Air travel is booming again. The summer of 2024 is set to be the air travel industry’s busiest since 2019, with many airlines seeing passenger numbers surpass even pre-pandemic figures.

Over 280,000 flights are due to depart the UK over June, July and August, according to aviation analytics company Cirium, and Britain’s busiest airport, London Heathrow, is expecting 30 million passengers to pass through in the summer months, as it continues work on implementing a range of infrastructure improvement initiatives.

One of its highest-profile projects is the introduction of the ‘Next Generation Security Checkpoint’ programme, across all of its terminals. 

The Next Generation Security Checkpoint (NGSC) programme

As global travel continues to grow, the need for efficient, safe, user-friendly security checkpoints has become more critical. NGSC leverages advanced technology and innovative processes to streamline security operations and improve overall efficiency and passenger experience.

Airports across the UK have been making progress in rolling out the ‘Next Generation Security Checkpoint’ programme, despite delayed delivery for some. A number of airports have had to make structural changes to their search areas to allow for the new security scanner machines, and in some cases there’s been the need to redesign or rebuild search facilities, and increase staffing to operate the new equipment. Most UK airports, including London Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester, still have the restrictions on liquids in place as their new scanners are not yet in place.

London City was the UK’s first major airport to begin using the new scanners in April 2023, while Heathrow expects to have them in all security lanes this summer. Gatwick anticipates completing the programme by the end of March next year, and Manchester Airports Group (which runs Manchester, East Midlands and Stansted airports), has indicated that its scanners will be fully rolled out in 2025.

NGSC’s key features include:

  1. Automated screening lanes (ASLs): ASLs use automation to speed up the security screening process. They feature multiple loading stations, automated conveyor belts, and automated bin return systems. Benefits include reduced wait times, increased throughput, and a more efficient allocation of security personnel.
  2. Computed tomography (CT) scanners: CT scanners provide detailed, 3D images of luggage, allowing for more accurate and faster detection of prohibited items. This will lead to enhanced detection capabilities, reduced need for manual bag searches, and will potentially allow passengers to keep electronics and liquids in their bags.
  3. Biometric identification: Use of biometric data such as facial recognition, fingerprint scanning, and iris recognition for identity verification will lead to enhanced security, reduced risk of identity fraud, and an expedited boarding process.
  4. Behavioral analysis and AI: AI and machine learning algorithms analyse passenger behavior and identify suspicious activities in real-time. This improvement to threat detection capabilities will allow security personnel to focus on higher-risk individuals.

Advancements in sustainable aviation

Sustainability remains a major focus for many airlines and airports in 2024, with significant strides being made towards reducing the environmental impact of air travel. Key developments include electric and hybrid aircraft, with several airlines now integrating electric and hybrid aircraft into their fleets, along with the use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs).

The use of SAFs has steadily increased, with more airlines committing to blending SAFs with traditional jet fuel. SAFs can reduce lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80% compared to conventional fuels. 

Many airlines are continuing to expand their carbon offset programs, allowing passengers to offset the carbon footprint of their flights by investing in environmental projects, while major airports like Heathrow are investing in net zero projects.

Thomas Woldbye, the new CEO of Heathrow, revealed in a recent interview that the airport is investing £300m in its Net Zero project to make sure that it achieves Net Zero by 2050, if not before. 

“We are trying to position ourselves in a role where we take also a wider industry responsibility, together with airlines, to speed up the production of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) in the UK, which we think is in the short term one of the most important parts of the solution,” he said.

Last week, 26-27 June, The Airport Operators Association (AOA) held a major Airport Sustainability Conference in Newcastle, where discussions took place on the subjects of decarbonisation of airports and flights, air quality and waste, sustainable aviation fuel and hydrogen; biodiversity and carbon reporting.

Improved passenger health and safety measures

The COVID-19 pandemic has permanently altered how airlines approach passenger health and safety. In 2024, several measures continue to be out in place to ensure a safe travel experience. These include:

Contactless technology: Airports and airlines have widely adopted contactless technology for check-in, security, and boarding processes. This reduces physical contact and streamlines passenger flow.

Enhanced cleaning protocols: Rigorous cleaning protocols remain in place, with high-touch areas sanitised frequently and aircraft cabins cleaned thoroughly between flights.

Health monitoring: Some airlines have implemented health monitoring systems, including temperature checks and digital health passports, to ensure that passengers are fit to travel. 

Heathrow trialled infrared thermal scanners in 2020 to quickly measure passengers’ body temperatures as they passed through checkpoints. This non-invasive method allows for rapid identification of individuals with fever, a common symptom of various infections.

Our upcoming programme

Advancing Aviation is ITN Business’ latest in-depth news-style programme exploring the pivotal role of aviation in shaping the future of the UK, and the brilliant minds and breakthrough technologies that are redefining the sector.

Anchored by journalist Sharon Thomas, from ITN’s London Studios, Advancing Aviation will dive into the latest economic trends, policies and investments shaping the sector; how technology and innovation is driving change for the sector, from cutting-edge aircraft design to revolutionary advancements in air traffic management. Our programme will explore sustainability and the industry’s ambitions towards net-zero and how the dynamic and diverse workforce of professionals, innovators and visionaries is essential to the industry’s success.

The programme will feature reporter-led case study films from organisations at the forefront of the aviation and aerospace sector, showing positive work in action and insights from Editorial Partner industry experts including Airlines UK, AOA and IATA (International Air Transport Association).