The air passenger experience involves many requirements that countries address to ensure effective travel document and border management, information sharing and the identification of high-risk travellers, the screening of people and cargo for security purposes, global anti-terrorism objectives, and many other inter-related priorities. Because of the overlapping and complementary nature of these activities, governments have formalized security and facilitation as a joint and official Strategic Objective for international aviation. It is imperative that Member States continue to pursue new strategic planning and other policy and standards innovations through ICAO to address their latest challenges.
There are many organizations and entities that help support these efforts. Recently we sat down with Zhiqiang CHEN, who is a Professor of Engineering Physics at Tsinghua University. Professor Chen is also the Chairman and President of NUCTECH, an organization that is one of the leading security solution providers in the world.
Q: Professor Chen, before we begin, can you tell us about NUCTECH and the markets you serve?
A: NUCTECH was founded in 1997 by a group of scientists from China’s top university Tsinghua. We brought decades of research findings from lab to field to solve pressing security issues at airports, ports, borders, secured facilities and public events around the world.
Deeply rooted in academia, we pride ourselves on innovation. NUCTECH invests heavily in R&D. Every year, more than 10 per cent of our annual revenue is directed to present and future-oriented research. We commercialize those technologies and develop over 300 models of inspection systems and solutions. Based on a deep understanding of security needs in the real world, we are, always on the way to bringing security to life.
Till now, more than 50,000 systems have been deployed in over one hundred and seventy (170) countries to safeguard travel, trade and transportation around the world.
Q: Can you describe some of the products and services you provide in these markets?
A: We provide a wide variety of screening systems, like X-ray scanners, body scanners, trace detectors, radiation detectors and heavy cargo/vehicle inspection systems, etc. They are used to inspect people, baggage, parcel, container, vehicle and other objects for the presence of sharps, weapons, explosives, drugs, radioactive and nuclear materials and other restricted and prohibited items.
We also specialize in integrated solutions for checkpoints, hold baggage, air cargo, and customs control. With an extensive service network covering over 170 countries, quality after-sale services are delivered to ensure, our solutions constantly work at its optimum, to meet and exceed customer expectations.
During the pandemic, we also respond to emerging trends, like social distancing, contactless processing and increased hygiene standards. In close partnership with our customers, we brought R&D to the frontline and quickly developed a variety of epidemic control solutions to help combat COVID, mitigating its impact on the free flow of people and commerce.
Infrared temperature screening cameras, convertible quarantine units, UVC tray sterilizers, disinfection robots, contactless access control E-gates and self-service bag drops. These are some of our solutions that can mitigate virus spreading, improve hygiene standards, and boost passenger confidence for a quick recovery of air travel.
Q: COVID-19 has had a global impact on every industry, how was Nuctech affected by the pandemic?
A: The pandemic has profoundly changed how we live, work and travel. In this context, we focus on the silver lining and zero in on the opportunities newly emerged.
With passenger traffic down, airports are well-positioned to reinvent their security operations for major upgrades. State-of-the-art technologies, like our CT scanner, advanced body scanner, and smart lanes have been adopted by forward-looking airports to enhance security posture, improve passenger experience and increase operational efficiencies. We take advantage of those opportunities and apply new tech to the real world.
Also, we managed through the crisis by staying agile and constantly adapting to the highly volatile situations. The robust in-house R&D capabilities set us apart in the race against COVID. Throughout the pandemic, things have been changing non-stop and no solution works for all. We have to listen attentively to frontline needs and adapt innovation quickly to address specific requirements.
We stationed our teams onsite, working side by side with field officers to develop COVID-19 mitigation solutions, including fever screening cameras, quarantine units, disinfection systems, etc. to be integrated with our legacy systems or deployed independently to fight COVID. They have reinforced security at airports while providing safety protection to passengers and airport staff alike.
Q: How have your technologies helped to improve passenger experiences through the industry’s recovery?
A: Our solutions provide greater security to passenger journeys with enhanced detection of explosives, weapons, flammable liquids and other illicit items. Further empowered by AI, automatic detection can go far and wide. With the scanner constantly learning from past experiences, it is capable of finding an ever-expanding list of prohibited items with greater accuracy and high speed.
They also reduce the hassle of checkpoints, bringing ease, comfort and respect to the passenger journey. Less divesture of electronics or liquids, fewer pat-downs, and shorter waiting lines all contribute to a more respectful and enjoyable airport experience for passengers.
Beyond that, our solutions feature fewer contacts with people and surfaces. Self-service access control and bag drops are also gaining increasing popularity. With less manual searching and fewer surface contacts, transmission risks are kept to a minimum to better protect staff and the general public. Leveraging Robotic technologies, security screenings and disinfection operations can be taken to a wider range of settings, with greater mobility and labor-free operations.
With these technologies working in sync, our solutions can transform today’s passenger journey to be more safe, secure, unobtrusive and frictionless.
Q: With so much focus on supply chain challenges today, how is Nuctech working to facilitate the movement of goods?
A: Regarding the supply chain challenges, we believe technology holds the key to unraveling the problem. Take air cargo for example. In recent years, the booming e-commerce demands quick moving of air cargo.
The ongoing COVID-19 has placed additional strains on the global supply chain to work at its capacity. However, security is always a high priority. The latest mandates from ICAO also require comprehensive screening and security control for air cargo. So, here comes an urgent need for a balance between facilitation and security.
We look to innovation for answers. With our CTitan solution, consolidated cargo in air containers or palletized configurations can now be screened in its entirety. There is no need to unpack the cargo into pieces for screening. It saves the airport a significant amount of time and labor, with less damage to the consignments.
Combined with AI algorithms, this solution allows for automatic detection of explosives, lithium batteries, flammable liquids, narcotics, and other illicit items with high precision. Air cargo flow can be greatly sped up. Early adoption has been kicked off in Southeast China.
For smaller mails or parcels before consolidation, our XT series CT scanners could also be integrated into high-speed processing lines to enable a comprehensive 100% screening with no stop to its movement.
With breakthroughs in Carbon Nanotube X-ray source, our fixed gantry CT system WooKong increases throughput reduces footprint, slashes the weight by one third, and provides a much bigger tunnel size compared with traditional CT. It cuts down the maintenance cost by eliminating moving parts, and minimizes the power consumption for a more sustainable operation.
We believe, aided with enabling technologies like these, the global supply chain would change for the better.
Q: How do ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices influence your work?
A: As part of the aviation community, we appreciate the great work ICAO does to strengthen global policies and the guidance framework for aviation security. Security is as good as its weakest link. It is important for the whole community to observe a common set of standards. Also, ICAO takes the lead to establish platforms to facilitate dialogue between all stakeholders, including aviation authorities, airports, airlines and solution providers.
From my perspective, it is of great value and importance to drive innovation here in NUCTECH to better serve aviation. Especially in face of a crisis like COVID-19, we need ICAO to bring all parties together for solidarity and collaboration.
Q: What is the key for the future of airport security?
A: Collaboration is the key. With this, we can navigate through the current crisis and emerge even stronger from it. Regulation, certification and technological innovation should work in sync to close the capability gaps and accelerate the changes needed for aviation security. More dialogue and exchanges between public and private industry and academia should be nurtured to drive more innovation. By bridging the gap between lab and field, we will be better positioned to keep pace with the fast-evolving threat landscape and contribute to a quick recovery of global aviation.
At NUCTECH, we are happy to collaborate with ICAO on many levels and we are proud sponsors of the ICAO TV platform. Our efforts provide us precious opportunities to engage, learn, inform and explore new frontiers to make an impact for a safer world.
This interview is available for viewing on ICAO TV here. Their page features videos that present the systems and solutions Professor Chen spoke about in this interview, and so much more.