The implications of biometric technologies for airports
Rob Watts, Regional Sales Director (Europe) at NEC Europe discusses the implications of different biometric and digital IT technologies so that airports can process passengers more seamlessly but still with the greatest levels of security.
What are the operational implications of biometric facial recognition?
By utilising highly accurate and fast face recognition, passengers will no longer have to present physical documents to pass through the various checkpoints at an airport. By tagging the passenger’s facial image to their passport and flight data and managing this as a digitalised ID, airlines and government officials will be able to perform the necessary checks digitally and more securely, resulting in a more seamless passenger experience with reduced queuing times and more time to shop and relax before departure. Facial recognition for surveillance within the airport will also be an effective measure to increase security, acting as the first level of defence to counter potential threats.
Do you envisage a world in which one day the air passenger will not have to come into human contact with any member of staff when travelling through an airport?
The use of biometrics and digital ID technologies will make such operation a reality. Well-travelled passengers can have their identity pre-cleared and cruise through the airport similar to boarding a train. This could allow airlines and airports to review staff allocation and place them in other areas for more efficient operation. More time and attention can be applied to passengers requiring assistance and care. Airport services providers, including officials, airlines, retail shops, VIP launches, restaurants etc. can provide ‘personalised’ guidance or services to the passenger according to their own personal need. Security checks will be more difficult compared to other checkpoints, but the combination of biometrics and advanced screening technologies will realise a fully automated, seamless and secured procedure.
What does the concept of a ‘smart airport’ mean to you?
An airport and travel experience where passengers can ‘self-process’ through all the required checkpoints, and where all necessary information is available at hand for both the passengers and the airport officials and airlines. Passengers can understand how crowded an airport is before arrival and make requests and receive response from airlines through mobile apps, and be guided to the different checkpoints and boarding gates through that same application. Airlines and airport officials will also be updated on the passenger’s information to ensure necessary checks can be carried out online and beforehand in some cases to allow seamless transactions.
What is the single greatest challenge we face as an industry at present?
Management of security and the great increase in the number of travellers globally are the greatest challenges we face. To ensure security is maintained while processing vast numbers of passengers, automation of key processes is essential. Use of biometrics and other technologies and a framework for information-sharing across different stakeholders will be required. By implementing systems to allow self-processes and digital screening, more time and attention can be applied to increase security at the airport. Privacy concern from the legal and passenger’s aspect is the challenge that the industry has to face notwithstanding facial recognition is the less privacy intrusion amongst the biometric recognition technologies.
Imagine we are having this conversation in five years’ time; what do you anticipate will have changed from a technology perspective?
Technology will advance further, allowing the processes to be further automated and fast. Use of advanced facial recognition technologies will enable gate-less, walk-through checkpoints. Multi-modal biometrics, combining face with other modalities such as iris and speech recognition will be important for more heightened security. The seamless travel experience will expand beyond airports to cover all processes and air travel will no longer be something that the passengers need to prepare for well in advance; passengers will simply enjoy the experience safely.
About Rob Watts
Rob Watts has been engaged in the Public Safety business for over 20 years, leading companies in the technology arena to deliver outcomes for customers and citizens. Rob heads up the Public Safety business for NEC across Europe and as such is engaged with senior government and operational leaders across the continent working with them on their security, immigration and Intelligence strategies.