Tech Bytes

Vancouver International Airport (YVR), subject of this issue’s cover story, has experienced enormous success positioning itself as an international gateway, both to the U.S. and globally. It has a vested interest in finding ways to expedite passengers through Customs, and has been a major supporter of the U.S. Direct and NEXUS trusted traveler programs.

Kevin Molloy, who heads up I.T. for YVR, relates that his airport has spent a bundle to promote NEXUS, with mixed results. “Of the $1 million or so that I’ve spent,” comments Molloy, “many of those dollars have been spent pre-paying the memberships for certain people, such as key business people. But even when we pre-pay it, only one in four will sign up. So, it’s not just about price.”

He thinks the answer is to create a program that doesn’t require opting in, one that is available to anyone with a passport. Enter the electronic primary inspection line, or EPIL.

Explains Molloy, “Some of our domestic travel was Vancouver/Toronto; but then Toronto onto some U.S. point. Those people had to stop in Toronto; they couldn’t get their U.S. boarding card here in Vancouver because we didn’t collect passport data. So, in 2003, we put passport readers into all of our kiosks. Now we’ve put bag tag printers in all of our kiosks. So there’s no airline involvement.

“We brought this idea to Canada Customs, that we could go with a self-service border where passengers do much of the transaction themselves. “Let’s ask all those questions on a kiosk, and in fact let’s make the kiosk multi-lingual. Canada’s border services office offers English and French, but many of our passengers are Asian. So, we thought, let’s ask the Chinese citizen to scan his own passport in Chinese on the kiosk, and then when he proceeds to the officer all that information is automatically translated and the officer sees all the answers in English.”

While Canada border services thought the idea had merit, it was concerned it could be high-risk. It decided to run with a pilot project that for the first 12 months is only for Canadian citizens.

“EPIL is a program that is essentially self-service border, but in a risk-managed field,” says Molloy. “It’s still not completely automated because Canada and the U.S. do not have biometric-enabled passports yet. When E-PIL goes live, each passenger will spend about seven seconds with an officer, which should give the throughput per officer a 700 percent increase. You don’t have to opt in; you just have to have a passport.”

The current plan is for the pilot to kick off this August, he says.