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Belt on or off? Here’s how technology is changing airport security checks

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Do you have to take off your belt during security check? In the future, can liquids and computers be taken through inside your carry-on bag? A security services supervisor at Helsinki Airport talks about the latest changes to your pre-flight routine.
For air travelers, security checks are often the most stressful part of the airport experience. Am I doing things right? What am I allowed to carry? Should I take off my shoes and belt?
Even for seasoned passengers, changing security rules and technology can come as a surprise. One of the latest changes in Finnish airport security has to do with checking for traces of explosives, and has led to minor changes in other security routines.
We talked to Security Services Supervisor Joni Pekkanen about the changes in security check technology, and what we can expect in the future.
What are the latest major changes to airport security checks in Finland?
“In Finland, the legislation for aviation security is set by the EU, and overseen by Trafi. The latest major change came into effect in 2015, and requires the use of explosive trace detectors in security checks,” Pekkanen says.
How has this change affected airport routines?
“It has changed the random hand inspections. For instance, passengers no longer need to take their belts off for the random inspection.
Belts or belt buckles must still be taken off, however, if they cause an alarm at the metal detector gate.”
What new security technologies has Helsinki Airport adopted in recent years, and why?
“We have tested, among others, body scanners and a shoe scanner and partially automated security lines. Our aim is to find equipment that ensures the smoothest, most comfortable and functional security check for both the passengers and the staff.
As technology advances it becomes easier to detect possible threats and the security processes can speed up. The recent Avatar body scanning pilot was a good example: We were able to decrease the amount of hand inspections while maintaining a high level of security.”
Last year, Helsinki Airport tested new face recognition technology for staff members’ security checks. The results were encouraging and the technology is now being piloted at check-in, in cooperation with Finnair.
Utilizing new, biometric technology at airports makes travelling faster and easier. The goal is to enable passengers to travel ”hands in the pockets,” i.e. removing the need to present boarding passes at different checkpoints.
What changes can we expect in security checks in the future?
“I myself am looking forward to hand luggage X-ray technology, which, in the future, could enable passengers to keep their computers and liquids inside their carry-ons during security check. I believe that this technology could start to be implemented three to five years from now.”
Could airport security checks become completely automated in the future?
“Technology will certainly change the process and be a great aid for us, but a 100% automated security check is still quite far off in the future,” Pekkanen says.

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