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A speedier trip through airport security could come within a decade

By Jim Barnett, CNN
updated 4:50 PM EDT, Tue September 11, 2012
 Airlines and security experts are planning ways to streamline the check-in process for a speedier trip through security.
Airlines and security experts are planning ways to streamline the check-in process for a speedier trip through security.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Advanced technology and better intelligence are needed to ease the logjam
  • Travel group spokesman: "A haystack was created and people went to find the needle"
  • Company official: A passive checkpoint is possible now but deployment will take time

Washington (CNN) -- These days air travelers are used to shoes off, laptops and liquids out and hands up for a body scan when they go through airport security. But the checkpoint of the future could make screening a comparative breeze, not just faster but stress-free as well.

The Federal Aviation Administration projects that by 2032 1.3 billion people will be flying out of airports in the United States each year. Airlines as well as security experts have been planning ways to streamline the check-in process and alleviate the aggravations. It most certainly will involve advanced technology as well as better intelligence.

The International Air Transport Association, a worldwide travel industry group representing 240 airlines, hopes that within the next decade, airline passengers will be able to get their boarding passes using fingerprint or retinal scans and then go through a checkpoint non-stop, eliminating what the airline industry calls "touchpoints."

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"You can have standoff screening equipment that's under development now that's going to be a bit more capable than what exists today," said Perry Flint, the association's spokesman. "The goal of the checkpoint of the future is to make security even better than it is today but to remove those hassles and to make it streamlined and a better experience for the passenger."

Prior to 9/11, an average of 350 people would normally go through a checkpoint in an hour. Now the number is down to about 150 in one hour, according to airline industry officials.

"A one-size-fits-all security system is what we implemented prior to 9/11, and during 9/11 we kept adding layers, many of which were redundant, in response to each individual threat," Flint said. "Each passenger was, in effect, treated as a potential suspect, a potential terrorist, with no regard to if that was a realistic assessment. And therefore, in effect, a haystack was created and people went to find the needle."

A video posted on the association's website says, "We're rising to the challenge to improve the passenger security experience with a revolutionary airport checkpoint of the future. By combining technology and intelligence, our aim is to make long security queues the thing of the past."

For now, the Transportation Security Administration is relying on layers of security including complex, high-tech body scanners, luggage X-ray machines and the PreCheck program to minimize the figurative haystack of people who may pose a threat.

PreCheck is now available at about two dozen airports to passengers who have enrolled through frequent flier programs. More than 2.5 million passengers have used the service to expedite screening, which allows people who travel extensively to leave their shoes on, their laptops in cases and compliant liquids in carry-on bags. Information is imbedded in the barcode of a passenger's boarding pass. The TSA expects to expand PreCheck to 35 of the nation's busiest airports by the end of the year.

Rapiscan Systems, a security screening provider based in Torrance, California, is working on ways to meet customer demand and improve efficiency with less intrusiveness, but that is still years away.

Peter Kant, executive vice president at Rapiscan, said technology is making a difference in detection ability with more bags per hour going through inspections.

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He said a passive checkpoint is possible now but real-world deployment will take time and testing. "These things have to work every time," Kant said. "There has to be a high level of confidence that they will work and when you spill a can of Coke on it, it will still work."

The company predicts the biggest development in both the short and long term is the relaxing of the limits on what passengers can carry onto planes.

In addition to PreCheck, the TSA has also implemented other risk-based security measures, including modified screening procedures for passengers 12 years old and younger and 75 and older.

The agency says it will continue to incorporate random and unpredictable security measures throughout airports, adding that no individual is guaranteed expedited screening.

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CNN's Sandra Endo and Aaron Cooper contributed to this report.

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