Changing visa requirements and stricter security demands mean that the aviation sector needs to get on top of technological developments sooner rather than later, says Zamna CEO Irra Ariella Khi.
The UK has left the European Union (EU), but how this will affect our travel to and from the continent remains uncertain. In addition, the EU is set to introduce ETIAS (the European Travel Information and Authorisation System) in the next few years, requiring anyone flying from a (currently) visa-free country to obtain additional authorization prior to entering the Schengen zone.
But while ETIAS will give the EU greater certainty when assessing visitors from countries that do not at present require Schengen visas, it will be the responsibility of the carrier (airline, ferry, train and coach) to ensure all passengers are entitled to enter the Schengen zone. This will require checks at airports (as well as ports and railway stations) with electronic approval for passengers who need an ETIAS. This will mean substantially more work for airlines, with an added layer of passenger checks, longer queues for passengers and frustration for everyone involved. Clearly something has to change. With so much at stake, what can we do about it?
The impact of ETIAS
When ETIAS comes into operation, all visitors from the 26 countries that previously traveled visa-free to and within Europe, including post-Brexit UK, will be required to obtain an approved ETIAS – essentially a digital visa – before they travel. It is also likely that the UK will look to introduce a similar digital visa system now it has left the EU, which would affect people flying from anywhere in the world to the UK. But any digital visa system is reliant on passengers providing the correct data – a challenge that already plagues airlines, and one that will become more problematic following the introduction of ETIAS.
More effective systems for checking and validating passenger data will therefore be essential to mitigate the risks of significant disruption to travel.
Delays and frustration
As it stands, no airline is currently equipped to cope with the upcoming changes, but every carrier will be required to, at its own expense. Under the new initiatives, passengers traveling into the Schengen area will need to hold a valid ETIAS before boarding their plane, ship or train. Without one, not only will they be refused entry to their destination, but the airline will be required, at its own expense, to return them to their point of departure. This means that airlines will have to ensure that all passengers have a valid ETIAS before they embark, which is where additional problems arise. With the current systems in place, operations will come to a halt for all airlines if they are required to manually establish the presence of an ETIAS for all Schengen-bound passengers.
When passengers apply for an ETIAS visa, they will have to ensure that the data they submit accurately matches the information in their passport. Any errors made will cause delays at check-in, and, if we take ESTA applications in the USA as a precedent, a considerable number of these applications won’t match if we’re relying on current manual data entry processes.
Whether it’s accidentally selecting the wrong option from a drop-down menu or a simple typo, humans are fallible creatures and mistakes are inevitable. Since passengers input the incorrect passport information around 50% of the time, carriers cannot determine that the correct information has been supplied by the passenger. Unless they can obtain that assurance in advance, they’ll have to manually check that each passenger is either an EU citizen or has a valid ETIAS to enter Europe.
Without more effective systems for validating passenger data ahead of travel, airlines are going to have to manually scan all passports to ensure data accuracy at the point of departure. The reality for passengers will be much longer airport queues and the risk of being refused travel entirely during check-in. At that point, passengers will have submitted an online application (perhaps having made a typing error), paid for the ETIAS and traveled to the airport, only to be told that they aren’t able to travel that day.
The knock-on effect is that all airlines will need more staff on-site and extra kiosks, desks and queuing lanes to cope with the need for extra document checks. This could also affect ticket prices, particularly for budget airlines and those running short-haul flights.
Given our aversion to queues and delays, this is a problem that urgently needs solving. Research from IATA shows that the majority of customers find an airport queue of longer than 10 minutes unacceptable. But if airlines and other international carriers do not update their processes to reflect the new requirements, increased queues are almost inevitable.
Secure data sharing
Data validation in the aviation industry is hugely challenging, since datasets are highly sensitive and can’t easily be shared between parties. Currently, any verification of a passenger’s documents cannot be used more than once, meaning that even if a passenger is connecting onto another flight in the same day with the same airline, the process of verifying that passenger and their documents starts from scratch each time. Once we’re facing more checks as a result of ETIAS, these sorts of inefficiencies in the data management process will need to be ironed out.
Although ETIAS is designed to improve the security and efficiency of border controls within the EU, we know that the risk of passengers applying with incorrect data is high, and the potential impact on check-in procedures is considerable. Transportation operators must therefore look to their data management practices in order to keep disruption to a minimum and safeguard passenger satisfaction.
The answer lies in the blockchain. Through the application of blockchain technology, passenger datasets can now be verified and securely correlated between parties without exposing the personal data. Each time a passenger dataset is validated, it builds reputational value, while each time a dataset presents repeated errors, its reputational value decreases. The result is that passenger data can be instantly flagged up to an airline or a government as inaccurate, before they’ve made it to the airport – or equally, a passenger can be assured by the airline that their data is correct and they have the relevant authorizations (such as an ETIAS) to travel.
We’re facing huge changes to how we travel in the coming year. ETIAS will be here before we know it and – in the same way that GDPR surprised businesses into action – the aviation sector is in for a shock if its stakeholders don’t update their processes soon. The time to start preparing is now.
Don’t miss Irra Ariella Khi and Simon Watkin, senior official at the UK’s Home Office, giving their presentation, ‘How good is passenger-entered APIS data?’ on the second day of the Passenger Terminal CONFERENCE as part of the Aviation Security, Border Control & Facilitation stream. The full conference program can be found here.