CEO Interview: SEA Milan Airports 3D Screening Upgrade

CEO Interview: SEA Milan Airports 3D Screening Upgrade

DALLAS — Milan Linate Airport is the first in Europe to equip itself with innovative security screening machines that allow 3D scanning of hand luggage to recognize any dangerous objects. The technology also improves the experience of passengers who no longer have to remove liquids and technological devices from their hand luggage.

In place of the conventional X-Ray technology, the cutting-edge EDS-CB (Explosive Detection Systems for Cabin Baggage) machines deployed at SEA Milan Airports use a baggage content analysis technique akin to CT scanning for hand luggage screening.

Any potentially explosive chemicals are automatically identified and displayed to the operator, improving the reliability of baggage screening and eliminating the need to separate liquids and electronic devices from hand luggage.

After gaining extensive experience in the airport industry and playing a significant role in the growth of air traffic, first as the managing director of Bologna Airport (2007–2013) and then as the CEO of Naples Airport (2013-2019), Armando Brunini assumed leadership as the CEO of SEA Milan Airports in January 2019.

Airways had the chance to speak with Mr. Brunini to get more details about the new EDS-CB technology currently at Milan Malpensa (MXP) and Linate (LIN) airports.

SEA Milan Airports CEO, Armando Brunini. Photo: SEA Milan Airports

Winifred Itungu: Milan Airports is the first to have this kind of technology installed in any European airport, correct?

Armando Brunini: Yes, it’s the first to have it fully implemented in Europe. I’m not sure about the US, but It’s the first in Europe to have it totally installed in one airport, so everybody flying from Linate, and also from Malpensa’s Terminal One, will be using this service.

Other airports have a few machines in place, but we were the very first. We began some time ago and we’ve installed the system in Linate, one of our two airports in Milan.

In contrast to some other airports that were trailing, we fully implemented this technology there in June. Since the middle of 2021, we have had a full introduction. We now have an experience with the tech that dates back more than a year.

As a result, we can discuss the data we have and start making inferences about this innovation because of this, which is why we are speaking to the media right now.

Milano Linate Airport Security Check Point. Photo: SEA Milan Airports

What inspired the decision to equip your airport with innovative security screening machines?

You know it’s an interesting question. We put passengers and efficiencies at the center of our objectives and our focus. But I must give it to one specific manager. He oversaw security at a time. Now he has a bigger responsibility, but before the pandemic, he was in charge of security and this specific technology, which is why it’s called EDS-CB.

In Europe, this technology was becoming compulsory for any luggage that went into the cargo hold, but not for the luggage you brought with you when you boarded the aircraft. Consequently, he then asked potential suppliers, “Why don’t we use it also for cabin luggage?” As a result, he would find one supplier that was prepared with some machines to conduct a pilot program.

I must admit that the head of security at the time had good intuition, but of course, as a business, we are always looking for innovations, so we supported his idea right away. Prior to COVID, we experimented with one machine. After testing one for six months on one lane, our board decided in the middle of 2019 to invest in and completely replace the machines with these ones. I believe that’s what many airports are currently doing.

However, we did this in 2018 and were pleased with the outcomes, both in terms of efficiency and the passenger experience. As a result, we managed to stay in that particular lane throughout. We took advantage of the opportunity to renovate the terminal at Linate to a very large extent—nearly to completion if I had to guess—because we had the courage to make the investment. So, it was simple.

In that case, we completely changed the security, the space dedicated to security. So it was easy to shut off the old security and completely replace it with the new security, thus seizing that opportunity to refurbish the airport. We wanted to create one of the best city airports in Europe and we thought it was the right thing to invest in; a breakthrough innovative technology.

That’s how it all began.

Milano Linate Airport Security Check Point. Photo: SEA Milan Airports

How costly was it?

So far we have spent roughly €2.7m at Linate and €5,5m at Malpensa, which comes to about €300,000 per line (EDS-CB machine + roller conveyor) in LIN and €350,000 per line in MXP.

We have implemented the EDS-CB technology in terminal one of Malpensa, but it’s an investment that pays back. Because it had various unknown positive outcomes and benefits, we weren’t sure about it in the beginning. We trialed it and on the basis of the trial, we said we were going to bet on the technology.

Since the throughput is much higher, the investment is substantial but the payback is also substantial. In essence, we are able to handle a similar number of passengers.

With better service and fewer employees, or as the number of customers increases, it becomes clear that adding more employees is unnecessary to maintain the current level of customer demand and employee productivity.

Basically, if you invest more in technology, your staff costs will go down, which will offset the initial investment.

Milano Linate Airport Security Check Point. Photo: SEA Milan Airports

How has this new technology benefited the passengers in terms of security and experience?

First of all, it is significantly more secure because it essentially makes use of CT scanning-like technology. It is more precise than the outdated or current X-ray technology used in most airports and essentially alerts staff to the possibility of an explosive device. Staff can now identify potential explosives with greater ease. In addition, it can tell whether a specific item, like a bottle of water, contains water or could be explosive.

Second, passengers have a much better experience. Everyone who travels is aware that one of the most annoying aspects of the security checkpoint process is having to open your bags, remove your laptop, computer, perfumes, and toiletries, and put them in a different bag. During those times, we all sweat and swear, but you are no longer required to.

People adore Linate and Malpensa because you can leave your perfumes there, buy a bottle of wine and bring it on board in your checked luggage, and leave your computer. It goes much more quickly because passengers don’t have to deal with opening their bags any longer. We have decreased the average if we compare this February because we are much faster.

Less than 90% of passengers will wait less than 5 minutes at Linate today, compared to the prior waiting time of around 10 minutes during the last full month of operations in Linate with the prior technology. Concurrently, there is a benefit in terms of how the passengers must behave at security. They wait less time, which is the second advantage.

A third advantage is our productivity. In Linate, we essentially had to manage 125 passengers per hour per lane. We can easily handle 200 passengers per hour today. furthermore, in peak season is when we can really push productivity, managing 250 passengers in each lane per hour.

So it’s better for productivity, it’s better for waiting times, and it’s better for specific experience at the security checks.

Milano Linate Airport Security Check Point. Photo: SEA Milan Airports

What other plans do you have?

It’s really a win-win in all dimensions. The plan has already been put into action because it is now also in place at Malpensa Terminal 1. Since we launched it last year, it has essentially been finished. We are also putting into practice a concept that is constantly evolving and improving.

The primary element of what we refer to as “smart security” is this new technology, but we also include additional services and other components to enhance the service.

Similar to Linate, we used neuroscience architects to redesign the entire security area, which is, as we all know, one of the stress peaks for passengers as they move through the terminal. We used materials and colors based on neuroscience to create a much more relaxing environment. So that’s one illustration.

Another illustration is the technology we essentially implemented at each lane, which allows you to enter the airport without taking off your shoes. But it is now present on all lanes.

So, if the machine beeps as you pass the lane, just stand on it, and it will detect any issues with your shoes. We are actually adopting the idea of smart security, where the hard component is the new machines, but there are also many other components. People don’t need to take off their shoes, which is another example.

Naturally, our staff received training on how to use this new technology, but they are also receiving more training on how to assist other staff members and passengers because passengers are accustomed to flying into or out of airports without this technology.

Thus, they aren’t accustomed to it. Since the majority of the work is now finished, it is also crucial that we explain how to use this new smart security and assist people in doing so.

We are starting to reap the benefits of our investments, and we’ll keep getting a little bit better each time.

Milano Malpensa Airport Security Check Point. Photo: SEA Milan Airports

I wanted to know whether you have plans for replacing more security screening machines.

We just finished replacing them at Malpensa, and Linate was completely replaced in June 2021.

There is only one place where we won’t replace them, and that is a low-cost terminal. We don’t think the investment there is justified. You see, that terminal is only used for low-cost fast track, so it will be equipped with this machine, but the rest will be modern hardware without specific scanning technology.

What other initiatives are in place to improve the passenger experience at your airports?

One more thing, in my opinion, should be brought up to emphasize the advantages of this technology. As you are aware, the last time was disastrous for our industry in the majority of airports around the world, particularly in Europe and the US, due to problems with the reliability of labor or a lack of labor at airports and airlines.

We did not experience any significant airport disruptions thanks to this technology. We have all primarily seen this in the news, in newspapers, and on television. There are long lines and large queues in many airports worldwide. Malpensa didn’t experience this.

We didn’t get the service we wanted, but there were never any interruptions. And the main reason for that was these machines. These tools allowed us to get by with the people we had. Without these machines, we would have required additional supplies that were not readily available.

As a result, it also aided us during the post-pandemic volume ramp-up. Returning to future projects, we closed our low-cost terminal during COVID and relocated everyone to Malpensa. Therefore, Malpensa has two large main terminals, T1 and T2, though smaller terminals can still accommodate 89 million passengers.

Additionally, travelers using low-cost airlines flying out of that terminal will enjoy their journeys. The perception of our services by passengers, which has significantly improved over the past few years and is also attributable to a program of continuous improvement, must also be continuously measured across all airports.

Therefore, the program manages a team that focuses on continuous improvement. This team, of course, includes the rest of the business, but particularly operations. Additionally, we currently have 75 distinct projects for continuous improvement. Some of them are significant improvements, while others are only minor tweaks.

We complete projects, new ones are in the works, and there are currently 75 projects active to continuously enhance services at our airports, particularly Malpensa because Linate, as I previously mentioned, underwent a complete renovation.

We’re implementing a lot of projects, some of which are really minor, but we believe that the sum of all of them determines the overall level of service, so I can give you three examples of projects that are quite relevant. We’re going to modernize the wayfinding process throughout our two airports.

Naturally, we will employ experts in this initiative. We’ll increase the ease with which passengers can recharge their smartphones. There is room for improvement. Of course, there are charging stations throughout the airport, but we want to expand their availability. Additionally, we’ll introduce IoT in restrooms.

Basically, we have sensors in various places throughout the bathrooms so that maintenance can react much quicker than it does now if something in a bathroom breaks down. So those are just three instances of ongoing projects designed to enhance the traveler experience at our airports.

Milano Linate Airport Security Check Point. Photo: SEA Milan Airports

Can you provide more insight into the new terminal expansion plans?

Since we are reopening a terminal that was closed for three years, we don’t need to expand. For now, we can live with this capacity.

We recently finished renovating Linate, which also increased the amount of passenger space available. We don’t currently need to increase terminal capacity because we are currently renovating the other terminal.

As a result, we won’t be working on it in the upcoming years. The expansions will take place, but not in the near future.

What have been the biggest challenges in implementing these new technologies and initiatives? 

Given that it was uncharted territory, it required some bravery. We were unsure of their precise nature. Although we were aware of how high the campus was, we were unsure of the outcome. We conducted a trial and a pilot. The CapEx matters. The other significant challenge was continuing operations throughout COVID, which, as we all know, was the worst financial crisis our industry has ever seen.

In order to protect our business continuity, we were naturally catching as much of the cash loss on CapEx as we could, but we made the decision not to stop. It must have taken some courage to continue with the specific CapEx on this innovative project, but we are glad that we did because, as we previously stated, it is paying off from all angles, including the passenger experience of course.

The reason for this investment was that, in comparison to other security companies, our passenger scores were low. The rating increase from 3.5 to 4.3 indicates that customers are satisfied. It’s a hard fact that passengers have appreciated it. As a result of my extensive airport experience in Italy, some airport personnel are familiar with me and can recognize me.

Why don’t you guys use the same machines that Linate is using, many passengers are asking the security operator in another airport as I was going through security there. It’s been really appreciated by passengers.

Because the facts show that we made the right decision, we had the courage to make this investment in the first place and to continue doing so during COVID. Being the first to try something new is risky, so I don’t think it’s always the best course of action.

Being a late adopter is frequently the right choice because you can wait and observe how something operates elsewhere. But in this instance, we made an effort to act on the advice of a single manager. He must receive it from me. And we were right to encourage him to follow his instincts and stick with this investment.

Milano Linate Airport Security Check Point. Photo: SEA Milan Airports

What other changes and improvements should passengers expect in the years to come?

Travel will be made more and more seamless. We are testing facial recognition during boarding, which essentially involves passenger biometrics. A pilot program is currently running and it’s performing admirably. The response is generally positive.

We have already committed to investing, and we are currently choosing the technology that will make it a staple of the boarding process. So, for a seamless journey, biometrics will be used more and more. Additionally, we are investing millions of euros in automation as a whole. Since backdrops are already quite common in many airports, we’ll use more of them and encourage airlines and handlers to use more of them.

Shopping, retail, and food and beverage facilities in Milan are other areas that we consider to be best in class; we do not want to lose that position of authority or the respect of passengers. In the city of Milan, the way of life matters.

People visit Milan purely to experience the lifestyle that the city has to offer, and since Milan’s airports strive to be on par with this, we want to show visitors the same caliber of shopping that is available in the city center.

It’s already very high, but we have major initiatives to bring in new luxury and upscale brands as well as cutting-edge food and beverage companies. I would therefore recommend investing in three areas: biometrics and increased automation.

Both of these tools aim to create a seamless journey, which we are already very close to achieving. We also want to keep enhancing both our airports’ and the shopping experience as a whole.

Thank you for your time.

Thank you.

Featured image: Milano Malpensa Airport Security Check Point. Photo: SEA Milan Airports

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