The aviation industry has always prioritised security, but the last decade has seen far greater investment in sophisticated scanning and safety technology. As technology developers up their game, airports have proven willing to invest in new systems that give passengers greater confidence in their safety, both on the ground and in the air.
This willingness to invest is not the sole preserve of large international hubs; it is just as evident among the world's smaller airports. A case in point is Kahului Airport in Hawaii, which has recently installed a new, highly sophisticated explosive detection system (EDS).
The airport, which serves the island of Maui, unveiled the new system in the summer, and a similar installation is planned as part of the refurbishment of Honolulu International Airport.
At Kahului, where former Lt Governor James R Aiona Jr, the state Department of Transportation (DoT) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) unveiled the new EDS in June 2010, the advantages of the system are already starting to accrue, as passengers enjoy an easier check-in process and the screening of bags is more thorough than with the previous technology.
"The main reason was to free up space in the passenger terminal. Before, we had free-standing EDS technology in the lobby, but now the machinery is behind the scenes where passengers don't have to deal with it.
"They just check in their bags and the EDS scans them on the conveyor belt," explains Tammy Mori from Hawaii's DoT.
"Once the bags are dropped they go to a room behind the lobby where the EDS checks them, so passengers don't have to use the machines themselves, although they still have to do the agriculture checks prior to check-in," explains Mori.
"Also, it is state-of-the-art technology, which enables faster scanning of bags. There is no more manual handling and security is improved because the system can detect everything. It is easier for the baggage handlers, too."
The new EDS system provides a fully integrated, enhanced baggage security screening system capable of detecting explosives, weapons and other contraband materials. It incorporates six explosive detection machines provided by the TSA, and is designed to have sufficient capacity to cope with the anticipated growth in passenger numbers over the next 20 years.
Hawaii is a very popular destination for many international tourists, so there is a clear need to have in place the highest standard of security systems, as well as convenient and efficient processing of passengers. By creating more space in the lobby, automating the baggage screening process and improving the accuracy of the scanning, the EDS implementation helps Kahului to achieve these goals in one stroke.
Furthermore, the EDS integration improvements project is just one part of phase 1B of the broader Kahului Airport terminal improvements project.
The project included the construction and installation of new baggage conveyor equipment, seven new baggage carousels and a special room for explosive trace detection operations, all of which makes the passenger baggage check-in experience seamless and simple, and the security protocols clearer and more thorough.
A further boon to the airport was the efficiency with which the implementation was carried out. Construction and integration of the system by Bodell Construction Company was completed one-and-a-half months ahead of schedule.
A platform for the future
The installation of the EDS system at Kahului has been achieved as part of a long-term plan, of which passenger safety was a fundamental element. The system was built to cope with growing passenger numbers and is sophisticated enough to detect the broadest range of potential threats. Such is the confidence in the system that it is already scheduled to feature in the programme of upgrades at Honolulu International Airport.
In August, the DoT and the TSA broke ground with plans for the installation of the EDS at the airport as part of the Honolulu International Airport EDS integration improvements project. This project will see 16 EDS machines supplied by the TSA installed in lobbies 4, 5, 7, and 8 of the overseas terminal. Alongside this, new baggage handling systems will be constructed, and other work will be carried out to improve and modernise the existing ticket lobbies, including the creation of four cutting-edge explosive trace detection rooms.
As at Kahului, part of the aim is to create a seamless and simple check-in process for passengers' bags, which will enter the security screening area on conveyor belts from the check-in counters, once again eliminating the need for passengers to carry their own bags to the EDS machines.
Part of the state's $2.3bn Airports Modernization Plan, the EDS project is a high priority because it not only increases the level of security, but also improves the quality of the passenger experience in the airport. The net result is that travellers have a more positive impression of the operation and, by extrapolation, the state of Hawaii.
At Honolulu, the construction and integration of the system will be completed by general contractor Nan, Inc., at an approximate cost of $61m. As at Kahului, the implementation will be partially funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Completion of the project is expected in early 2013, with the construction phase coordinated in such a way as to minimise the impacts on airline operations and air travellers.
Although the EDS projects at both airports come at a high price, the funding through ARRA is a major incentive, and whatever the cost, the peace of mind that passengers will have from now on is surely worth the financial outlay.
"Passengers know that our state is one of the few with this sophisticated, system, which builds a sense of security and comfort. At Kahului, the implementation is part of a long-term project of airport modernisation, which includes new facilities, parking and concourses.
There are a lot of upgrades to improve the passenger experience. The total cost of the EDS system at Kahului is $26m, and we got over $7m from the TSA as part of ARRA, partly because we already had plans to implement the system. You can't put a price tag on security," says Mori.
"We are very happy with the system. The employees and the passengers see the benefit, so it was certainly a smart investment, particularly because the implementation went so smoothly and according to plan," she adds.
The success of the project at Kahului, which will no doubt be replicated at Honolulu International, is a lesson for other airports around the world, regardless of their size. Investing in safety and security has many benefits, not all of which are immediately quantifiable, but as part of any long-term strategy for airport improvement there is certainly a place for investment in EDS and other sophisticated technologies that will put passengers' minds at ease.