Preparing for the future of aviation

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The future of air travel is here, but how should the community prepare for it, asks Tim Ferris, APAC president and senior vice president for Public Security and Identity, Idemia.

Last year, the air transport sector witnessed unprecedented growth, as airlines carried some 4.3 billion passengers on scheduled services – a rise of 6% year on year. Naturally, this increase translated into longer passenger waiting times for check-in and boarding, in addition to flight delays.

Passengers are thus stuck in a loop of waiting for long periods and needing to repeatedly pull out their passports and travel documents at multiple checkpoints throughout their journey, which understandably leads to increased frustration and higher stress levels. With latest projections showing that the number of travelers will double within 20 years, this inconvenience is set to become even more pronounced.

While we have already seen a significant shift toward more convenience for travelers, the reality is that the air transport community still does not have enough resources to expand its infrastructures, even if the space already used by airports is doubled. We need to instead optimize the use of existing infrastructures, while also leveraging new technology such as biometrics to improve – in addition to securing – the passenger experience.

Creating a digital air travel experience
Current manual controls are far from being fool-proof, being susceptible to human error. Digital transformation is required, although it needs a global approach to introduce automation and self-service at all required touchpoints. The sharing of trusted data between stakeholders is key to making the process more efficient for passengers, thus improving their experience of the airport.

It is not just the passengers who can benefit; airlines can also see swifter and more efficient operations. Coupled with their passengers’ experience, this may translate to enhanced reputation and customer loyalty, all without compromising security. For airports, this digital transformation can help reduce passenger processing times, as well as improving security and service quality. This also helps airports optimize precious infrastructure and labor resources at a time when these are increasingly stretched. Furthermore, it brings about economic benefits for the airports, enabling them to promote new services and business opportunities, which can in turn help develop non-aviation revenue.

For the air travel community to enjoy these benefits, it needs to ensure that the following aspects can work in tandem with each other:

1. Passenger enrolment
This is where the digital transformation starts. Efficient passenger enrolment requires a reliable and genuine digital identity based on travel document authentication, coupled with biometric acquisition and matching. This can take place either remotely, anytime, anywhere, with travelers using their smartphones or at the airport (i.e. at kiosks and self-service bag drops). This digital identity – if generated in full compliance with privacy concerns – then becomes a single token that contains all the relevant information needed at every step of the journey. It cannot be forged, exchanged or modified during the process, as the biometric information (be it through one’s face, iris or fingerprints) guarantees that only you can be you.

2. Passenger identity management
An effective, frictionless and secure identity management system needs to integrate single token lifecycle management, which requires near real-time data collection that can only be done by means of a separate, reliable identity management service.

Additionally, the biometric authentication tool needs to be able to verify that the identity is genuine. In the context of airports and airlines, they need to ensure that the tools are: secure with the latest anti-spoofing and cybersecurity capabilities; fast enough to avoid bottlenecks and ensure the closest walk-through experiences; sufficiently accurate to avoid high false rejection/acceptance rates; and user friendly, to minimize the effort needed by a passenger for the airport to capture good quality data quickly.

Another important factor to consider is that the system needs to be scalable and adaptable to the different architectures already in place.

3. Data privacy and security
Lastly – and most importantly –a passenger’s biometric data needs to be treated with the utmost respect and security. Breaches, while creating devastating reputational effect for businesses, are even more serious for passengers, potentially leaving them susceptible to fraud. Air transport community stakeholders therefore are obliged to implement IT architectures that can protect passengers’ data; when collecting information that they are legally obliged to capture, they must store and encrypt it to the highest standards, as well as putting tools in place to anticipate and prevent breaches.

Turning ideas into reality
Air travel is not just about airports – they also need to synchronize with airlines, passengers, authorities and the wider travel industry to deliver seamless services throughout the whole passenger journey. This journey requires a fundamental shift from conventional point-by-point approaches to one that is connected – in addition to implementing digital tools to support physical infrastructures that will only be strained further down the line.

At Idemia, our strategy – via augmented identity – is to help airports facilitate the easy onboarding and passage of passengers, while ensuring that all steps within the process are securitized to the highest standards. We believe that efficiency through automation is paramount for us to help the air transport sector future-proof itself to shoulder the ever-growing volume of passengers, and we think only biometric technologies can support this move.

We have been able to share our experience in the field of augmented identity with airports who share our vision for the future of air travel, and have worked with airports in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore to make the passenger experience more seamless and secure.

Thanks to digital transformation and biometrics, in the next decade, air travel will regain its convenience and simplicity while increasing security, benefitting airports, airlines and passengers across the globe.

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