Airlines are rushing to find quick and effective security measures to ensure the identification of air travellers

Airport security systems developers were among the few companies to see their stocks rise last week as airlines scramble to implement tighter identification checks. This follows FBI investigations pointing towards several of the hijackers travelling on false passports.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) security committee says the US attacks will provide added impetus to its calls to install computerised checking of air travellers' identification.

The association has seen a surge of interest over the past two weeks in its simplified passenger travel (SPT) working group studying biometric recognition - systems that use unique physiological characteristics to identify people. This also applies to companies involved in biometric research that have been inundated with calls. Airlines seek tighter security at minimum inconvenience to passengers.

Andrew Eros, chief executive of fingerprint recognition company Accimetrix, says the company has been in talks with most major airlines over the past two weeks. Eros says that its system provides a low-cost way of ensuring that the person checking in would be the person who boards the aircraft. Accimetrix is also discussing fingerprint locks on cockpit doors.


IATA's SPT programme was created in 1999 in an attempt to "streamline repetitive identification checks at airports", with emphasis initially being placed on enhanced customer service. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, for example, are set to begin a trial at London Heathrow using iris scanning for frequent flyer electronic ticketing and lounge access. However, the IATA now advocates a one-stop system, with iris and handprint scans linked to immigration and law enforcement bodies' databases to prohibit travelling under false identities or when on a wanted list. Such linkage of databases has been resisted in some countries, principally the UK and USA, on civil liberties grounds.

At present, however, travellers on US domestic flights can present identification at the check-in counter then pass the boarding card to another person. Even at European airports, where anti-terrorist measures have been in place for years, pre-airside identification checking is a repetitive task carried out by humans, whose average accuracy rate is 40%.

Ultimately, IATA believes travellers will have to accept some loss of personal liberty in exchange for safer skies. The US immigration service already operates a voluntary scheme, called Inspass, which matches a magnetic card to a hand print at the seven busiest entry points, and Australia is to include biometric data on new intelligent passports to be issued next year.

PlaneStation, an embryonic network of regional European airports, is the most advanced in its development of an end-to-end biometric check-in and baggage service, starting with flights between London Manston airport, Kent, and Odense near Copenhagen, Denmark.

IATA envisages a system in which smart card passports are presented at a check-in machine similar to existing e-ticket stations. The passenger would then be required to either look at the scanner, place his hand on the scanner or, in "very scrupulous airports", both.

Source: Flight International