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Volume 14,Issue 3 Autumn 2012

Biometrics as a Measure for Seamless and Secure Check-in Procedures


During the past decade the aviation industry has bared witness to great advancements in the value and applicability of new technology to operational processes. As increasing operating costs and customer expectations have shifted the focus towards maximizing the efficiency of ground processes of recent, airlines are faced with very great challenges such as providing more differentiated services to the customer, enabling automated check-in and boarding services, reducing costs for local ground handling staff and equipment, delivering network-wide, high system stability and availability and assuring network-wide consistency to name a few.
Challenges of Technology on Future Ground Processes The issue is that depending on the airline’s use of technologies and knowledge of process efficiencies, the check-in and boarding processes can be a bottle neck in an airline’s operation significantly increasing costs, reducing passenger satisfaction and threatening the entire airline network all together. Today the most common trend in optimizing ground processes lies in airlines encouraging passengers to move towards more off-site CKI-channels. But while the operational and cost savings have certainly been significant, up to now the other half involving on-site passenger verification at Security and the Gate has not fully been covered. This absence of a complete end-to-end solution remains the critical gap to achieving efficient handling and movements of passengers and so must be addressed. Since passenger data collection can mostly be assigned to pre-travel processes by off-site check-in channels, the real question is how passenger identity verification can most efficiently be carried out. Let’s face it though, passenger security processes are expected to simultaneously balance the needs of many key passenger handling stakeholders. Hence, a solution needs to be implemented that is able to satisfy secure passenger authentication for security personnel, seamless travel experience for the passenger, cost efficiency for the airline, and efficient passenger flows for the airport. One major initiative seeking to support these criteria is advancing rapidly and is expected to develop into a $7 billion market within the next 5 years; the concept, biometrics as a measure for seamless and secure check-in procedures. Characteristics of Biometric Systems Biometrics is the measurement of different physical characteristics and behavioral mannerisms of the human body with the aim to identify definitely who a specific individual is. To-date, the longest modern use of biometrics had been only in crime detection. Unfortunately experience had shown though that many biometric technologies allow for a definite identification only after extensive durations of time, thus not practical for commercial aviation use. But while a problem in past years, new and affordable technology has paved the way to use biometrics for person identification in time-sensitive situations. A standard biometric system check commences with an enrollment stage (submission and collection of various physiological and behavioral characteristics) followed by a matching stage using either “identification” or “verification”. “Identification” requires the system to work to identify who the individual is solely on the readings received biometrically whereas “verification” relies on accessing the biometric reserve data based on who the individual claims to be and comparing with the received biometric readings. Based on the evaluation of the most commonly used biometrics across all industries, physiological characteristics have been considered the more applicable choice to aviation. This is due to the fact that passenger handling processes rely on the key selection criteria of uniqueness, performance and acceptability which is more likely obtained with physiological than behavioral traits. In considering the most established biometric technologies, mainly four recognition methods are being considered for use in context with passenger handling processes: finger print recognition, facial recognition, hand geometry and iris recognition. While all of these methods are convenient to some extent, fingerprint recognition seems now and will continue to be the most accepted method due to its low transit time, low false non-match rate and high user satisfaction as compared with the other methods. These points considered, biometrics has opened a great, new perspective into automated recognition of passengers through the combination of science and IT throughout the airport. Commercial Aviation Applications In general, biometric technologies have optimization potentials in three areas of aviation security: employee access control, airport surveillance and passenger handling. First, airport authorities will be able to carry-out the verification of employees and ensure that access to secured areas within an airport is restricted to only authorized personnel. This will also have applications in verifying flight and cabin crews prior to and following a flight thus making available the shortest path from briefing sessions to aircraft (gate, apron, etc.) and vice versa. Secondly, airport surveillance will have the ability to be influenced for the better through increased protection of public areas in and around airports from external threats. Through the airport management’s ability to identify persons that are on watch lists with or without the person’s cooperation or knowledge, more quick and swift criminal identification processes will ensure greater border security. Finally, passenger handling can be improved with reduced manpower requirements at the gate by automating the verification of passengers prior to their boarding of the aircraft. Also, expedited security screening (before flight) and immigration procedures (after flight) for passengers who meet the eligibility criteria and voluntarily provide personal information and clear a background check is a major opportunity. Simplified Passenger Handling Taking a closer look at the major implications on passenger handling, linking travelers to electronic travel documents with the verification of biometric data will certainly lead to improved passenger handling. Considering this thought, related stakeholders can expect to benefit greatest from the implementation of biometrics supporting different passenger touch points within the departure and arrival processes such as: ID Authentication for Check-in: After retrieving their booking data either remotely or at an airport kiosk, the existence of a valid ticket or ‘Right to Fly’ is confirmed by the airline. It is then that the passenger will be required to authenticate their identity via biometric authentication following the confirmation of their documentation validity and real-time reception of a ‘Right to Board’ notification from outbound and inbound immigration authorities. From the biometric reading, the passenger profile will be forwarded to security for potential risk based streaming of bags and passengers. Receive e-token: A boarding token serves as a boarding pass consisting of either a mag-stripe or 2D barcode, frequent flyer card, credit card, machine-readable passport or even the passenger‘s biometric identifier through the introduction of this new technology. Baggage Drop: Soon the passenger identity will be confirmed by means of biometric identifier for baggage reconciliation purposes when presenting their baggage at the drop zone. Through the biometric verification a bag tag will also be issued if this has not already been done and the bag will then be sent to security screening where it can be screened on a risk assessed basis. Any customs or bio-security data can also be captured for control authorities of the receiving country. A passenger checking in at home will also be able to proceed directly to the bag drop point where the validity of their travel documents will be confirmed and biometric authentication of their identity will be used to confirm their ‘Right to Board’ by the outbound and inbound immigration authorities. ID Authentication (Access to Restricted Zone): Passengers will be able to authenticate their identity by means of a biometric identifier to ensure that only bona fide passengers enter the restricted area. Passengers with only carry-on baggage will also proceed directly to this point where their ‘Right to Board’ is also confirmable so to pass directly through to the restricted zone. The potential also exists for the passenger profile to be one day used to stream the passengers for security screening on a risk assessed basis. Security Screening: All passengers and their carry-on baggage are screened to agreed minimum, international standards. Passengers deemed to be high risk according to their biometric profile maybe also be subject to an enhanced level of security. ID Authentication (Boarding): Passengers will be able to confirm their ‘Right to Fly’ by means of the boarding token and authenticate their identity using a biometric identifier to confirm firstly, that they have the ‘Right to Board’ and secondly, for baggage reconciliation purposes that any passenger who has checked a bag has reported to the boarding gate. Immigration (Arrival): At Border Control, authorities will also have the opportunity to optimize the immigration procedures to bring passengers back into the country through more swift verification of the person’s identity. In all many key benefits to passenger handling have the ability to be realized including enhanced process automation, securer verification of passengers, greater prevention of fraud, higher passenger throughput and reduced total expenditure of time by each passenger. Current Issues As the biometrics initiative moves forward quickly within the aviation industry, a clear and strong risk management approach is critical in helping to identify and quantify the operational effectiveness to be achieved. In general, airlines and airports have the opportunity to achieve more efficient and secure passenger authentication, reducing the failure rates of not catching fraudulent documents and inadmissible passengers, to realize a seamless, hassle free travel experience for passengers, to facilitate pre-travel procedures for travel agents, to optimize resource requirements and allocation at airports and to ensure efficient & secure transportation for governments through the removal of un-trustworthy persons from the process. But while great potential lie in the improvements to be had, threats associated with implementing biometric technologies exist as well. Airlines and airports are threatened by biometric technologies through the subsequent need to standardize procedures, technology and data between different stakeholders so to ensure worldwide interoperability, satisfy data privacy concerns while considering new legal issues and laws required to prevent privacy violation, improve on the lack of API definition today, agree on the duration of storage of personal data, balance commercial and government needs, and most importantly, acquire the capital to back the high investment requirements. One of the most debatable of issues currently involves the successful enrollment of the individual’s biometric data as it is a critical pre-condition for achieving successful verification against a stored template Enrollment validity for biometric identification systems varies with purpose and can be broken down into three options for aviation clients: enrollment per trip, enrollment per person, enrollment for global purposes. With ‘enrollment per trip,’ personal biometric data is collected for every single trip and is deleted after flight departure. This concept is advantageous being that privacy issues do not arise due to brief data storage. But while this option caters well to the non-frequent travelers, frequent travelers lose out greatly due to the constant need for multiple enrollments. With ‘enrollment per person’, personal biometric data is stored on a special device (e.g. customer card, company ID, separate smart card) and can be used until the expiry of the device. As this option caters much more to the frequent travelers due to only one enrollment per validity period, interoperability is still not achievable unless cooperation between stakeholders is realized. The final option of ‘enrollment for global purposes’ allows personal biometric data to be stored on commonly, readable documents (e.g. ePassport) and can be used by all stakeholders that require identification during the travel process (airline, airport, governmental authorities).While long validity & more trust-worthy issuing from authorities allow for ideal verification during immigration, privacy violation for purposes unknown to the document holder are much more likely to occur. In general the different types of enrollments possess many different advantages and disadvantages. But the choice as to which option to implement will depend mostly on the level and practices of data security within the governing party. Biometrics Outlook Through the dedication and cooperation of all stakeholders and harmonization of data standards at passenger touch points, the application of biometric technology has the ability to simplify passenger travel and allow aviation companies to reap many great benefits. As several related projects and initiatives have already been initiated and proven the usability of biometric technologies at airports in countries such as the U.S., U.K., Australia, Netherlands and Sweden, it will only be time until this technology becomes recognized as an industry standard.

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