Sydney Airport looks to biometrics for passport-free travel

By Chris C., August 2 2017
Sydney Airport looks to biometrics for passport-free travel

Biometrics could soon replace your passport when travelling internationally from Australia under ambitious plans tabled by Sydney Airport: doing away with manual inspection of passports and boarding passes in favour of facial recognition, allowing passengers to breeze through the terminal.

Under the first phase of the plan which still requires a physical passport, travellers would approach automated check-in kiosks, scan their passport and have their photograph taken, which links their facial image with their travel document and identity.

Then at the boarding gate, cameras would identify passengers as they approach the barriers, which would automatically open and allow the passenger on board: a concept currently being trialled at Brisbane Airport with selected Air New Zealand flyers.

But Sydney Airport’s plan takes that further, linking the same facial recognition system with every other touchpoint throughout the terminal, including baggage drop, admission to the security screening queues, clearing passport control without a passport, completing duty-free purchases and even entering airline lounges document-free.

That same technology could also identify passengers eligible for the Express Path channel based on data provided by their airline and could direct or admit them accordingly, and if identity details and biometrics were kept on file from flight to flight, could eliminate the need to scan or present a passport entirely.

“We’re just looking to bed down now with an airline partner,” Sydney Airport’s General Manager Corporate Affairs, Sally Fielke, told Australian Business Traveller at the CAPA Australia Pacific Summit in Sydney.

SmartGates will eventually disappear

“There are a lot of airlines that are ready to go… but the other exciting part of it is Border Force, who have now invested in that top technology – so you’re going to see the eventual eradication of SmartGates, and with the growth of facial recognition technology, longer term, the eradication of passports.”

“The (first phase of) biometrics is going to happen pretty quickly: we’re going to bed that down quite soon, but of course, we’d like it all to have happened ‘yesterday’,” Fielke continues, with the system to be based on SITA’s existing Smart Path platform.

SITA’s President Asia Pacific, Sumesh Patel, explains that “for the passenger, across their entire journey, they’ll cut their processing times by almost 70%,” thanks to both automated processing and smaller gains in time in not needing to store and retrieve their documents at every stage until the gate.

Sydney Airport also plans to use that same facial recognition technology to measure ‘traveller sentiment’ in real-time throughout its international terminal: that is, whether passengers are happy and enjoying the airport stage of their journey, or whether they’re lost, frustrated, running late or bored.

“Maybe we use that information to adjust queues quicker than what our existing beacon technology is already telling us… but really, the sky is the limit,” Fielke concludes.

Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Jun 2011

Total posts 88

"Maybe we use that information to adjust queues quicker" - lol. I'm sure SYD are only looking at this as a way to save $$

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 1025

They'll use it to track people around the airport, see what people are doing and where they are, then use that data to redesign what types of shops they will put where.

They work out that too many people are ignoring the duty free and heading right to a lounge, they put a duty free shop that people have to walk through right in front of the lounge door.

13 May 2016

Total posts 31

I work for a tech company that specialises in this kind of technology. Overseas airports have been doing this for years, as have local Westfield's, RSLs and Casinos.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

07 Dec 2014

Total posts 172

Maybe they can link it to FF/travel class so it enforces priority boarding automatically ... sorry queue jumper, computer says no! (until some VIP is denied boarding, then it'll be set to manual mode :P)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 May 2014

Total posts 112

And the Federal Government has such a good record with keeping[ing personal data safe....

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

14 Mar 2017

Total posts 152

FWIW, I believe this has already been trialled in Canberra... ABT reported it back in December.

05 Oct 2017

Total posts 517

Only thing is, foreign countries won't allow a traveller into their countries without a passport. At least not for a long time to come. So if you're getting on a flight from Australia to Bangkok, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh, Shanghai, Dubai or wherever, you'll still need a passport. In all these places except Hong Kong, you'll also get a stamp in your passport when you enter and leave.

This plan will thus mean that you won't have to pull your passport out of your pocket when entering or departing Australia. However, without a passport how will a foreign traveller, who is only allowed a certain period of time in Australia, know how long they are allowed to stay? If this plan were only intended for Australian citizens then fine, but if foreigners can take advantage too like is the case when departing Australia using the automatic scanners, then it will surely change the way in which Australian authorities can check for compliance with immigration law. No more asking for passports during immigration raids (as seen on episodes of Border Patrol), just show us your iris?

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