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Despite a host of challenges, airlines, airports and governments likely will develop more biometric identity programs, according to experts. Travelers, especially those flying from one country to another, could be the prime beneficiaries of expedited check-in, baggage checks, security screening and boarding at departure airports, and passport processing at arrival airports.
Passenger convenience is a byproduct of biometric programs being developed for transportation security. "Biometric border management," along with use of passenger data by governments for risk assessment, represent the two parallel developments in airport security, according to Sita biometrics portfolio director Sean Farrell, speaking on a webinar conducted by aviation information technology company Sita and IHS Jane's, an intelligence and consulting firm for the transportation and defense sectors.
Biometric identification is "not new technology; it has been around for years," said IHS Jane's aerospace and defence consultant David Black. "Governments have been using it for a variety of reasons for access controls and identity verification. The real change is application of biometrics to border management."
Some governments already have required that new passports issued to their citizens include biometric information (primarily digital photographs used for facial recognition, but also fingerprints in some cases). Meanwhile, a handful of biometric airport programs mandated by governments for incoming foreign nationals already are operational, including those in Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.
"There has been a drive over the past few years by governments--with e-passports and e-visas--to include a biometric in the travel document to make sure the person is the legitimate owner of that document," Farrell said. "There is also a trend by governments toward using airline passenger data for doing risk analysis of passengers with the use of biometric for identity management. Convergence of these two data types will be the gold standard across governments around the world. Then governments can fully automate border management, but you need both."
Designed partly to ease the security burden, but also to offer convenience to paying members, some airlines, airports and governments have developed voluntary "trusted" or "registered" traveler programs. They include such fingerprint-checking programs as the U.S. Global Entryproject (operational at 20 airports for 42,000 approved applicants as of April), a program at Narita Airport in Japan and a system in Scandinavia, where SAS in 2009 expanded its passenger check-in programto include all flights in the region. Programs that use iris scans include Privium at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam; Canpass and the Canada-U.S. Nexus program at eight Canadian airports; the United Kingdom's Iris Recognition Immigration System in use at Birmingham, London Gatwick, London Heathrow and Manchester; and the Automated and Biometrics-Supported Border Controls system in Frankfurt. At Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, "fast-lane passport control" at "unmanned stations" use "a biometric reading of the back of the hand" to allow entry for qualified travelers.
New Benefits, Tall Tasks
"We're going to see biometrics grow very quickly from border management to other places at the airport," Farrell said, noting the various expedited security clearance programs now in place. Referring to the program at Ben Gurion Airport, he explained that El Al's frequent flyers can "use their credential at all the various points where they interact with the airline and the airport: checking in, immigration and boarding the flight."
Airlines in general, Farrell said, "are very keen to expand self service"--both as a means to reduce their costs and provide customer convenience--and "biometrics are a key enabler." For example, he said, "there is no reason why these programs can't be driven from the airline side as frequent flyer programs enabled by biometrics, with lounge access, boarding, bag drop-off and so on as benefits for their best customers."
According to a recent Sita survey of 129 airlines, about 20 percent of respondents are investing in "integrating travel biometrics solutions."
But webinar speakers acknowledged the unique complications for wider deployment of biometric programs throughout the airline industry. "Airports are quite fragmented from a systems and process standpoint," according to Farrell. "You have lots of different stakeholders. Trying to integrate biometrics with airline legacy systems that may go back 30 years or more is quite challenging."
Moreover, because gates and other infrastructure oftentimes are shared among airport tenants, common and seamless use of new biometric-based systems by multiple airlines would be required to create a familiar process for travelers. "Passengers will come to expect that biometric technology will work in a certain way," Farrell said. "If it doesn't, it will create confusion and cause issues."
He added that governments and the airline industry need to collaborate on sharing data "so a common credential can be used throughout the journey." To a small extent, some governments already have cooperated on such issues by striking deals to allow for trusted traveler program reciprocity.
In a wider sense, to ensure "a relatively easy" transfer of passengers between countries, Black of IHS Jane's suggested that governments "develop a spirit of cooperation around international standards. As a government, while maintaining your own security requirements and risk assessment, you want to make sure that an airline isn't required to have completely different security risk assessment procedures for every country that it flies to. It is in the best interest of governments that airlines keep flying to their countries."
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