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SITA upbeat airport biometric solutions will take off

It promises to shave off about one-third of travellers’ time at the airport, from check-in to boarding, and is premised on one concept: that your face is your boarding pass.

That is what SITA’s newest technological concept Smart Path promises to travellers, as it makes use of biometric technology to help save time. For airports, Smart Path hopes to help boost passenger throughput, without physically needing to increase infrastructure.

On the back of increased investment in technology by airlines and airports alike, SITA is bullish that solutions like Smart Path are the way forward, even as increasing concerns about data privacy loom large.

Smart Path trials have been running at Boston and Miami airports for about a yeao, says SITA president for Asia-Pacific Sumesh Patel. He adds that among airlines operating at both airports, some have noticed reduced boarding time.

Patel notes that British Airways “[has come] on record to say that they could board 200 passengers…in 10 minutes at Boston”.

Asked about concerns about data privacy being a potential stumbling block to such technology, Patel disagrees.

He cites SITA’s recent industry-wide survey, which indicates that more than 60% of passengers were willing to share their personal data “to get better service”. Patel says it mirrors an IATA study which found a similar proportion of travellers with such sentiments.

Says Patel: “[The travellers] just need to know three things: What data is captured, how long you are going to keep that data for, and what you are going to do with that data.” As long as such information is relayed to travellers, they “are happy to give consent”, he adds.

He also gives the reassurance that SITA — as a technology solutions provider — does not own the data. Rather, it works to match data provided by relevant parties such as airports and immigration departments. As Patel puts it: “What we do is we validate, and we say, go or no-go.”

He stresses that this will not be a barrier for those wary of sharing their biometric data. “[Those] passengers who are not willing to share their data can still use the old technology, but that means you have to give [more time] staying in the queue … using the current technology,” he tells FlightGlobal.

Patel adds that to facilitate greater collaboration between partners in the air travel industry in sharing data, SITA has invested in a blockchain sandbox.

The blockchain technology, says Patel, will remain neutral, as SITA is a non-affiliated organisation. Three parties — Geneva Airport, London Heathrow Airport, as well as British Airways — are testing the system by sharing flight information through the blockchain.

The next stage, says Patel, is to move towards biometrics. This means that a passenger can make use of SITA’s Smart Path at both departing and arriving airports.

Patel acknowledges that “it will take a few years” before the different stakeholders move to the next stage, but SITA has, in the interim, looked closely at how best to implement such technologies.