Biometrics: A key technology to increase passenger confidence
Project Manager in the Innovation Division of Aena, Pablo Lopez Loeches, discusses how the airport network is developing its use of biometrics.
Aena is a Spanish joint-stock company that manages 46 airports and two heliports in Spain, with direct and indirect shares in another 23 airports abroad (London-Luton in the UK, six airports in Brazil, 12 in Mexico, two in Colombia and two in Jamaica). Over 353 million passengers passed through Aena airports in 2019.
The importance of biometrics
Introducing new technologies, innovative processes and trends, as well as keeping the airports up to date with society, is essential for Aena’s present and future development.
One of the company’s innovation strategy programmes is Airport 4.0, which addresses automating and digitalising the processes focused on passenger experience and sustainability. The use of biometrics at airports is included in this.
Biometrics is a technology that increases security, streamlines processes and improves the passenger experience. In addition, in the current situation of COVID-19, it is a technology that will play a vital role in the recovery of airports and air transport due to its touchless features. It can avoid contact between passengers and airport personnel and equipment, as well as removing the need to handle identity documents and boarding passes. It is a key technology to increase the level of confidence of passengers and make them feel in control of their journey.
Use of biometrics in Aena’s airport network
Our goal is to use biometric technology at the maximum number of touchpoints possible at the airport, creating a seamless experience throughout the passenger journey.
The concept is based on the identification technology through the recognition of the physical and non-transferable characteristics of people. When the passenger registers in the biometrics programme, a biometric single-token ID of the passenger is created, made up of the data of the identity document and/or passport, the biometric feature and the boarding pass. As a biometric feature, we use facial recognition: It is touchless and less intrusive than other types of biometric recognition. Thus, this token allows passengers to go through various airport touchpoints just showing their faces, without needing to show an identity document, passport or boarding pass. Currently, Aena is the sole owner of the biometric database and, therefore responsible for its management. This entire process is carried out with the consent of the passenger and in compliance with the official data protection law in force.
Our operational idea is that the passenger, by registering only once in the biometric programme, can use biometrics at any airport within the Aena network and with any airline taking part in the biometric programme. Once the passenger has registered and the token has been created, this registration is valid until the identity document expires and can be updated by the passenger at any moment. In this way, we ensure that a passenger already registered in the biometric programme does not have to do any extra steps to use biometrics when travelling on subsequent occasions. Every time the passenger checks in with an airline taking part in the biometric programme, the boarding pass obtained will be automatically associated with the identity token stored in the biometric database.
Figure 2 demonstrates our vision for the biometric journey:
- At BIO (travel from BIO to PMI): Passenger makes the biometric enrolment. The token ID is created and stored in Aena’s biometric database. Passenger checks in with airline 1 and the boarding pass is attached to the token. Passenger can use biometrics in BIO.
- At PMI (travel from PMI to AGP): Passenger checks in with airline 2 and the boarding pass is attached to the token ID already stored in the biometric database. Passenger can use biometrics in PMI.
- At AGP (travel from AGP to MAD): Passenger checks in with airline 3 and the boarding passis attached to the ID token already stored in the biometric database. Passenger can use biometrics in AGP.
Strategy and projects
The biometric implementation strategy of Aena is carried out incrementally through pilot projects in collaboration with airlines and different software and equipment companies. First, we started by testing the biometric registration at the airport through registration kiosks and in the check-in counter, and the use of e-gates to access the security control and boarding gates. Afterwards, the biometric registration ‘at home’ was incorporated through personal mobile devices; from the Aena app or the airline app. Furthermore, we are analysing the possibility of integrating biometrics in other touchpoints at the airport, such as self bag drop, VIP lounges and payments.
The first pilot test is underway at Menorca Airport, where passengers can register in the biometric programme through the airline’s check-in counter or in a kiosk located at the airport, and then access security control and the boarding gate using the e-gates at these points. This pilot is carried out in collaboration with Air Europa, Everis and Dormakaba.
A.S Madrid-Barajas Airport
The second pilot was launched at Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport, where a further step has been added to the process. This allows passengers to register in the biometric programme from their mobile device, through the app of Aena or the app of the airline. This pilot is carried out in collaboration with Iberia, IECISA, Gunnebo and Thales.
Aena is at the forefront of the sector at a European level, integrating different steps in a single biometric process. Our goal is to continue integrating biometrics at different touchpoints of the passenger journey to create a completely seamless and safe experience.
Pablo Lopez Loeches is currently Project Manager in the Innovation Division of Aena, and has been since 2016; managing innovation, passenger experience and sustainability projects. From 2015 to 2016, Loeches worked in the Supply Chain and Quality Operations Department at Airbus.