Airports look to video technology to do more with less in the face of devastating pandemic
- By Jake Cmarada
- Jun 01, 2021
What a difference a
year can make. The
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
THE EVOLVED ROLE
OF VIDEO SURVEILLANCE
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
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
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
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
VALET PARKING OPTIONS
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.
RESPONDING TO A PANDEMIC
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
• 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
• 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.
PEOPLE COUNTING AND SOCIAL DISTANCING
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.
Jake Cmarada is a key account manager, East, at Milestone.