Opinion | Keep your computers and liquids in the bag at Hong Kong International Airport

Travellers hate to be late, perhaps most intensely while stuck in the traffic jams that often form at airport checkpoints. Passengers in Hong Kong should take heart that the city’s main terminal is setting a global example by installing new smart security that should greatly speed up these essential screenings.

This month, some passengers at Hong Kong airport have been moving through more quickly because of new technology that does not require cumbersome removal of liquids and electronics from luggage. Airport Authority executive director of airport operations Steven Yiu Siu-chung said Hong Kong is set to become the “world’s first airport to fully adopt a smart security screening system”.

He predicted it would boost departure screening capacity by 20 per cent to about 10,000 passengers an hour. Yiu said the goal is to be able to get 98 per cent of passengers through screening “within 4½ minutes”. The process currently takes far longer. New baggage handling trays also can accommodate three people at a time.

Instead of two-dimensional X-ray scanners, new computerised tomography (CT) machines can generate three-dimensional images. The new process provides detailed imaging that is not blocked by electronics and liquids as older two-dimensional scanners were. New full-body scanners are also replacing manual checks for passengers who set off metal detectors.

Four new channels have gone online in the south and north departure halls of the first terminal. The HK$800 million (US$102 million) system will eventually have 50 smart security screening channels and 32 full-body scanners. The upgrade will be phased in over the next two years, helping the airport in its push to reclaim the top global ranking that has eluded it for more than a decade.

Of course, security is not the only bottleneck. Hong Kong airport recently experienced delays and passengers missed flights when a computer glitch wiped real-time flight data from its display screens. Airport officials have promised improvements.

Meanwhile, the new security channels should help improve travel efficiency, which is essential for making the city an attractive place to live, visit and do business.

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