Australia's future airport is closer than you think

Your biometric information will continue to be captured and the trade off is efficiency.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Within the next five years, passengers travelling through Australia airports can expect a "seamless" journey, where they don't need to touch or produce a single thing until they empty their pockets and offload their bags for screening at airport security.

Through the use of biometric technology, a passport will soon be replaced by a traveller's face, and according to Amadeus Asia Pacific head of airport IT Sarah Samuel, your face could be used to walk straight onto a plane from airport entry.

"It's not so seamless today, but I think that's where the future is going to be, where there is as little touchpoints as possible by using biometrics ... with your face as your passport and your body parts," she said.

Some of it is already happening today.

Passengers travelling internationally from Australia via Qantas have been trialling biometric technology at Sydney Airport since July last year, with the first stage using facial recognition for them to complete automated flight check-in and bag drop, gain access to the lounge, and board the plane itself.

"If you didn't want to speak to anyone you can actually completely avoid it," Samuel said.

With rapid adoption expected to start later this year, Samuel said the next step of such trials will see no need to take out a boarding pass or passport, leveraging biometrics into the self-service process.

"We're already doing trials in Europe and in the US and I'm hoping before the end of this year we'll be doing some trials in Australia and other parts of Asia, we're getting passengers to actually register themselves on their phones," she told ZDNet.

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With the capability available already on an Android operating system, and iOS to soon support the function, Samuel said passengers can scan in their passport and attach their face to it.

"You can take a selfie, take a picture of your passport -- the main page that has your photo and your details -- and then you attach it to your PNR [passenger name record], which is received when you get your itinerary ... you can self-register your biometrics, your face," she continued.

"We've trialled this in Ljubljana and San Jose where the passenger then has checked in online as well ... you just have to show your face, you don't have to take out your boarding pass or passport because you've registered your face against that flight and when you go off to the bag drop, it recognises your face."

Similarly, the passenger can proceed through a departure gate at pre-security that again recognises their face, which has a passport and boarding pass already registered against it.

Border control in Sydney, for example, is already automated, but travellers still have to take out a passport and have their face matched against it.


Sydney Airport arrivals

Image: Asha Barbaschow/ZDNet

"Eventually you don't even have to do that because the system will be integrated between the airport and the border security -- that might take a little longer because the border is a very secure entity and that needs to be managed really carefully," Samuel continued.

What is stifling global adoption is a lack of consistent, agreed upon standards, which Samuel said Amadeus is working with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) on -- to issue standards that will see a consistent experience.

"We're working with industry to have a single standard for biometrics, because there are so many different biometrics out there and airports are trialling different sorts of biometric technology, so there needs to be a standard so that it [avoids being disjointed]," she explained.

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"What we're envisioning for the future of airports, what we think the future of travel should be, is that even for arriving -- because once you've registered yourself against a trip, or the entire journey of that trip -- departure and arriving -- so the process should really be the same."

Strict biosecuity laws that both Australia and New Zealand have will see it be nearly impossible to avoid certain touchpoints, such as a passenger declaration or face-to-face contact with an agent.

"It can be automated, but a declaration and potential search cannot be avoided just to protect the island," Samuel added.

To realise its vision, Amadeus recently acquired ICM Airport Technics, a provider of passenger automation and self-service bag drop solutions for airports and airlines.


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