There are perennial efforts that are universal for any modern airline: strip out inefficiencies; make processes safer and more secure; streamline and digitise to offer a better experience. Rinse, repeat. However, moves are currently under way to adopt biometric technologies and identity management tools that will not only tick these boxes, but also go much further.

In the not-so-distant future, a biometric token, such as a facial scan and a glance into a camera to authenticate the traveller, will become increasingly commonplace. This technology will facilitate journeys without noticeable barriers or queues, not just at the airport or in flight, but for onward travel as well. Today’s repetitive authentication processes will move to the digital back-end and, as a result, will become more transparent to the traveller.

The deliverables enabled by biometrics and identity management will have an increasing impact as stakeholders in the aviation and travel ecosystems start to collaborate and harmonise, enabling more interoperability across jurisdictions and sectors.

However, there is a bigger prize: once airlines can connect biometric adoption with industry efforts to adopt order management and create digital travel retail platforms, an ability to offer dynamic personalisation, in real-time, throughout the journey is within their grasp. This promises to shake up airline business models and create extra revenues.

IATA is spearheading the One ID concept for the industry. A trusted digital identity and biometric recognition token will facilitate an improved customer experience, with speed, efficiency and security. The basis for One ID is early validation of the passenger's identity, and controlled access to that information by the public and private stakeholders on an authorised-to-know basis. The intention is that the passenger can be recognised and served in the most efficient way in subsequent process steps.

The first round of guidance to achieve this is expected from IATA this summer. Meanwhile, airlines, airports, technology partners and other security and border agency stakeholders are also working to achieve journeys that are hassle-free for the passenger, and to minimise security and immigration risks. The aim is to end the need to show travel documentation, and to avoid repeat authentication at each step.

Recent months have seen a flurry of airlines testing biometric identity solutions. S7 Airlines successfully tested face recognition technology at its own offices in partnership with VisionLabs. S7 is planning to deploy the technology at the entrance to the Moscow Domodedovo airport business lounges. The intention is to recognise S7's passengers using those lounges and also track both those who leave on time and those who need to be reminded that they must move to the gate.


In March, British Airways and SITA began trialling biometric boarding gates on flights from Orlando International airport to London Gatwick. The automated boarding gates have been integrated with US Customs and Border Protection and the airline’s IT systems to allow the necessary checks and authorise boarding. A spot photo is all that is needed to board – enabling BA to board flights of almost 240 passengers in about 10 minutes.

Ideally the airport will be "fashioned more like an open-space mall or art gallery, without barriers or obstacles", according to Jeff Lennon, vice president sales and marketing at identity management specialist Vision-Box. "The modern airport is no longer a place to line up in, but rather a place to move through – a passenger-centric ecosystem that offers a non-stop journey, highly streamlined self-clearance processes, no obtrusive passenger verifications, no stopping from kerb to seat."

The Vision-Box airport model is one where all airport processes aspire to be contactless, seamless and on-the-move. Lennon continues: "Virtual assistants [will] immediately recognise the passengers, know where they're going and support them in their journey via friendly, personalised instructions. The passenger is immersed into a journey of positive visual and sensorial experiences."

Facilitating passenger journeys with a biometric token can go further: inflight entertainment and connectivity company Panasonic Avionics is working with identity innovator Tascent to bring biometric identification to every stage of the passenger’s journey, including on board. The partners predict that their combined capabilities will bring amenities such as seat-back immigration services and inflight biometric-authenticated payments within reach.

Some early industry implementations of biometric recognition have begun with an enrolment process at the airport. However, Guido Peetermans, head of passenger security at IATA, argues that biometric authentication should actually start earlier in the journey – just after booking – and also has the potential to extend beyond air travel into the destination or return leg of the journey.

"Ideally we would like to see that move as much as possible off-airport or at least span across multiple journeys," he says. "The key concept [is] having the information travelling ahead of the passenger, so that [he or she is] already pre-processed and you have decided how to treat the passenger."


It is no surprise that mobile technology will be a key enabler in the roll-out of biometric identity solutions. Multiple biometric sensors are already embedded in many smartphones and consumers are happy to use their finger prints or a face scan to make a mobile payment or access a secure web account.

Sean Farrell, director of strategy and innovation for SITA, envisages that travellers will be enrolling and sharing their identity verification with various industry stakeholders via their smartphones before they arrive at the airport. And, once up in the air, they will most likely use the biometric technology integrated into their smartphone to authenticate payments for products and services purchased through the airline app.

"Another potential early use case is for passengers to complete pre-clearance into their destination country; however, the most likely scenario will again be that the passengers will do this using the biometric technology integrated into their smartphone, using an app to verify their identity and submit their pre-clearance data," says Farrell.

"A good example is Miami airport, where Mobile Passport Control has been integrated by SITA into the airport's app. While this is initially focused on pre-clearance of US citizens and Canadians using biographic data, we expect the solution to evolve to include biometrics in the near future as Customs and Border Protection extends this option to residents and foreigners.”

IATA is currently discussing biometric identity initiatives with the World Travel and Tourism Council, which has a keen interest in applying identity management tools across the wider travel value chain. "What if you could tie it into onward transportation, cruise lines, hotels, rentals cars? There are really a lot of possibilities there," notes Peetermans.

"The core of our One ID concept is that you could use biometrics and identity management at each of these touchpoints," Peetermans continues. "Each of these private or public stakeholders, such as an airline, airport, border agency, security screening authority or customs agency, could individually use identity management and biometrics to do a better job... but it's only when you start to tie it all together and they start to work together, collaborate and share information, that you get to a whole new level of benefits."

By combining this new paradigm of engaging with passengers with the IATA One Order programme, order management and fulfilment will be introduced into the distribution mechanism; add in improved travel communications throughout the journey, and the business opportunity will further increase.

"If you put all those things together, you could now offer a much more personalised experience that can change in real-time," suggests Peetermans. "You can constantly assess the situation and pitch additional services to a traveller that are very relevant, in real-time, to the situation they are in."

Lennon at Vision-Box concurs on the personalisation opportunities: "Eliminating the booth and stoplight mentality leaves space for newly designed flexible airports without obstacles and promoting a value-based, personalised, passenger-centric engagement addressing each and every passenger individually."

The dynamic personalisation IATA has in mind is still a way off. However, early adopters like AirAsia have an eye on potential ancillary revenue and operational uplifts. In March, the low-cost airline launched its own Fast Airport Clearance Experience System (FACES) at Malaysia's Senai International airport, Johor Bahru. Passengers aged 18 and over can now enrol in the scheme via a dedicated kiosk in the check-in area of the airport. A scan of their MyKad identity card or chip-enabled passport, plus looking into a camera, creates the biometric token that is valid for all AirAsia biometric gates for all flights, as long as the identity document remains valid.

Aireen Omar, AirAsia's deputy group chief executive of digital, transformation and corporate services, cites IATA's 2017 Global Passenger Survey finding that 64% of more than 10,000 respondents favoured biometric identification systems. "Thus, we believe this will impact our business model positively as [this] biometric data will also be tied to AirAsia BIG [loyalty programme] membership, which will then be linked to Single Sign On to allow passengers to purchase and make payment from home until they are on board with their biometric data."

Omar adds: "While initially our guests were resistant to adopting this new technology, once they learnt the advantage of FACES, they enrolled and boarded the flight successfully without presenting any travel documents. Many of the guests using the system found the process quick and easy."

AirAsia’s strategic focus is to develop paired departure and arrival airports and to eventually have seamless biometric travel between all ASEAN hubs. While this is being worked out, Omar says the plan is to have another airport running with FACES by the end of 2018.

As the demand for air travel continues to boom for airlines and other aviation stakeholders, biometrics and identity management tools also offer an innovative approach to addressing constraints in operational capacity.


"The development of digitalisation strategies based on self-processing Internet of Things (IoT) interaction points, mobile identity and the biometric single token are replacing traditional investment rationales and over-ambitious infrastructure investments," says Lennon at Vision-Box, adding: "Virtual and physical systems connect passengers and stakeholders in real-time, allowing for cross-individual, cross-organisation and cross-national cooperation. Being empowered to stay connected is key."

Recent trials and implementations by Vision-Box with Dubai Airports and Emirates, and with Los Angeles International airport and BA, have seen biometric identification halve the time required for boarding and end-to-end wait times fall by an average of 40%. Non-aviation business has enjoyed a revenue uplift in the 20-30% range.

"Some passengers were so pleased by the experience at Los Angeles airport, the speed and the seamless feeling, that they were asking if they could do it a second time... that could not be a better reward for us as we put the passenger in the centre of the equation in the first place," says Lennon.

Lufthansa Group, which joined forces with Amadeus, Customer and Border Protection, and Vision-Box to also pilot biometric boarding for two flights per day from LAX in March, reports it was able to board around 350 passengers on to an A380 in about 20 minutes. The group's head of digital strategy, innovation and transformation, Christian Langer, adds: "In LAX [there has been] overall high passenger acceptance and approval, for example in the four days of roll-out only one passenger has refused to board biometrically and we even had passengers from other airlines and gates come to watch Lufthansa biometric boarding."

The trial has given Lufthansa an appetite to expand its use of biometric technologies. "Currently we are in a concept phase to develop a holistic biometric experience across various touchpoints and airports. Apart from the trials that were initiated in cooperation with CBP in the US, we are looking closely at our hubs and home markets," says Langer.

The evolution already under way in airport IT infrastructure, combined with the proliferation of smartphones with biometric sensors, will further enable future biometric identity roll-out and adoption across the industry.

"The role of smartphones will become even more important as airports migrate away from dedicated infrastructure to cloud-based services interconnected with IoT devices," says Farrell at SITA. "Passengers' smartphones will be capable of interacting directly with devices at the airport, using biometric verification to authenticate the identity at each step."

He stresses that it will be important for airlines to be able to easily integrate high-quality, accurate biometric technology into their existing infrastructure and processes. "Processes need to be adapted to the airline's operating model and carefully designed to improve upon and not add to existing manual processes."

Inevitably, airlines and their aviation partners must be prepared to adopt a new way of thinking about their business and operational models. Lennon at Vision-Box says: "Airlines and airports should judge each new technology, or customer new behaviour, not by how it impacts their current business model, but by how it might create their next one. They should ask the following question: 'What business are we in?' Maybe the answer is: 'To provide a seamless, affordable and convenient door-to-door experience for travellers'."

Source: Cirium Dashboard