Devastating Impact

Devastating Impact

Airports look to video technology to do more with less in the face of devastating pandemic

What a difference a year can make. The COVID-19 outbreak has hit airports hard, and the devastating impact will be felt for years to come. The situation is worrisome not only for the sake of the industry itself but also because airports and air transportation services are critical to the economic stability and growth of cities, regions and countries. The safe, efficient, readily-available transportation of people and goods worldwide benefit nearly all aspects of modern life.

According to preliminary data filed with the Bureau of Transportation Statics (BTS), U.S. airlines carried 96% fewer scheduled service passengers in April 2020 than in April 2019 — the largest year-toyear decrease on record. The large airlines carried just 3 million passengers in April, the lowest monthly total in BTS records dating back to the previous low of 14.6 million passengers in February 1975.

This unprecedented drop in passengers adds up to real money. A recent CNN Business news article states that U.S. airlines reported combined losses of $12 billion in the second quarter of 2020 as revenue plunged 86% from the prior year. Analysts forecast that losses will come to about $10 billion in the third quarter of 2020. At the end of 2020, COVID cases were spiking and a new wave of lockdowns hitting many states. The turnaround for the airline industry seems to be underway, thanks in part to a vaccine that has become widely available.


Traditionally, video surveillance within an airport focused on safety and security for the facility and travelers alike. Often the focus was on assuring in real-time that runways, gates and terminals were clear, safe and operational. Much of a system’s recorded video played a role in resolving liability issues or assisting with theft or damage investigations.

Over the years, as surveillance systems became smarter, less expensive, and easier to use — especially with the migration of video surveillance to standard IP networks — the use of video at airports expanded greatly.

While public safety sits at the heart of airport operations, from the terminals to the taxi line, airports have constantly adapted video systems to meet potential threats identified by the security leadership and federal authorities, such as after 9/11. At the same time, airport managers note that advances in software and systems integration have created many uses that go beyond security.

The current and expanded role of cameras and open platform network VMS is helping airports leverage video data in many ways. The number of beyond-security applications for video surveillance at airports can now include tools for improved operations and business growth. • Vendor and contractor management • Airline client self-help services • Parking fraud management • Ride share verification • Baggage tracking and management • Passenger “heat mapping” for queue and flow improvements

Many potential improvements in airport operations can be identified to justify such an investment, including more costeffective use of video analytics to monitor crowds and dispatch ground transportation more efficiently.


License plate recognition technology can replace a parking vendor’s aging system, opening the possibility of managing access for valet drivers taking vehicles offsite for cleaning and oil changes, generating another revenue stream for the airport. On the public-safety front, analytics can help spot security threats like oversized trucks among the millions of vehicle trips recorded at an airport annually.

A few years ago, JFK Terminal One, for example, needed to provide greater video access to a range of internal users, including security, air terminal managers and the terminal’s vendors such as restaurants, retail shops and newsstands — enabling broad coverage of the entire terminal. The system now provides users with the flexibility to view any of the nearly 600 cameras from any workstation throughout the airport, even from their mobile devices.

Greater video coverage means the terminal can be protected against a range of threats, including security breaches, aggressive actions and injury and liability issues. With many agencies requiring access to the system, from building maintenance to the FBI, the terminal’s new design is more comprehensive and user-friendly, making it easy for operators to manage.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Jackson Hole Airport in Wyoming recently made a significant investment to increase their video system’s size and capabilities mainly to cover perimeter and exterior facilities, including the fuel farm, car wash and expanded parking facilities.

With the parking expansion alone, 48 new cameras were added to monitor capacity and flow issues and secure the safety of employees and the public. Monitoring snow removal equipment is also accomplished, and recorded video has helped verify any accidents or damage caused by the plows.

Beginning last year, the airport started providing client airlines access to video covering their respective areas so they can watch their own operations. The client airlines now access the airport camera views via the Milestone XProtect VMS to monitor the de-icing stages of their planes.


On top of all the many concerns airports already managed, they now must add the COVID layer. By their very nature, airports bring people together from all over the country, indeed, the world, to a central point and then spread them far and wide — the exact opposite of pandemic management.

Additionally, people spend multiple hours at airports, in and out of lines, seated in groups, moving through security checks and the many boarding processes.

A report from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) regarding the impact of COVID-19 states that to survive, airports now must reduce all variable costs where possible by closing portions of their infrastructure, furloughing staff, curtailing contract services and many other cost-cutting strategies.

This means that airports now need to do much more with much less, all in the face of a pandemic.

The TSA Coronavirus web page requires travelers to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travel guidance, and all local and state advisories regarding COVID-19. Specifically, travelers are asked to: • Maintain a social distance of six feet wherever possible while at the checkpoint • Wear a face mask throughout the travel experience • Practice good hygiene, such as washing hands regularly, including directly before and after completing the security screening process • Arrive at the airport early to allow adequate time for checking bags, completing security screening and getting to the departure gate

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal states that airlines and airports are taking a range of additional steps and procedures to assure traveler safety, including modifying boarding procedures, queuing small groups of the plain, cleaning more thoroughly and more often, and thoroughly wiping down all contact points.

How can airports, now with significantly reduced staff and budgets, help ensure travel compliance with social distancing and reduced physical contact recommendations? Video surveillance technologies may offer some answers.

“From people counting to access control, video management systems hold a wealth of hidden potential to assist airports in keeping staff and travelers as safe as possible,” said Jennifer Hones, manager, Key Account Team at Milestone Systems. “Airlines and airports face enormous challenges, and video can be a significant force multiplier — we’ve been in near-constant contact with partners, integrators and end-users who are looking for critical solutions.”

The Milestone XProtect open platform VMS currently supports more than 8,000 different security devices from more than 150 manufacturers. Technology partners include manufacturers of network video cameras, encoders, DVRs and NVRs, storage equipment, access control, alarm, and detection systems, video analytics, GPS technology, laser scanners and emergency call boxes.


With an open VMS, airports can use digital tools to quickly pivot to create a solution within the framework of their existing security installation. An open platform enables the integration of compatible video management applications and devices needed for safely operating transportation hubs, including people counting, access control, social distancing detection, queue management and one-way routes within the airport. Additionally, managers can also use these technologies to gather actionable data to enhance the traveler experience.

Using video analytics driven by machine learning, airports can track the number of travelers in an airport. With real-time video analysis—which counts people—managers can be automatically notified when the maximum number of people has been reached. Appropriate thresholds can set up in advance, helping a store avoid overcrowding or excessive numbers of shoppers.

VMS can be set up with a “one in, one out” policy to control access. Waiting shoppers are notified when they are allowed to enter a store via a “traffic light” device, for example. With this technology, a retailer prevents overcrowding without having to place an employee at the entrance. This prevents both the employee and the customer from being at a greater risk of infection.

Video technology can even detect when people overstep the prescribed safe distance, such as when browsing a newsstand and suddenly find themselves very close to another person. The video system can immediately set off an alarm, helping remind travelers to keep a safe distance either by automated recorded cues or personally by a friendly staff member.

Queue management. Active queue management is essential. Shorter wait times generally equate to a safer experience. Integrating with the VMS, video content analysis can track how long specific travelers have waited in line. Based on wait time policy, real-time alerts can be sent to management to deploy additional assistance quickly. By continuously monitoring checkpoints, managers can identify flow issues to address the busiest spots promptly. Having better information at hand reduces frustration for time-conscious travelers and enables airports to make better use of available resources.

Temperature scans. The coronavirus pandemic has brought great attention to the use of thermal cameras within a video surveillance system as a way to screen and possibly detect travelers with elevated body temperatures. Thermal cameras can detect minute differences in surface temperatures and highlight the temperature of objects (or faces) within a scene in precise detail, or even sound an alarm or trigger other actions of a temperature within the specified range is detected.

Into the cloud. The next horizon for video surveillance technology is to start moving components of the system as well as processing power to the cloud. Full or hybrid cloud solutions offer organizations a quick way to enhance their video system capabilities without expensive capital equipment or infrastructure investments. And with cloud-based solutions, video can be accessed, monitored or shared in an almost infinite number of ways, greatly expanding an airport’s options for sharing the workload and seeking the help of experts as needed.

This article originally appeared in the May June 2021 issue of Security Today.


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