in Features / Airports

Four ways to check in to seamless travel

Posted 29 January 2020 · Add Comment

Over the next 20 years, demand for air transport in Africa is expected to double, with 4.6% annual growth predicted – the second fastest of all the International Air Transport Association (IATA) regions. Emad Muhanna outlines the steps that need to be taken to make seamless passenger journeys a reality in the continent.

Currently, there are 731 airports and 419 airlines on the African continent, with the air transport industry supporting 6.2 million jobs and contributing $55.8 billion to Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Over the next 20 years, demand for air transport is expected to double. This translates to an extra 199 million passenger journeys per year in 2037 for a total market of 334 million passengers.
In addition, if a single air transport market (SATM) is implemented for the continent, it will give Africa the potential for economic transformation.
Placing aviation at the centre of African governments’ agendas is key to unlocking the immense potential and generating the economic and social benefits of a safe, secure and sustainable air transport industry.
As passenger numbers increase, ensuring greater security over activities such as smuggling and illegal immigration, are imperative for the future of air travel worldwide. Continuing to rely on manual processes to achieve this does not necessarily lead to an increase in the accuracy of threat detection on the part of border control, while leading to further congestion in airports.
The vision of a seamless passenger journey is now closer to reality than ever before as airlines, airports, border agencies, governments and industry bodies continue to drive initiatives that will bring it about. Trusted global identity management, enabled by biometrics, is the critical enabler.
The question is, how do you establish a scalable and globally interoperable identity management system for air travel where passengers enrol once and then use one digital identity to travel the world to different airports and across borders?
For this to happen, four ingredients are essential.
Firstly, collaboration among stakeholders is critical (including governments). Airlines essentially check credentials issued and vetted by governments, so it makes sense that governments, airlines and airports must work together to make passenger-processing more efficient.
Next, there is a need for standards and recommended practices that govern how biometric technology can be integrated into existing airline and airport business processes, infrastructure and business systems. This point is key – as passengers travel the world, they should not need to relearn the airport and airline processes at each new location. This means that biometric processes should look and feel the same wherever they go.
Additionally, with large international airlines operating in dozens of airports, the industry must ensure that existing infrastructure and business systems are compatible with whatever biometric technology is used at each location.
Central to this is common-use technology, which can be extended to support biometric checks, as is the case for SITA Smart Path.
SITA Smart Path captures a passenger’s biometric details through a facial scan to verify the traveller’s identity at the first touchpoint in the journey, typically in five seconds or less
Thirdly, we require a trusted framework for data exchange that will facilitate collaboration among all stakeholders. This will allow airlines, airports and governments to share identity data in a secure and verifiable way so that biometric and biographic data captured in one airport can be used in another, while also facilitating the data exchange that must take place between airlines and governments in order to streamline identity checks.
Then there is the need for data to be protected and stringent privacy regulations to be met. All industry stakeholders are obligated to protect the private data of passengers in accordance with national and international regulations, such as the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), among others. Systems that process passenger personal data must be built from the ground up to protect that data – a concept known as ‘privacy-by-design’.
With these components in place, we’ll reach the point where we really do have a seamless journey, using one digital credential integrated with airport, airline and government processes. Of course, this will take some time, but the momentum is clearly gathering.
The good news is that, within air transport, biometric technology has garnered a great deal of interest. SITA’s latest Air Transport Insights report shows that 77% of airports and 71% of airlines are planning major programmes or research and development (R&D) in biometric identity management over the next three years.
The other good news is that airlines, airports and governments can take steps today – many airlines and airports have already started to deploy seamless travel, with the first airport-wide implementations already online.
There is also movement in terms of standardisation. IATA’s ‘one ID’ programme is developing standards that will govern how biometrics are used across the whole passenger journey. One ID relies on a collaborative approach between stakeholders in order to work.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is also actively looking at creating standard digital identity credentials, derived from electronic passports, which can be stored in a secure wallet on a smartphone, for example.
Smartphones are set to be the key enabler to global interoperable identity credentials and travel processes. Eventually, as our lives move increasingly online, the use of biometrics on our smartphone will be the way we identify ourselves whenever we access online services – whether that be for travel, banking, healthcare or a myriad of other services.
The good news is that this puts control in the hands of the passengers, who will be able to disclose as much or as little personal information as is required to prove who they are, under their control.
Momentum is gathering. Collaboration and smart technology are creating the foundations of a seamless passenger journey. But, as an industry, we must focus on standardisation to ensure interoperability and compatibility with existing airline and airport infrastructure and business systems.
We can now say with confidence that biometric technology is mature and capable of automating airport processes. Performance has improved dramatically in recent years, with a number of vendors offering algorithms that operate with up to 99% accuracy in normal airport conditions. It is no longer about the technology – the key success factor is how compatible the technology is with the airline and airport environment, especially considering that large international airports host dozens of airlines, each with their own business processes, systems and applications.
• Emad Muhanna is vice president, government sector at information technology company SITA.

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