SmartGates to make way for 'tap & go' passports, biometric scans

By David Flynn, December 16 2016
SmartGates to make way for 'tap & go' passports, biometric scans

EXCLUSIVE | Passport-scanning SmartGates will be removed from the arrivals area of Australian airports in a bid to shorten queues and streamline passenger flow, while incoming passenger cards are also likely to be abandoned.

Taking their place: a sophisticated contactless system using smart-chipped passports and biometric identity checks with the aim of delivering what the Department of Immigration and Border Protection calls a 'seamless traveller' experience.

The automated processing points would allow incoming passengers to be recognised using ‘contactless’ technology and “without the need to put down a passport,’ according to the DIBP.

Providing an extra layer of security to this tap-and-go scenario would be biometric scans of a traveller’s face, fingerprints and retina.

Canberra to see pilot trial

The Government agency expects to trial the new system at Canberra Airport in June 2017 (with just four international Singapore Airlines flights a week, Canberra makes an ideal test-bed).

It will then be extended to Australia’s other international airports from September 2017 to March 2019.

“A key objective is to work towards 90% of travellers presenting to an automated border control processing point by 2020,” the department says.

The demanding criteria for these next-generation processing points have been detailed in a Request for Tender published this week by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

A smarter SmartGate

According to the tender documents the new processing points would “replace the existing arrivals SmartGates and kiosk process and provide a seamless minimal contact process for arriving travellers.”

The  project also has scope to make redundant the ‘Exit Point Marshall’ officers who sight and sign incoming passenger cards before directing travellers to a baggage inspection or exit lane.

Also for the axe: those little paper tickets issued by SmartGate machines, with the tender requiring that the system “must not include a printed token” – in short, an entirely paperless arrivals process.

“Each year, Australian Border Force officers process more than 35 million travellers through Australian air and seaports and this number is expected to continue to rise,” a spokesperson from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection told Australian Business Traveller.

“Automated processing technology provides a simpler process for travellers while maintaining the security of our border. It also enables the ABF to meet the challenges of increasing traveller numbers.”

Using apps and IFE systems?

One way of cutting down the arrivals queue would be to allow travellers to enter some of the necessary information before they arrive, with the tender document rating as ‘highly desirable’ the ability to “collect necessary information from… inflight entertainment systems.”

Another possibility flagged in the tender: “remote/mobile processing of travellers, with the use of handheld devices” such as smartphones “to submit responses to questions prior to primary border clearance.”

The new checkpoints themselves will include a ‘biometric capture device… including but not limited to facial, iris and fingerprints… but may also include passport reader, sensors, lights, display devices and physical obstructions to prevent a traveller from crossing the border.”

A touchscreen would call up what the document describes as “4 -5 minimum legally required questions,” and not only support multiple languages but automatically switch languages based on the passport presented.

For example, presenting a Japanese passport would see the screen’s user interface and language change to Japanese and possibly accompanied by pre-recorded voice prompts in Japanese.


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Oct 2013

Total posts 705

Sound like a great idea but the last part with the passport changing the system to another language could be annoying/insulting for people who don't speak that language. I know quite a few people with French passports who can't speak french and even people with Canadian passports (which language would the system display then?)

21 Apr 2016

Total posts 23

It could prompt with a list of suggested languages based on passport, and always have English as a fallback.


14 Jun 2013

Total posts 353

A good point, probably would be handy if the screen when changing languages offers a confirmation prompt to continue in French (for example) or change back to English, and the case of Canadian passports offers a choice between English and French.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Aug 2014

Total posts 216

An inconsequential annoyance for an extreme minority.


Vast convenience for non-English speaking foreign visitors.

You do the math.

30 Jun 2016

Total posts 51

The usual queuing bottle neck isn't passport control, the e-gates seem to work quite well. The queue for biosecurity checking or waving through is normally the major hold up. Not sure that this change will improve that aspect at all. 

02 Jul 2011

Total posts 59

The so called Smart Gates never work for me. I always have to go through an officer. So I'm all for biometrics. Can only be better than what we have at the moment.

09 May 2011

Total posts 23

This is great news. Anything to not to deal with those miserable, rude officers known as Border Securtiy staff is totally welcome.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Oct 2013

Total posts 705

Not sure what airports you are traveling through but in the past couple of years I've been through Brisbane, Cairns, the Gold Coast and Sydney airports many times and have never experienced "rude officers". They are all just doing their job and yes whilst some in Cairns and the Gold Coast crack jokes, their co-workers in larger airports may have to take a more serious approach but this is just down to the volume of passengers they must process in the short time they are given.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 May 2013

Total posts 33

With you on this. Our border guys are fine. Try the equivalent in heathrow and the majority of TSA folks.  

02 Jul 2011

Total posts 59

Agree. Heathrow are a grumpy lot. 

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2549

You must have had some truly awful experiences with Australian border security staff, Gardermoen; happily, my interactions with them have always been good and I've always found them friendly and sometimes happy to smile or joke in that friendly Aussie way.

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

29 Jan 2011

Total posts 11

Sorry to hear that, but I have had mostly cheerful people at the Australian borders; some neutral, but no rude ones.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Apr 2012

Total posts 314

They use a similar system in Taiwan where you insert your passport to enter a first gate, and then a secondary check scans for facial recognition to let you through the second gate. Works very well and have never been held up longer than a minute for ques. 

Why would they invest in the current technology only to change it again in a couple of years time?

Seems like poor planning to me...

This amuses me greatly - I am desperate for Biometric Recognition. I wear rimless glasses in my passport photo and the 'reader' always has trouble identifying me. Should I really want to confuse it I can wear my hair 'out' - my passport photo was taken when I had a number 2 comb haircut to go on a Archaeology Project trip. Please note that I have no issues in certain ME countries and identifying me with the Passport.. 


19 Sep 2013

Total posts 192

Since the Aust passport already uses a contactless system, I'm presuming that the current problem is the requirement for the initial optical scan to unlock the contactless part, which I believe is the way the passports work. It does seem superfluous to add another contactless system on top of an existing one.

Air Canada - Aeroplan

28 Feb 2015

Total posts 94

The problem with fingerprint scanning is that some people (such as me) have no readable fingerprints. You can see them with ink, just, but modern airport fingerprint scanners use a glass plate. I have a Nexus card (trusted traveller) to cross the US/Canada borders but can never use the automated booths for that reason; despite the best efforts of Nexus officials to record my fingerprints, they had to be overriden in my records. Everyone has a face and everyone has irises, but not everyone has (readable) fingerprints. The Nexus people tell me it's more common than one might think. So what is going to happen to people who have otherwise chipped and contactless passports but no fingerprints? Waiting in the endless "Other passports" line? Highflyer above reports on a seamless and fingerprintless process in Taiwan. The same system applies at Heathrow for EU/Swiss passports - works ultra-fast and ultra-conveniently. Should be enough.


10 Sep 2011

Total posts 162

FIDO Alliance for PC/Phone authentication uses retina, not fingerprint too. Fingerprints are deemed too unreliable or even untrustworthy.  This is why Microsoft Devices, such as Surface 4 and Lumia 950, don't have fingerprint readers, and use retina scanning for logging in these days.

09 Dec 2016

Total posts 2

Great idea, anything that gets me through faster is OK by me. But the biggest bottleneck is always with luggage collection. Still a very hands-on system that causes headaches at every airport I've been in.


04 Apr 2014

Total posts 208

In Melbourne anyway, it's not the smartgates that is tyenslow part. The real holdup is slow baggage delivery to the carousels and queues to leave that area.

Thai Airways International - Royal Orchid Plus

15 Jan 2013

Total posts 452

whatever it takes to speed up the process.I have come into Melbourne from Singapore and it takes 40 minutes from getting off the plane to customs and then get onward domestic connection to Adelaide.I do that to avoid Prisoner style searching and criminal style treatment which ADL IS KNOWN FOR and in the old days to avoid getting caught out by my mothers sister when she was working in the duty free shop there.Singapore without all this baggage search and only cards for inbound and outbound does this so much better.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Jul 2011

Total posts 1380

Was always surprised why they made you scan the machine readable code on the passport when most Aussie passports issued since 2005 have had the chip.

I also wondered whether the two stage process also enabled data to be pulled, and or any flagged travellers manually reviewed, before they got to the gates.


19 Sep 2013

Total posts 192

@moa: The extra optical scan minimises the risk of having your passport details being obtained by others.

28 Apr 2018

Total posts 2

Chicago last year. this problem of removing and bagging the computer takes time.

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