article

Five questions airport leaders should consider when rolling out biometrics

Before beginning any transformation programme it’s important to gain agreement and a clear strategic direction, but knowing where to begin once that has been established can be difficult. International Airport Review consulted with the industry on what some key considerations should be when rolling out biometrics in the airport, the results are explained in this article.

biometrics

1. Where should we begin?

It’s important to have a long-term strategy in mind from the outset, for example, are you aiming to automate the entire passenger experience, to reduce cost or restore confidence with a contactless experience?

Once a long-term strategy has been agreed, start small and apply biometrics in one or two discreet stages of the passenger journey. The guidance from Airports Council International is that many biometric pilots are too ambitious – and this is correct. Start small, set clear goals and timelines, focus everyone on making the initial solution a success and then build on from there.

It’s possible to roll the technology out at every passenger service point and in the long-term that’s how airports, airlines and passengers will experience the real benefits. Biometrics represent significant change and securing quick wins helps to build knowledge, increase familiarity among stakeholders and de-risk implementations.
Boarding is the easiest stage to implement first and yields the most tangible benefits in terms of passenger handling efficiency and direct return on investment.

1. Where should we begin?

It’s important to have a long-term strategy in mind from the outset, for example, are you aiming to automate the entire passenger experience, to reduce cost or restore confidence with a contactless experience?

Once a long-term strategy has been agreed, start small and apply biometrics in one or two discreet stages of the passenger journey. The guidance from Airports Council International is that many biometric pilots are too ambitious – and this is correct. Start small, set clear goals and timelines, focus everyone on making the initial solution a success and then build on from there.

It’s possible to roll the technology out at every passenger service point and in the long-term that’s how airports, airlines and passengers will experience the real benefits. Biometrics represent significant change and securing quick wins helps to build knowledge, increase familiarity among stakeholders and de-risk implementations.
Boarding is the easiest stage to implement first and yields the most tangible benefits in terms of passenger handling efficiency and direct return on investment.

2. How can we ensure our airline partners adopt biometrics?

No biometric roll out will be a success unless it is made simple and compelling for airlines and their agents. The biometric technology solution deployed needs to integrate with each airline’s own system so that passengers can be recognised, prompted and served according to their needs and flight status at each service point.

It is the airline’s headquarters that specifies processes at the airport, so unless the airline has updated its boarding process and communicated that to its team on-site then take up of any new system will be sub-optimal.
No two airlines are the same and each airline has different processes for serving passengers. The biometric solution should be flexible to accommodate every different airline, rather than forcing each carrier to adjust their processes at each airport.

3. How can we avoid ongoing ‘technical debt’?

It is likely that the use of biometrics will gradually expand across every passenger touchpoint from curb-to-gate, that means possibly thousands of cameras embedded at check-in desks, kiosks, auto bag drop units, security, lounges, e-gates and boarding gates that will all need to be connected to the Identity Management Platform(s) (IMP) over time.

There are also likely to be many different ‘Identity Providers’. Passengers will choose the solution most convenient to them. These systems will all need to be integrated to the IMPs and airport hardware too, so digital identities can be matched, and boarding gates can be used to support airlines using their own systems.

For a single airline deployment it might be feasible to manage these links, but the promise of biometrics is a common shared infrastructure that works for multiple airlines. So each carrier needs to be integrated to each IMP, each Identity Provider and ultimately to all the hardware. This involves bespoke integration and adds complexity.

4. How can we ensure our biometric system ensures on‑going operational flexibility?

With an on-site IMP at the airport, a lot of time and investment will have been made to integrate hardware such as boarding gates, but what happens if you need to use a different IMP?

Creating an IMP for one airport is attractive – it makes integration simple and the interfaces are in-house. However, interoperability is key. So the key question for your biometrics provider must be: how will you support changes in the market? Governments may change regulations, new IMPs or standards may emerge.

It is worth considering if a cloud solution might deliver improved ongoing flexibility. With the cloud, any change to industry standards proposed by the International Air Transport Association, or changes to local regulations, can be incorporated once and applied for all airports and airlines using the system helping to simplify into the future.

5. How can we best manage ‘exceptions’?

Biometrics is a very efficient and secure way to automate passenger processing. But there will always be a few exceptions. Whether it’s poor lighting when the enrolment photo is taken or a passenger details mismatch (such as name) between the ID document and the booking, there will always be reasons why some passengers cannot use biometrics.

That’s why it’s important to consider how those exceptions will be handled during the design of the end-to-end process. Passengers should be able to enrol at any stage in the airport journey including off‑airport using mobile, but also at kiosks, bag drop, the check‑in counter and pre-security. This means that when enrolment off-airport isn’t successful or the passenger chooses not to, passengers can still enter the biometric flow, rather than becoming a costly ‘exception’.