruptions and irregular operations. For passengers, the uncertainty of processing times coupled with a line of people in front of them can lead to anxiety. Having access to information can reduce that stress and manage expectations. Technology can both generate the data and use it to drive information to digital signage and mobile applications. And the same inputs that monitor and observe lines can be linked to algorithms that scan video footage and look for unusual behavior.

Internet of Things (IoT)

IoT devices have significant potential to improve aviation security and the associated passenger experience. Not only can IoT sensors be used to generate data for queue monitoring and analytics, sensors can be used to control environmental variables, including lighting, temperature and ambient noise. The ability to monitor and control the environment in a way that is customizable for any given screening checkpoint is an exciting use case for the potential of IoT in air travel.

Mobile Applications

No application will make lines shorter. But mobile applications like U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Mobile Passport Control have demonstrated they can expedite passenger processing. Streamlined processing of administrative components can allow security officials to focus on inspection-related services. Mobile applications can also help passengers stay in touch with real-time queue information.

Screening Technologies

Technologies being developed for advanced passenger screening offer tantalizing prospects for improving passenger flow while providing new ways to detect threats and make us safer. X-ray diffraction produces an interference effect so that the diffraction pattern gives information about the substances being scanned. This offers potential for identifying liquids and allowing them to stay in your bag. Small, microwave-detecting cameras using plastic- or metal-based metamaterials offer a chance to build extremely fast scanners that operate at very high refresh rates so that images can be taken rapidly and in real-time while passengers walk through.


Biometric technology, operating under the premise that everyone is unique and that an individual can be identified by his or her intrinsic physical or behavioral traits, is already being used in airports. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is using facial-recognition software to detect fake passports. Opt-in biometric scanning could enable even greater efficiencies as programs like Transportation Security Administration’s PreCheck to expand and include other steps along the screening journey.

Innovative technology, data and processes will enable intelligence-driven, risk-based aviation security to be more flexible, adaptable, and robust to detect an evolving range of threats, especially when combined with facility design and architecture. What other types of technology do you predict will improve aviation security?

Stu Garrett specializes in aviation information technology and special systems. He has more than 17 years of experience in enhancing 16 of the world’s largest airports, helping clients find new technology solutions that provide passenger convenience and operational efficiency.