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An Airbus A350-1000 (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Fabian Behr)

Airbus Announces Progress on Biotechnology Solution for Aviation Security Issues

Earlier this week Airbus announced that it, along with California-based biotechnology and artificial intelligence company Koniku Inc., has made a “significant step” forward in the development of a “disruptive biotechnology solution” for aircraft and airport security operations by extending research to include biological hazard detection capabilities.

The two companies originally entered into a cooperation agreement back in 2017.  The cooperation agreement brought together the expertise of Airbus in sensor integration and aviation security operations with the expertise of Koniku in biotechnology.

Originally, Airbus and Koniku had focused the project on the tracking and location of chemical and explosive threats in airports and on-board aircraft.  In light of the current pandemic, it is clear that detecting biological hazards on aircraft and in airports has taken on a heightened level of significance.  Indeed, Airbus and Koniku’s extension of research into the detection of biological hazards appears to be directly linked to the current COVID-19 crisis.

According to Airbus, the solution they are developing with Koniku uses genetically engineered odorant receptors.  Those receptors, designed to detect a threat, trigger an alarm signal when they come into contact with the molecular compounds of the threat. Testing of the solution is currently planned for Q4 of this year.

The use of biotechnology has been on the rise across the aviation industry in recent years. This can be seen perhaps most notably in worldwide experimentation with sustainable biofuels and campaigns to limit cabin waste. Coming to the table with the goal of making companies more eco-friendly in an industry that otherwise is inherently bad for the environment, corporations are looking to find success in a movement that is slowly engulfing aviation across the globe.

But sustainability is just one area in which airlines, airports and the countless companies that make up the airline industry are turning toward biotech. One of the other experiments that has become increasingly popular is the use of biometrics to facilitate many parts of the traveling experience from check-in to boarding.

Airlines including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and JetBlue Airways have worked with a number of companies in the space. Though the exact use varies by airline, some have been able to transition to gates that don’t need to be staffed for boarding, as each passenger is allowed aboard the aircraft with a simple face scan rather than a swipe of the boarding pass. Some have also used biometric scanning to let passengers into lounges in an effort to streamline the airport journey.

Though many of these experiments have taken a back seat given the financial troubles the industry continues to face, many are expected to make a very public reappearance in the near future.

Finally, companies are making inroads in using biotechnology in other places, as Clear has done with the security process. Using fingerprints or an eye scan, those who subscribe to the service can avoid many of the Transportation Security Administration-mandated identification check and boarding pass scan lines. Though the service is yet to take hold beyond private companies like Clear, the potential for it to expand to a larger program going forward.

Jordan Green
Jordan Green
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