Airlines fear delays from e-Borders surveillance tech

Plans to begin electronic tracking of every journey into the UK during one of the busiest holiday periods of the year are causing alarm over the possiblity of disruption
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor

Fliers face possible disruption from plans to begin electronic tracking of every journey into the UK during one of the busiest holiday periods of the year, the UK airline industry has warned.

Home Office plans to begin using the £1.2bn e-Borders system at airports, rail and ferry terminals from April risk delaying UK travellers, according to the British Air Transport Association (Bata), the trade body for UK airlines.

Airlines had wanted the system to be introduced during quieter off-peak months, when any teething problems would be easier to deal with, but technical difficulties delayed the system's go-live date until around Easter.

The e-Borders system will see airlines and ferry companies automatically forward details of passengers to a government database, for an estimated 250 million journeys into and out of the UK each year.

These details include passenger names, date, method of payment and place of ticket issue.

Bata secretary general Roger Wiltshire said: "We are concerned about seeing the system introduced from April and during the peak summer period, and that this is going to cause us problems.There are concerns about whether there will be time available to check that this works technically and ensure that there are no operational problems caused by it."

Wiltshire added: "We were hoping to see the system introduced during a period of slack demand so that we would be able to cope with any hiccups."

Wiltshire told ZDNet UK's sister site silicon.com that each UK airline has had to modify its computer systems ready to feed information back to the government.

The cost to airlines of upgrading existing hardware and running systems for e-Borders is £242m over 10 years, an average of about 14p per passenger.

A spokesman for the Home Office said: "Testing is happening now and will be largely complete by the end of April. The majority of carriers will be certified by this time and the first few will be sending data."

The spokesman explained: "The reason for the reconfiguration of the hardware was required to match some variances in carrier equipment. The new hardware resolves these problems."

Project Semaphore, a prototype to test the e-Borders system, logged details of passengers travelling from a handful of UK airports from 2004 to 2008, and recorded more than 79 million passenger movements.

Eventually the project is expected to see ferry companies and airlines obliged to automatically check passenger details against government watch lists to get the all clear to transport them, as part of the "authority to carry" requirement.

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