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Rustling up a passport and boarding pass to step onto an international flight could soon become a thing of the past, with Dubai Airport and its home airline Emirates planning to replace paper travel documents with biometrics as part of an upcoming trial.
The trial is set to take place on selected flights between Australia and London later this year. Automated facial recognition would replace document checks everywhere from the check-in desk and passport control counters through to duty-free shops, airport lounges and boarding queues, under the banner of 'One ID'.
This would include not only Dubai Airport, but also the airports taking part in the trial in Australia and in London, with biometrics replacing traditional travel documents from the start of the journey right until the very end.
Speaking at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) AGM and World Air Transport Summit in Seoul, Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths explained that the ultimate goal is to expand biometrics across the globe using a single passenger identifier, so that ideally, the collection of data would only need to happen “once in any passenger’s lifetime.”
“We ran a trial between London Gatwick and Dubai… and we’re now trying to expand that,” Griffiths continues. “We learned from that trial that the technology works: the idea of a single identity applied in different locations works, and if we can make that work globally, that’s the intention.”
While neither Dubai Airport or Emirates Airline could currently confirm which Australian airport(s) are set to participate in the trial, the benefits for passengers are clear, outlines IATA Director General and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac.
“Every traveller will appreciate the convenience of getting from the curb to the gate without ever having to show a paper passport or boarding pass,” he shares.
“The vision for One ID is a paperless travel experience where passengers can fly around the world safely and securely using only their individual biometric data. This will be achieved using a trusted digital identity, biometric recognition technology, and a collaborative identity management platform accessible to various authorised stakeholders.”
One ID: but what about passenger privacy?
As with any collection of passenger data – be it informational or biometric – privacy also needs to be considered, particularly when it comes to striking a balance between the data that needs to be collected, and how that data is used.
Based on the previous trial of Emirates passengers jetting between Gatwick and Dubai, 82% of those who participated “had no issues in terms of sharing their data with a third party, provided that there was some consumer benefit from it,” Griffiths continues.
A large proportion of those passengers who welcomed the nature of the trial and were happy to share the appropriate data were “premium passengers” – those flying business class or first class – as well as regular travellers such as top-tier Emirates Skywards members.
These travellers in particular “dislike all the disruption of having to carry documentation around” as is currently standard practice the world over, with the trial also proving popular with under-25s who generally “felt no issues at all with privacy.”
Griffiths also highlights that the system being trialled wouldn’t simply share passengers’ personal information en masse: it would ideally be similar to using an ATM, where the focus is on identifying an individual, and determining whether they can proceed to the next stage of their journey, such as through a boarding gate.
“When you go to a bank ATM, you are not telling the machine what your net worth is and whether you’re good for $50: you are simply saying “here’s my card”.”
“The machine is then saying “is this personal good for $50?”. If it’s a red light, you don’t get the cash, and if it’s a green light, you get the cash… so with digital identity, we are simply asking … does he or she have a red or green light?”
One ID to help airports handle a growing number of travellers
With global aviation passenger numbers expected to double between now and 2037, according to IATA, One ID and the broader use of biometrics have the potential to not only reduce passenger processing times at airports, but also allow airports to handle more travellers than they do today.
“It is clear that we will not see an increase of 100% in existing infrastructure (by 2037), so it is important to get (One ID) right,” observes Gloria Guevara, President & CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council, speaking also in Seoul.
“The most successful airports are those that don’t impose their product upon their customers for longer than they absolutely have to,” continues Dubai Airports’ Paul Griffiths.
“If you can get through an airport twice as quickly, you’re usually happier about that,” he concludes, underscoring the potential wins for both airports – in being able to process passengers faster, and thus, handle more travellers – and for the travellers themselves, who can reduce time spent on today’s usual airport formalities.
Chris Chamberlin attended the IATA AGM in Seoul as a guest of IATA.