Aviation industry insiders got a glimpse of the future yesterday - an airport security checkpoint that boasts no stopping, stripping or unpacking and 'certainly no groping'.
The checkpoint is a tunnel that will contain biometrics, passenger data, shoe scanning and explosive and metal detection technology.
The International Air Transport Association expects to have detailed proposals on the new system by the end of the year, but it is unlikely to be installed at airports for at least five more years.
A mock-up was unveiled at Iata's annual meeting in Singapore. Featuring three separate entrances for frequent, normal and high-risk travellers, it is intended to scan passengers and their baggage in the five or six seconds it would take them to walk through without the need for separate security checks for computers, baggage or clothing.
Outlining the need to change existing security checking arrangements, Iata director general and chief executive Giovanni Bisignani, who will retire on June 30, said: 'We spend US$7.4 billion a year to keep aviation secure. But our passengers only see hassle.
'Passengers should be able to get from curb to boarding gate with dignity. That means without stopping, stripping or unpacking, and certainly not groping. That is the mission for the checkpoint of the future.'
Kenneth Dunlap, Iata's director for security and travel facilitation, said that most of the scanning technology already existed to check static objects. The challenge was to adapt it to check people while they were walking. As a result, Dunlap estimated it would be five to seven years before the tunnel checkpoint would be seen at airports.
In the meantime, Iata and the International Civil Aviation Organisation plan to advance the introduction of some of the security measures offered by the tunnel at airports.
These include the wider use of biometric data and segregating passengers into one of three security streams so that frequent travellers who register with the authorities can pass through quicker than regular or higher risk travellers.
Dunlap said these frequent flyers typically accounted for 30 per cent of travellers at airports which would allow more resources to be focused on other groups of passengers.
He said changes were needed especially as global passenger numbers were forecast to grow 5.5 per cent this year to 2.8 billion travellers and climb to about 16 billion passengers by 2050.