the Swiss Dormakaba revolutionizes aviation safety

The American television show “Good Morning America” recently reported on the Department of Homeland Security project with the participation of Dormakaba.Image: ABC/Youtube screenshot

Known for its key and door systems, the Zurich group Dormakaba is participating in a project for autonomous security checks in American airports. This testing phase could lead to future contracts.

Benjamin Weinmann / ch media

The journalist from the American television channel ABC is enthusiastic: “This is pretty cool,” says Gio Benitez in his report for the popular morning show Good Morning America. The reporter is at the Las Vegas airport to present a project that will revolutionize security checks. The Zurich company Dormakaba, which specializes in access systems and is best known for its Kaba keys and locks, is taking part. Its logo appears very distinctly throughout the sequence.

The Harry Reid International Airport in the middle of the desert, in the state of Nevada, was in fact chosen by the security authority, the Department of Homeland Security, to test control systems. Objective: to make passengers as independent as possible.

Harry Reid International Airport.Picture: AP

They therefore begin by placing their suitcase, handbag or backpack in a bin as usual and pushing it onto the conveyor belt. The security personnel who, in the United States, often shout instructions loudly across the hall have disappeared. Their work is largely replaced by the presence of cameras and sensors. In case of difficulty, we contact a security agent by video call.

Superfluous staff

Next comes the so-called bodyscan – and this is where Dormakaba comes into play. Until now, security personnel supervised passage through the metal detector. But the test in the “city of sin” proves that humans can also be removed for this step. Instead, Dormakaba’s automatic sliding doors open and close at the scanner.

Known for its key and door systems, Zurich-based Dormakaba Group is participating in an autonomous government security screening project at US airports. This testing phase p...

Security innovation at Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas – with the participation of Switzerland’s Dormakaba.Picture: AP

According to a government document, the aim is – here too – to increase passenger autonomy and reduce body palpation and manual baggage inspection. Agents should therefore have more time to assist travelers who undergo checks.

But it is also very clear that it is the aviation sector itself that is actively encouraging this automation. Because the recovery after the pandemic has demonstrated it: demand is experiencing strong growth in the commercial airline sector while, at the same time, staff shortages continue. Computerized systems could therefore remedy this, even if they represent a long-term threat to human work.

Good outlook for the order book

According to Dormakaba spokesperson Patrick Lehn, the Las Vegas pilot project is not responding to a particular call for tenders. The Department of Homeland Security, responsible for transportation security, has reportedly been looking for innovative ideas in the sector. In collaboration with two other companies, the Dutch Vanderlande and the German Rohde&Schwarz, Dormakaba then presented the concept of self-control and won the contract.

If the Las Vegas practical test proves successful, it should lead to orders for other American airports. According to the spokesperson, the tests in progress, and planned until at least the end of June, could give rise to some adaptations. It is only at the end of these that the American Transportation Security Authority (TSA) would decide on a possible introduction on a national scale. Until then, various experts from the fields of ergonomics, psychology and technology will further examine the system.

The Americas region is the biggest market for Dormakaba. During the first half of the 2024 financial year, it represented more than a quarter of the group’s turnover. The Zurich company is already present in several airports in the United States, where it is, according to its own words, the world leader in security gates, boarding gates and lounges.

Very many head changes

These prospects should delight Dormakaba’s 16,000 employees spread across 130 countries. Especially because they are coming out of a period of turbulence. The German Till Reuter took the reins of the company at the beginning of the year. He is the third director in three years. He succeeded Jim-Heng Lee, who left after two years and who himself took over from the Frenchwoman Sabrina Soussan, who had only held this position for nine months.

Till Reuter has been at the helm of Dormakaba since the start of 2024.

Till Reuter has been at the helm of Dormakaba since the start of 2024.Image: DR

In addition, the company, whose headquarters is located right next to Kloten airport, announced last summer the elimination of 800 jobs to save 170 million francs. In Switzerland, Dormakaba previously employed 930 people in Mont-sur-Lausanne (VD), Rümlang (ZH), Wetzikon (ZH) as well as in Saint-Gall.

Blick revealed in the fall that 183 positions would be cut on Swiss soil in three years, notably in Rümlang and Wetzikon in the area of ​​product development and production. Relocations to Bulgaria were also mentioned.

Does technology arrives in Switzerland?

Could this type of automatic control soon appear here? “This would also be possible in Switzerland,” says Patrick Lehn. There are discussions with some European airport operators. And a test similar to that of Las Vegas in Munich. But the communicator does not wish to say more.

The spokesperson for Geneva airport, Sandy Bouchat, talks about regulatory obstacles. Autonomous security controls, as tested in Las Vegas, require EU certification. For the moment, this does not yet exist. This is why Geneva is not working on this type of project.

“Nevertheless, we are closely following technological developments in this area”

Asked about this, Elena Stern, spokesperson for Kloten Airport, says the site is in principle always open to new technologies if they simplify processes and make them more pleasant for passengers. Autonomous security checks, however, are not on the table at the moment. Before then, Swiss airports have other gaps to fill: starting this summer, Zurich Airport will test CT scanners that will allow passengers to leave their laptops and liquids in their luggage.

Zurich Airport currently has no plans to automate security checks.

Zurich Airport currently has no plans to automate security checks.Image: Keystone

“Initially, two new lines will be installed with the new devices,” explains Elena Stern. They should be tested for at least six months:

“Then all 26 lines of the control building will be modernized”

According to Manuela Witzig, spokesperson at theBasel-Mulhouse Euroairport, autonomous passenger screening is not on the agenda. However, modern security scanners will also be tried for people screening. The new technology would make it possible to locate suspicious locations on an individual more precisely and thus considerably reduce the areas to be palpated.

In addition, there are plans to introduce baggage scanners, such as at Zurich Airport. In the sector, we talk about EDS devices: “Explosive Detection Systems”. According to the spokesperson, the devices chosen at Euroairport will prevent passengers from having to remove any liquids and computers from their luggage.

(Translated and adapted by Valentine Zenker)

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