Welcome back to Check-in, where thankfully, the wheels are starting to turn again in the airports industry. In response to our recent episode on ‘wide area networks’ (Episode 9 – 'know your WAN from your LAN') we decided to drill down for the airports’ perspective on this topic, so we virtually travelled to Keflavik Airport in Iceland to hear from Árni Gísli Árnason.
AL – Hello and a warm welcome back to Check-in– the Vanderlande airports podcast. I’m Andy Lynch, and thanks once again for being with us.
Well, I don’t know how your summer holidays are panning out so far, but we’ve certainly come a long way in the past year.
From the days of unsurety at the start of 2020 to the position we’re currently in, with the wheels starting to turn once more in the airports industry.
As is the case on Check-in, we’re always thrilled to be joined by guests from the airports themselves to hear their unique stories about global aviation. And today is no exception…
I’m happy to say that we’ll be joined on this episode by Árni Gísli Árnason from Keflavik Airport in Iceland.
You might remember that we spoke to Vanderlande’s Darren Durham a few episodes ago about ‘wide area networks’, so it’ll be interesting to hear an airport’s perspective on this topic.
So, let’s go right ahead and collect Arni from our virtual departures lounge… Arni, welcome to Check-in, it’s a pleasure to have you with us today.
AA – Thank you very much Andy, my pleasure.
AL – Where are you joining us from today, from Iceland?
AA – So now I’m joining you from my home in Keflavik. I live just a few minutes drive from the airport. During this last year or so, most of our employees at the airport who have been able to work from home, having been working from home, as with many of our colleagues around the world. For the last few months here in Iceland, we have been able to come back to the office with some limitations of course, but now more or less everything is back to normal, with no limitations, because of how well the pandemic has been managed here in Iceland. But for this chat, I’m at my home, so we can have some peace and quiet!
AL – Yeah, that’s a positive isn’t it? Compared to the office you get more peace and quiet, when you work from home, I find. So, you have a very short commute to Keflavik Airport… tell us Arni a little bit more about your role and responsibilities at the airport.
AA – So, I am a department manager for airport security at Keflavik Airport. Isavia is the airport operator, which is state-owned operation, and Keflavik Airport is the main airport here in Iceland, or the only international airport. We have some regional airports around the country that have some limited international traffic, but the main passenger flow is coming through Keflavik Airport – about 98% of all passengers coming to Iceland, they come through Keflavik Airport.
My responsibilities are mainly the security operation. So, I make sure we have the equipment, all the solutions, all the staff that we need to make sure the security operation is running smoothly. We are a little bit different than some of the other European airports, because we have our own staff, of course this is not uncommon, it’s not something you will find at all airports. But we have our own staff. It’s been an interesting year, because we have had to adjust our resources based on the traffic, or the traffic decrease.
AL – And just out of interest, what are your – I suppose I’m looking for a 2019 figure, for obvious reasons – but what normal passenger figures do you see, how many travellers do you get a year?
AA – OK yeah, so in a normal year, before the pandemic, we had about 8-10 million passengers travelling through our airport per year. On the road to recovery, we are expecting around 2 million passengers for this year (2021), and then continue growth in 2022. We are expecting up to 20 airlines operating out of Keflavik Airport this summer, the most we have had in the past were around 29/30 airlines in the summer of 2018, so not too far from 2018… we are expecting a steady passenger growth as we are opening up now, and vaccine levels here in Iceland are expected to reach 90% of the population of adults by the end of this month (June). As for construction, just two days ago, we broke ground on a new building that will be connected to the main terminal building here at the airport. We will setup four new stands, 20,000m2to increase the service and enhance the experience at the airport. So, we can say that while the world has been in lockdown, global travel has been at a minimum, we have been busy planning for the future here at the airport.
AL – And what is the typical passenger demographic, I guess thinking about Iceland having been, I guess a lot of it is tourists, as well as potentially transfer passengers on their way to North America maybe?
AA – Yeah, because of the location of Iceland, if you look at Iceland on a map, we are very well located… we’re sitting in-between Europe and North America, so we have a lot of transfer passengers going from Europe to the US or Canada through our airport. But we have of course also a lot of incoming passengers coming to explore Iceland… we have vast nature, which is always very popular and we have what is uncommon in some cities around the world… we have a lot of space, so if you go outside of the capital area, you have a lot of nature and limited traffic, limited number of people, in some areas maybe not even road, so you can experience unspoilt nature, if you will.
AL – I can confirm, it is a very nice place to visit, Iceland. And you’re in the security business, of course Arni, how long have you been working at Keflavik Airport in a security capacity.
AA – So, I started in 2014, I’ve been just over 7 years within the airport. I was working for Securitas prior to that, so I was working with the airport a bit prior to my employment. So, a little bit over 7 years at least at the airport. It’s been interesting, I’ve seen the growth happening rapidly, when I started we have just passed 3 million mark, annual mark of passengers and up to 10 million in 2018 in just a few years. So, we’ve seen a rapid growth, a rapid decline due to COVID and of course all the other reasons as well, but I’ve learned a lot. From both the increase and decrease of passenger numbers, and the operation has to align with the number of passengers.
AL – Yeah, I was just going to say I think you’d call that a steep learning curve with that particular challenge. But that’s such a unique headache isn’t it, not only do you have to handle passengers logistically, but security is a major concern at all times, it’s the premier concern at airports, so what’s your perspective on security and how that’s changed and the different requirements you have at Keflavik Airport?
AA – The regulation is always changing, as most of you within the industry will know. It’s an ever-changing environment, so we have to adapt and make sure that we are doing our best while of course maintain a full compliance to regulations. We have a great team here, I would say it has helped us a lot to have our own staff, both in terms of training, in terms of sharing information, in terms of implementing changes. So, it all comes down to the structure and of course the team. I’ve been very lucky to have a great team, working around and with me in this environment. So, a lot of changes have happened, both in terms of the operation and also in terms of the regulations, so training and structure… and of course, to have a good team will help a lot.
AL – Yeah, and I think you’ve needed that over the past 12 months, and I guess one of the main areas is the security lanes. You want to keep security as tight as possible there, but obviously one of the things you’ve been tackling is the social distancing. I mean, we know that numbers haven’t been as high as normal but how have you been factoring in the social distancing with keeping security high?
AA – Of course, it has impacted us a lot, Andrew. And we have seen a decline, some months of our 99%, passenger numbers. So, people are not queueing up for the security lanes, because there are so few passengers. It has been relatively easy to maintain good social distancing and good sterilising of all the areas that passengers are touching, the trays etc. So, that’s something which has not been a headache for our operation, since passenger numbers were so low, but I would imagine that for other airports that have not seen so much decline, even though if you look at the industry as a whole, most of the airports especially here in Europe have seen a lot of decline. But of course, it comes with a new set of challenges. You now have to consider cleaning, consider the distancing, how you construct the queueing. So, you have to factor everything in and I would think that even though people are looking forward to going back to how things used to be, I think we will not see the same setup for security as before. Of course, just based on my observation and of course speculation for the future, but I think that it will be different, people will not be queueing so tightly up together, people want to make sure that the areas they’re touching are not contaminated by another passenger, so I think we will see more focus on cleaning and sterilising, and of course, the area that you have for queueing will take that into effect, that people are less likely to be so close to each other. So, I think we will see some changes there, but of course, the traffic that we saw is not as high as it could have been, because of course people have stopped travelling, at least at the rate they were doing before.
AL – I was just going to say, it’s interesting times for all airports, and maybe because we have you on, we don’t often get to talk to people from Iceland, what are your experiences of 2020, the pandemic and – I guess – both in terms of the country and airport itself. I mean, whereabouts are you on the road to recovery?
AA – As mentioned, we have had a very steady growth over the past years, we have reached passengers numbers of almost 10 million in 2018. So, COVID has impacted us like other airports, but we are now seeing growth starting to pick-up again. We are expecting to see growth by the end of this year, so we would be back to our previous numbers in the not too distant future. What has happened now, in the last couple of weeks, we have seen an increase in passengers coming from the United States to Iceland, so a lot of interest. We have a lot of (restarted) flights from the US carriers coming to Iceland. If I maybe look at the last couple of months, maybe outside the airport we have had a lot of attention here in Iceland because of our eruption, that happened in March this year. What is interesting about that is the eruption site is not too far from the airport… it will take me, maybe from my home, which is not so far from the airport as well, it will take me maybe 20 minutes to the parking site, and then an hour’s hike up to the eruption site. So, it’s very close but it’s a small eruption with no ash and no effect on air traffic, and no effect on the airport, which has not always been the case with eruptions in Iceland!
AL – No, I remember when you had one a few years ago – now, I won’t pronounce the name of the site, maybe you can do that for us – but there was one about 10 years ago, I think that caused big problems I think?
AA – Big shutdowns in Europe in terms of the airspace, and because of ash… was blown from Iceland to Europe. But that’s not the case now, just to be clear, this is a very small lava eruption. But it is very beautiful, I’ve been to the site once myself, but I’ve been planning to go again because it’s still ongoing, it’s been ongoing since March, and we see that that is drawing a lot of attention, mainly from the US, so passengers coming and almost ready with their hiking boots, who want to see the eruption, live eruptions and live lava streams, so it’s safe to approach the eruption and it’s a short distance… so, it’s also in the perfect location because where the eruption happened, there are no houses, it’s a little bit… if I have to be honest, this is the area to have an eruption in Iceland because there is no infrastructure that could be affected very close by, no houses, no people there, so it’s very convenient, if I can say that.
AL – A convenient eruption! What I like about that, is that within that example you’ve just been discussing, we’ve seen how unique Iceland is. You have an eruption, well, that’s not going to cause a headache for the planes… the irony is, that people from the US get on a plane and come over, and are tourists. So, I think that’s a great example of how unique Iceland is as a country. It’s a shame we can’t talk further about volcanoes, I think we have to switch our attention to the central topic for today’s episode, which is wide area networks. Now, we’ve discussed these a little bit in the past on Check-in, with Darren Durham from Vanderlande, but could you maybe remind listeners… what are we referring to with this terminology, this wide area network.
AA – So, if I look at it from our perspective, what we have been doing using the WAN, is to connect different sites to Keflavik Airport. Back in 2014, we started to look at how we could improve our efficiency at the airport, and we did a tender process, and we made a contract with Vanderlande about supplying us with a tray return system lanes. We then upgraded them over the following few years, so back in 2017, we had installed almost fully automated lane, with our X-ray machines sending images to our remote screening room. We setup a remote screening room, centralised image processing, in Keflavik Airport. And we immediately saw that by taking the screener away from the lane, provided us with some opportunities for better quality control, better environment so the employee would be more focused on the task at hand, not be interrupted by some noise from the passengers or something like that. So, we saw quality increase. The possibilities then were discussed with Vanderlande about connecting other sites to the airport, to the remote screening room at the airport. We have, as mentioned at the beginning of this episode, other smaller regional airports in Iceland. Mainly of course the capital Reykjavik, which is from our airport, about 50(km) from our airport to the airport in Reykjavik. So, we started off by doing a trial back in 2018, with connecting that to our remote screening room, just to see if it could be done. What happened was that we saw immediately very positive results of that trial. Both in terms of the number of staff needed at the checkpoint in Reykjavik could be decreased, but also we saw that we could just add this into our pool of images in Keflavik without any problems, the need for extra staff were limited, so there was an efficiency result based on the number of staff. But also, in Reykjavik and in other airports, we have mainly domestic flights and some international travel as well. Not that many go through the security process as such. So, the need to have a full-time employee there, working in security, is very limited. So, what tends to be done at the other airports is that you either have contracted employees who are doing something else, other than airport security, but then come in when there are some flights to process through security. Or, with our good and very capable staff, and in some of the other airports that they are doing almost everything. They are also doing the runway, the airfield operation, they are clearing the snow, and doing security when needed. So, even though they are very capable, you cannot be good at everything. When it comes to screening, analysing the X-ray images, I would say that you will not be very capable, or not be very good unless you’re doing it at least daily. So, you’re always analysing the images, you are using the software we have for combined threat images, CTI (TIP), so we can analyse better the results and help our staff members to improve if needed. That is almost not the case when you have maybe a few times a week, or maybe some weeks that you are not exposed to the X-ray images… then you tend to not be as good in analysing the image, with full respect to our employees, because they are excellent employees and they do almost everything, but you cannot be an expert in everything. So, these trials we have done in Reykjavik were very successful. We moved from trial to integrating this fully into our operation when we saw how well this was doing we decided to take it even further. So, we connected our airport in the north in Akureyri, which is about 5-hours’ drive from Keflavik Airport to Akureyri – think about 450km, roughly, from our airport to their airport. And they have some international traffic as well that need to go through screening. We set that up early 2019 and we’ve also seen very positive results there. There we have employees that are almost doing everything at the airport, so it’s just your airport employee for the smaller regional airport and you have to be fit for doing almost everything. And then you have to make sure that you have the proper training, and all the recurrent training needed. This of course puts extra strain on the management of those people and their time to make sure they have runway clearance, training, they have security training, they have a lot of different trainings as well. So, for these airports now they do not have to have the training for everything in terms of security. Some security is need of course at the lane, but for X-ray image analysing… there’s a limited need for that. So, that is one of the benefits also due to increased efficiency, because less manpower is needed.
AL – Yeah, I think that’s really excellent, I think the story you’ve told there is that it’s been an ideal solution, going back to your organisation which runs Keflavik, which is Isavia. Now, I don’t know, does Isavia run all the regional airports in Iceland?
AA – Yes, yes.
AL – Well, the wide area network is fantastic because it’s almost like Iceland is so unique, but you have this unique solution which is brilliant, where at Keflavik Airport you have highly trained security specialists, they see the X-ray images on screen and obviously they don’t know which airport they come from – because you can’t have insider collusion, of course – but that’s great, because these experts look at these X-ray images and it doesn’t matter which regional airport it is, the regional airport is free of the burden of that extra… I mean, security always has to be right, so they’re relieved of that kind of burden, they can concentrate on other things, safe in the knowledge that Keflavik is analysing these images for them. I mean, obviously most countries could develop such a solution, but particularly with Iceland, Keflavik, Isavia and the regional airports, it’s a really good solution isn’t it?
AA – It is, yeah, and we are doing this in good cooperation with the transport authority, that oversees the security regulation here in Iceland. They were part of our trials, so they were also trying to put in test bags through the lanes in these airports, making sure the screener in Keflavik Airport was doing everything right. And we had a high success in those tests as well. We see that both quality, a better use of resources, and of course reduced cost. That is our key aspect… always quality first if you look at security, that’s very important. So, I’ve been asked a couple of times by other airports ‘how is the connection’, ‘does it take many seconds or minutes to send the images back and forth’, because the X-ray image process and also the optical image of the bag, they will be sent back and forth. We of course have a good infrastructure here in Iceland, we are connected through fibre optics over the WAN to these airports. On our tests and on our trials, we have seen that this happens instantaneously. When the bag goes through the X-ray machine at these airports for example, Akureyri Airport, which is 5-hours away, it will almost instantaneously pop up on the screen, so you don’t see any latency in the data. And you have of course the secure connection. So, that is important, because you don’t want to end up with some solution that will slow the process down, that is of course one of the main issues there.
AL – Yeah, and it’s amazing to hear that from such a simple-ish solution, obviously there’s a lot of technical complexity there, but it’s amazing to hear that from such a simple idea, you can get so many benefits and advantages in terms of staffing efficiency, and the connectivity’s instantaneous… like I say, a very simple but effective solution. And in terms of industry partners, such as the Vanderlandes of the world, how can they support you in perhaps further improving such a solution?
AA – So, this solution was developed in cooperation with Vanderlande, this is a solution from Vanderlande, and we had a good discussion where we came up with this idea… if we do this trial, if we set it up with our airport outside of Keflavik and see what happens. Vanderlande was very into trialling with us, doing some tests, and see how things will progress from there. So, we’re happy with our partnership and a good partnership has to be flexible, we have to be ready to discuss different ideas to see how they can benefit both partners at the end of course. But I would say that I’ve been very happy with the partnership that we’ve had with Vanderlande. We’ve had very skilled technicians coming and helping us setup these different sites, connecting them to our remote screening room in Keflavik Airport. So, it has been important… in security equipment, in security solutions, there is no one-size-fits-all… you have different types of airport, you have different types of passenger, different types of infrastructure, different type of area you can use and there’s a lot of complexity, even though we have similarities. To be able to discuss different ideas and be able to come up with solutions together, that is important.
AL – And hopefully that bodes well for the future. And how do you see the future developing in terms of wide area networks, what do you see as being the next big step for your airport in this field?
AA – If I look at our airport, we will of course look into further upgrades, as many of the other airports are doing who are upgrading to CT technology, mainly at Keflavik Airport. But we have other airports in our domestic operation, in the east and some other locations as well, where we have some international traffic occasionally. And I would think that the next step when looking into wide area networking in Iceland is to connect more airports to Keflavik Airport, to make sure that we have good quality and good use of resources, in terms of security screening. That is the next step. But if we dare to think a little more ahead, maybe – and I say maybe because of course I do not know where we will head or where the industry will lead us – maybe we don’t have to have these screening rooms at the airport, you can have it at a different location, where we have access to… more easy access to workforce to some type of infrastructure and so on. I would think that these good results, for example that we have had here in Iceland will allow us to think differently, because we have taken this a little bit apart. This used to be a part of the security lane across the screening process, now it doesn’t have to be at the same location, although it’s a very important part of the process. So, I would at least think this would be something that would be talked about in the coming years – how can we maybe setup these screening rooms at a completely different area, different locations, that will maybe allow for more growth, more rooms, because airports at least are always limited in size, and are always competing with the square metres we are given in security to other operations. Obviously, because airports are always too small, when traffic is high. So, I would think that that is something that is likely to be discuss at least… because this technology allows for a lot of different approaches.
AL – Well, that’s about all the time we have on today’s episode of Check-in, which just gives me the chance to say – Arni Arnasson from Keflavik Airport – thank you very much for being with us today.
AA – Thank you very much, I enjoyed it.
AL – Well, thanks for listening, and thanks again to today’s guest… Arni Arnasson from Keflavik Airport. I do hope that you will check-in with us once again when we’ll be joined by another expert from the dynamic aviation industry. Until next time, stay safe and goodbye for now.