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AI-Powered Employee Screening Trialed at DEN: Should it be Piloted for PreCheck Passengers, Too?

Denver International Airport (DEN) is stepping into the future of airport security, announcing a trial run of the HEXWAVE system for employee screening. Developed by Canadian company Liberty Defense Holdings Ltd., this cutting-edge technology integrates AI, millimeter wave technology (similar to what’s currently used in the Leidos full-body scanners for non-PreCheck passengers), and advanced 3D imaging to detect both metallic and non-metallic threats without requiring individuals to remove common items like phones or keys. The trial will take place at the south employee checkpoint in the Great Hall, and marks a significant shift in aviation worker screening, who traditionally are only pulled aside for screening at random under the Known Crewmember (KCM) program.

This initiative comes amid a broader reassessment of the KCM program, and several recent disturbing incidents involving crew members. These incidents, notably the alarming attempt by an off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot to bring down a Horizon Air E175 midflight and a Delta pilot brandishing a gun during a disagreement over a medical diversion, have raised critical questions about the effectiveness of security procedures pertaining to crew members. Admittedly, these portals likely wouldn’t have done much to stop either incident; the Delta pilot was authorized to carry a weapon on board under the voluntary Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) scheme – one we expect will be closely looked at over the coming weeks and months.

While details of the specifics of the pilot program are, of course, under wraps, it’s likely we’ll see this technology used to pivot from random screenings of crew to consistently (but efficiently) screening them upon every entry. While obviously crew are in control of the aircraft whether they possess a weapon or not, this could prevent a scenario where a threat actor enlists an airline employee as an accomplice to smuggle something into the sterile area, handing it over post-security.

While the introduction of these advanced detection portals is poised to potentially revolutionize airport security, their impact on crew members, if implemented more widely, is expected to be minimal. Comparable to the Evolv Express platform used at Walt Disney World, these AI-based detection systems offer efficient screening without the need to stop moving, line up single-file, or divest personal items. The only time there’s a need to stop is if a potential threat is identified, at which point the individual in question is pulled aside by nearby officers; otherwise, you pretty much get waved through.

The Evolv Express platform, currently used by Disney, is comparable to the HEXWAVE system being trialled at DEN. While filled with marketing speak, this provides a pretty good idea of how it works.

Currently, this screening technology is solely for workers. However, it begs the question if these portals could potentially one day be extended to TSA PreCheck passengers – which would be a win-win for both safety and passenger experience. It could enhance safety by effectively detecting non-metallic weapons such as those produced by 3D printers, which conventional magnetometers struggle to identify. Moreover, it promises a smoother, faster screening process for passengers, eliminating the hassle of removing personal items and even small bags. If that were implemented, all they’d need to do to significantly increase throughput would be to do something about those horrendously slow Analogic CT scanners (maybe the technology will reach a point where conveyor-based systems are rendered obsolete altogether?).

The trial at Denver International Airport presents a glimpse into the future of airport security. While it may not directly address all the concerns surrounding recent crew incidents, the implementation of such innovative technology could potentially reshape the landscape of airport security for both employees and passengers alike.

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