The use of biometrics to speed up and enhance the passenger journey through airports has been a key area of discussion in the past few years, but widespread implementation of the digital identity idea always faced challenges.

But that has all changed as airports and airlines worldwide are now forced to comply with increased hygiene requirements enforced by the (International Air Transport Association IATA) and Airports Council International amid the Covid-19 pandemic in efforts to restore passenger confidence.

In response to this hurdle, Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques (SITA) has partnered with Japanese IT firm NEC Corporation to unlock the potential of seamless next-generation passenger processing solutions, making mobile-enabled and touchless airport processes a reality.

The two organisations entered into a collaboration to develop market-leading solutions that enable a secure walk-through travel experience at airports, leveraging NEC’s identity management platform, Dellight, and SITA’s Smart Path and SITA Flex.The solutions are anchored on Artificial Intelligence and facial recognition technology, helping to ensure a contactless digital identity system at airports.

The partnership comes as airports and airlines increasingly look to low-touch and automated passenger processing in order to comply with new Covid-19 hygiene requirements, as well as cut costs and save time.

“We look forward to the opportunity to develop and implement the most advanced platforms at airports throughout the world, thereby contributing to the digitization of the airline industry and making travel safer and more enjoyable,” Raffie Beroukhim, Chief Experience Officer, NEC Corporation of America, and head of NEC Global Aviation Center of Excellence said.

Through the partnership SITA and NEC say they will further unlock the potential of seamless next-generation passenger processing solutions, making mobile enabled and touchless airport processes a reality.

This, they noted, will allow passengers to use their digital identity on their mobile phone whenever they travel at each step in the journey.

“Passengers will use their biometric identity to check-in, make payments, drop their bag, as well as pass through security, immigration and boarding by simply scanning their face at each step. Key touchpoints will automatically recognize you as a passenger, making steps such as bag drop and boarding effortless,” a statement seen by Afcacia reads. 

With “cutting-edge identification technologies and AI solutions including the most accurate face recognition algorithms”, the solutions will allow passengers who have opted to use the service to be identified quickly and with a high-degree of accuracy, even when they are walking.

SITA says its Smart Path and Flex solutions are able to integrate mobile and NEC’s biometric technologies with existing common-use infrastructure and airline applications while delivering a smoother airport journey.

Barbara Dalibard, CEO of SITA, said the tech partnership will help to guarantee airline and airport customers a faster, automated experience.

“We know that passengers value the benefit of a truly self-service experience. Leveraging SITA’s common-use footprint in more than 460 airports globally and NEC’s award-winning identity management technology, we are well placed to help our customers deliver a truly unique and efficient experience in the airport, particularly during these challenging times where there is increased focus on the health and safety of passengers,” he remarked.

That means for passengers, there will be no more placing fingers in readers as with the older-generation gates, they will only be required to smile at their smartphone, tablet or laptop or check-in terminal, and that unique biometric identifier will stay with the traveler until their departure, with no infringement whatsoever of the regulatory framework.In the European Union, the General Data Protection Regulation law gives a strict directive on the protection of biometric data.

Any investigations into the passenger’s private life or business travel patterns are therefore discouraged and any such invasion to passenger privacy attracts severe penalties.

“The biometric data is erased as soon as the flight departs or, in some cases, upon completion of the return flight. It is simply used as a common point of reference for the different checks and controls,” says air transport security consultant Thales Group.

However, the use of digital identity at airports is still at its infancy, as airports in developing economies on the first phases of trials of new forms of mobile check-ins to provide an efficient and secure way of preparing passengers for their flights.

London’s Heathrow Airport, for instance, is in the early steps of allowing travellers to use their smartphones as a means of verifying their identity.

They are now beginning to use their faces to check-in and store the tickets on their phones, which are then used to authenticate the passenger’s identity during each touchpoint within the airport.

Similarly, Elenium Automation is working in partnership with Etihad Airways to allow travellers to register their biometric data on their smartphone before starting a journey, which enables them to drop their bags without additional check-in, this having already been done automatically via facial recognition.

The bags are then assigned to that biometric token, so no tags are required, and personalized information is provided via displays within the airport.

Though transformative, cost-efficient and time-saving, such solutions are yet to be implemented in any airport in Africa, even as the future of air transport keeps changing to adapt to the current wave of Industry 4.0 disruptiion.


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