Methods to improve airport security and travel experience through iris recognition

Airports around the world and across the United States are tasked with the daunting task of keeping employees and travelers safe. In addition to providing error-free security, this service must be prompt and courteous airport employees. Even before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic two years ago, when flights were full and demand outstripped service, airport leaders recognized the need to plan ahead to improve the experience. travelers at the airport by fixing infrastructure and instituting innovative programs that would speed up airport check-in, provide benefits and require less customer intervention. Examples of how certain airports such as Hamad International Airport (HIA), Schiphol Airport and the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) have responded to the need for better security include the adoption of biometric technologies. Private companies such as CLEAR have also ventured into providing a biometric authentication solution to provide a faster and more secure way to check in at the airport or at an entertainment venue. Certainly, airport operations are difficult; it must balance the need for efficiency, customer service and security. Iris technology is one solution that can meet this need and evolve with the industry to help influence the future of air travel.

Meet the demands of today’s aviation

Demand for air travel has returned to pre-pandemic levels, leading to longer queues at security checkpoints and increased wait times. To avoid missed flights, the TSA currently advises travelers to arrive at the airport two hours before their flight for domestic travel and three hours before international travel. This recommendation is in direct contrast to what travelers really want. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported in its 2021 Global Passenger Survey that 85% of air passengers want to spend less than 45 minutes at the airport when traveling with only hand luggage. Those traveling with checked baggage do not wish to spend more than an hour there.

Such an obvious disconnect between customer desires and reality only underscores the need to increase passenger throughput. Unfortunately, airport facility management teams already have a significant number of challenges to overcome in addition to appeasing travellers.

Airport security requirements are unmatched in complexity and oversight. Not only are facilities responsible for monitoring passenger safety, but also for managing employees and third-party workers. Management teams are therefore responsible for keeping all environments secure with accurate authentication and identity verification while simultaneously delivering a high level of customer satisfaction.

This duality of high security and high service has created significant operational gaps in the airport environment that require innovative process re-engineering and comprehensive operational improvements to repair. Iris recognition technology provided a contactless and advanced identity authentication solution used at electronic self-security gates, kiosks, and immigration and border control lanes. This biometric solution allows passengers to quickly pass through security checkpoints in less than 10 seconds, addressing the need for top-notch security, fast throughput and a seamless travel experience.

Why iris recognition

Iris recognition offers a viable solution for both air travelers and airport security professionals. It ensures fast throughput at security checkpoints using the most secure and accurate form of non-invasive biometric authentication. The iris alone has 240 recognition points, far more than fingerprint and facial technologies. Additionally, each person’s iris is unique, resulting in fewer false positives and no possibility of bias. And unlike ID cards and passports, a distinctive iris pattern is not susceptible to theft, loss or compromise. This makes iris recognition technology extremely reliable and uniquely suited to accurately authenticate and verify identities.

In an airport operation, the unique capabilities of iris recognition have also been proven to increase security, speed and user satisfaction when used for personal identification. Complete registration with instruction can take less than 2 minutes. There is no invasive scanning when subjects stand one meter away from the scanners. Iris recognition uses camera-like technology to take a picture of the iris, creating digital patterns using coded algorithms to form a unique value that matches only one person. Once registered, authenticating an individual takes less than 2 seconds and enables a completely contactless access control experience.

Making security check-in faster, frictionless and more secure presents a win-win situation for travelers and airport operations managers. The same applies to staff needing access to secure areas. This includes third-party contract workers who frequent aviation facilities with deliveries and provide supplier services. The ability to closely monitor all personnel accessing secure areas is as important as keeping the general public out. Iris recognition can control access to these sensitive areas of an airport’s operation and allows airline personnel and suppliers to be easily identified and given access to the appropriate areas.

Applying iris recognition technology in an airport environment, whether in contact with customers or employees, provides many benefits to airport operations. For example, electronic gate self-service biometric kiosks eliminate the need for manual passport checks. Low-risk travelers can get through security checkpoints quickly while authorities can focus more on unknown travellers. Saved labor resources can now be redistributed throughout the airport to handle additional operational or security processes. Plus, with more time saved at security, passengers can spend more time taking advantage of airport offerings or lounging around, enhancing their travel experience.

A proven solution

Every year, millions of passengers use the electronic gates at the biometric immigration counters at Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar. The International Civil Aviation Organization has praised the Hamad International e-gate program as a model system that can be applied by other countries. To expand on this success, the same iris recognition technology found at immigration counters and electronic gates has been deployed at over 500 border crossing points in Qatar. These solutions will also be used to process approximately 3 million visitor identities in the run-up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Beyond Qatar, iris recognition is already being adopted around the world to process trusted travelers simply, quickly and securely. CLEAR, a private company based in New York, uses iris authentication software and cameras embedded in kiosks to identify screened travelers at more than 40 major US airports. Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport similarly operates its Privium program using iris recognition technology, which allows Dutch citizens and travelers to clear immigration and customs in 15 seconds or less. This same technology is extended to manage access to the airport’s three lounges, all of which are exclusive to members of the Privium program.

In 2004, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) deployed a unique iris recognition system for the exclusive use of employees. Each CATSA employee’s iris biometrics are recorded and stored on a smart card, which is used to access secure landside and airside areas. Iris recognition technology is integrated into existing physical access control systems installed at each of CATSA’s 41 individual airports. An estimated 200,000 employees have already participated in this program, proving that the application of biometrics for physical security in aviation goes beyond simple contact with passengers. By storing iris data on the smart card, CATSA addresses all privacy concerns and complies with recent GDPR regulations.

Iris recognition technology provides a complete solution for accurate authentication for security and access control. The key to wider adoption is education about the convenience of the technology and more communication about current usage. In IATA’s 2021 Global Passenger Survey, 73% of passengers were willing to share their biometric data to improve airport processes, up from 46% in 2019. Airline customers have already proven that the convenience of solutions digitized is attractive. Passengers can book a flight, select seats, receive flight update notifications and download a digital boarding pass through airline apps. It is this ease of use that passengers want to see replace the time-consuming and repetitive security processes they face upon arrival. If consumers and security administrators are kept abreast of the technology and its benefits, it is reasonable to anticipate the mass adoption and activation of biometric programs. Mass educational marketing, visible signage and announcements where biometrics are deployed will certainly help.

Airports of the future

20th century air transport infrastructure is already strained by the demands of 21st century airport operations and a waning global pandemic. In this unstable business environment, airports around the world face extraordinary challenges, including the inherent contradiction between improving operational efficiency, customer service and the overall travel experience while battling against a wide range of security threats. Iris recognition has proven to be an effective and preferred method of authentication to meet these challenges in a 21st century world – a world where consumers don’t like to wait and demand things now, but also want their almost promised security. As this technology evolves and product and deployment costs come down, iris recognition technology is becoming the go-to biometric for airport security.

About the Author: Mohammed Murad is Vice President of Global Business Development and Sales for Iris ID.


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