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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Air traffic: With competition and new technology against handling chaos

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Passenger controls at German airports are too slow. The Frankfurt operator Fraport is breaking new ground in the deployment of personnel and in the procurement of helpful technology.

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“Finally!” – The deep sigh of Lufthansa boss Carsten Spohr shows the pressure under which Germany’s largest airport in Frankfurt and also the largest airline in the country were. In the presence of Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD), the new lanes for checking passengers and their hand luggage were presented on Friday. They are intended to help ensure that the handling chaos from last summer does not repeat itself again. “By the summer of 2022 at the latest, it has been shown that things cannot go on like this,” said Spohr.

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Fraport wants to speed up the controls with new technology and more competition. The operator has been controlling the private security forces itself for three weeks and also wants to speed up the acquisition of new baggage scanners, as airport boss Stefan Schulte explained on Friday. Until the turn of the year, the organization of the controls was in the hands of the federal police, which now only oversees security policy.

Long queues in summer 2022

With outdated technology and high fees, German airports have fallen behind in European comparison in recent years. Last summer there were also long queues in front of the checkpoints in Cologne, Düsseldorf and Berlin. Frankfurt is the first German airport to take over control from the Federal Police.

“The travelers have experienced bitter disappointments,” said Faeser, who does not want to compromise on safety. “We are not reducing staff here,” said the SPD politician. In the future, the federal police will have to worry less about controlling the inspectors, but can devote themselves to quality assurance and police tasks.

Faeser campaigned for other German airports to take over the “new world of Frankfurt”. There are already initial inquiries from other airport operators. Alternatively, it is also possible that the federal states take over the organization of the controls themselves, based on the Munich model. So far, however, interest has been limited, the Interior Minister reported. Munich is controlled by a state authority and has also started a large procurement program for the new baggage scanners.

New CT scanners x-ray the hand luggage

Last year, around 16 million boarding passengers and their hand luggage were checked at the largest German airport in Frankfurt, as Fraport reported. Among them were around 3.5 million transfer passengers who came from airports that do not meet the highest international security requirements. Together with those transferring from safe places of origin and those alighting, almost 50 million passengers were handled at Germany’s largest airport in 2022.

New types of scanners are intended to more than double the passenger throughput per lane, with liquids and electronic devices no longer having to be taken out of hand luggage. Seven devices from two different manufacturers are already in Terminal 1, and another 20 are to be added in the current year, announced Fraport boss Stefan Schulte. With 186 control lanes in the two existing passenger terminals, however, this is only the beginning. Terminal 3, which is planned for 2026, must also be equipped with additional scanners.

The devices screen the hand luggage using the computer tomography (CT) technique known from medicine. Instead of a few blurry top-down images, they deliver hundreds of images of the piece of luggage without any loss of speed, which enables three-dimensional views on the control screen and the layer-by-layer x-raying of the bag’s contents. The devices can also detect solid and liquid explosives. The restrictions on liquids in aviation were introduced in 2006 to counteract terrorism.

Image analysis with AI

As with the use of private control forces, Fraport also wants to ensure more competition when it comes to technology: So far, only products from the British conglomerate Smiths Detection with its Wiesbaden plant have been used. Now a control line of the competitor Vanderlande, which belongs to the Toyota group, is also being opened, which uses a scanner from the manufacturer Leidos. For the first time in this line, the image inspectors are no longer in the hustle and bustle, but can view the scans in a separate room. According to Fraport, manufacturers are also working flat out to use artificial intelligence in image analysis.

Source: Stern

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