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The Future of Global Air Travel

By Kelly Hoggan

Airline passenger traffic is expected to double to 8.2 billion travelers annually by 2037.

The International Air Travel Association, the trade association for the world’s airlines, predicts that by 2037 some 8.2 billion air travelers will be taking to the skies. That figure represents a doubling of present-day passenger numbers. As Forbes magazine observed in an October 2018 article posted to its website, IATA’s figure amounts to a compound annual growth rate of 3.5%, meaning its impact on aviation security will also be of vital importance.

Screening Many More Travelers

Given that many more travelers will be flying every year for the foreseeable future, the implications for aviation security screening are both obvious and pressing. For one, airports will need to work closely with airlines and government security agencies to create plans for handling the addition of more and more air travelers every year. Given the generally long timelines needed for airports and their supervisory boards and authorities to approve any new projects, the time to begin doing so is now.

Improving Aviation Security Infrastructure

Aviation security screening and monitoring infrastructure will need to grow or, at minimum, become greatly more efficient to handle millions more airline passengers annually. Airports failing to plan today for the traveler numbers of tomorrow could find themselves losing flyers and even airlines as both seek out other airports delivering a quicker, more responsive and efficient screening experience. Airports and security agencies should also expect the flying public and airlines to become increasingly vocal when it comes to speeding up air traveler screening while simultaneously ensuring effective security.

Technology to the Rescue

Fortunately for airports as well as government security agencies responsible for air traveler screening, technology associated with the task has also improved, and sometimes greatly so. For example, the U.S.’s Transportation Security Administration is rolling out hundreds of new carryon baggage screening devices at airports across the country. These new computed tomography, or CT, machines can examine a traveler’s carryon baggage in mere seconds and will also eliminate the requirement for travelers to remove laptop computers from bags. Facial recognition, passive scanning of travelers – a great improvement over the walk-through magnetometers of the previous generation – and a wide variety of other measures hold great promise in terms of security processing and screening efficiencies.

Paying for it All

As always, whenever discussion of air travel security arises, the matter of how to pay for more of it while also making it more efficient and responsive to travelers must be considered. While every flyer of course wants the best in aviation security, things become a little stickier when the matter of how to pay for it enters the conversation. U.S. travelers, for one, routinely believe they’re already paying more than enough, through the various “security fees” added to their airline tickets, for aviation security. The answer to solving this conundrum, at least in America, might be found in how the money already being collected is used as well as how the security fee is presently allocated.

Congressional Budget Office Analysis

The Congressional Budget Office is charged with delivering nonpartisan fiscal analyses on a huge variety of governmental budgetary concerns. When it comes to the matter of paying for effective air travel security, CBO believes raising the current aviation security fee from $5.60 per one-way trip and a maximum charge of $11.20 per round trip can help. Though several figures have been suggested, the budget office thinks a raise in the current fee to $8.25 per one-way trip by 2020 would make the most sense. A maximum security charge of $16.50 per round trip would also be instituted. With the new increase, CBO believes at least 80% of TSA’s operations and support funding could be covered, which is more than TSA sees from the security fee at present.

Congress’s Role

Congress must also become more disciplined, however, and needs to avoid the temptation to move money, originally intended by law to go to TSA, into the U.S. Treasury’s general fund. In 2018, according to the CBO website, more than $1.3 billion which should have gone to TSA was instead reallocated by Congress for other purposes (including to that general fund). That money would no doubt help speed up a wide variety of aviation security infrastructure improvements and help slow down, or even eliminate, any proposed security fee increases.

Aviation Security Partnership

Airports, airlines and government security agencies responsible for air traveler screening generally recognize the need to work as partners in ensuring effective aviation security. We hope that, given IATA’s prediction of many more millions of air travelers flying annually, they continue to strengthen their partnership when it comes to building up the security infrastructure needed to handle all those people.

Kelly Hoggan, Founder and CEO of H4 Solutions, previously served as assistant administrator for operations at the Transportation Security Administration. In that role, he was responsible for aircraft and checkpoint security operations at the nation's 400-plus commercial airports.

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