Australian Customs to trial automated departures

Following increased usage by inbound travellers of SmartGate technology at Australia's major airports, Customs is set to trial new technology for outbound citizens in Brisbane.

Brisbane Airport is set to host a pilot of new technology enabling automated departures for Australian and New Zealand travellers. If successful, the pilot will form the model for the rollout of automated technology to all Australian airports.

The pilot, according to Robyn Miller, national manager of passenger policy and practice at the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, follows a commitment within last year's budget that the agency would undertake a live trial of automated departure technology by the end of the 2013-14 financial year.

So far, Customs has completed a request for tender (RFT) for the technology, and has set up a panel to provide that technology. A request for quote (RFQ) on the technology to be used in the pilot will be issued in early December.

The departures process would closely resemble the use of e-passports at SmartGates by inbound travellers, Miller said.

"We will be looking at travellers providing their e-passports at the [SmartGate]," she said. "You will then do an identity check and confirm that you have got authority to leave Australia. Subject that being OK, the gate will open and away you go."

Miller said it is anticipated that travellers would be able to place their outbound passenger cards in a nearby drop box rather than have to enter the data contained on the cards at a kiosk.

"In the longer term, we do want to remove our reliance on cards — inbound and outbound — and automate the collection of that data," she said.

The trial would run for 12 months, with potentially multiple configurations of automated departures technology tested over that period.

"We are genuinely trying out a number of new ideas, and some of those will work well and others won't," Miller said.

"We are going to be adapting what we do over the period of the trial and try to come up with a model which will work successfully for travellers and be adopted nationally."

Inbound SmartGate upgrades

Customs has also been working on major upgrades to the country's existing inbound SmartGate technology.

The agency has worked with airports to double capacity at Sydney and Perth, and also upgrade capacity at Melbourne. Upgrades to Brisbane and a number of smaller airports are expected to be complete by the end of the financial year.

According to Miller, travellers' use of the SmartGates had been high — about 70 percent of all eligible Australian and New Zealand passport holders. The agency's target is for 80 percent of all eligible holders by the end of 2013.

By 2015, 100 percent of all Australian and New Zealand passports are expected to be capable of being used with SmartGates.

Customs is also currently trialling the expansion of SmartGates to citizens of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland. Additional nationalities are also being reviewed, with a view to further expansion within 12 months.

"The major criterion to that is ensuring that we have ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) compliant e-passports, and that the government agencies within Australia are comfortable that those countries present low risk, from a general perspective, to Australia's borders," Miller said.