Blueprint for Security

Emerging biometric technologies have helped to simplify passenger flow and tighten security. Such measures are likely to impact the ground support community not just in terms of passenger handling, but also employee access control, writes Richard Rowe.


While it may sound like the beginning of a science-fiction story, passengers and airport workers could soon be using their own unique blueprints to proceed through an airport or gain access to high-risk areas rather than traditional passports and swipe cards. The push to plug airport security gaps since 9/11 has seen the need to analyse the possible integration of biometric solutions into airport security systems. Areas that present the greatest opportunities include access control, protection of passengers in and around airports, and passenger and air crew identification. Such focus has seen biometric solutions – technology that uses physiological characteristics for identity verification purposes – edge into mainstream thinking. Now, many skeptics are being won over by a raft of positive trials around the world that demonstrate the technology’s ability to perform in the demanding airport environment.

Simplifying Passenger Travel

IATA is championing biometric solutions through its Simplifying Passenger Travel (SPT) project – a collaborative industry group of more than 60 airports, airlines, government authorities and suppliers. SPT board members are convinced that biometrics will form the cornerstone of future passenger programmes and consider it a key enabling technology to facilitate automated and remote passenger checks. This, in turn, could reduce delays at common airport bottlenecks, such as check-in counters, boarding gates, and border control stations — all the way through to security checkpoints. The industry group has an ambitious vision: that of incorporating biometric technology as part of a one-stop check process for passengers passing through the world’s airports. In future, it says, passengers could carry a data-packed travel device that would be used from the moment they make a flight reservation right through to the point when baggage is retrieved at the final destination.

“Biometrics are key to achieving the SPT vision,” explains Melanie Lauckner, SPT Programme Manager, based in Montreal. “The automated one-step check on departure which clears the passenger through their entire journey will only be feasible if the government authorities are satisfied with the remote identification of that passenger. This is why SPT has focussed so strongly on government participation in the programme and in the use of biometrics. It is the real-time transmission of information between airlines and governments in the airport environment which enables the one-stop check.”

Test Beds

To date, the three most popular biometric technologies involve identity verification through the use of finger/hand, facial, and iris recognition. Facial recognition is considered the least intrusive and is currently favoured by ICAO as the best suited for passport and border control applications.

At San Francisco International Airport, biometric technology such as hand geometry readers are hardly considered “emerging” as they have been a part of its airport-wide access control system since 1991. Developed by Recognition Systems Inc. (RSI), the biometrics division of Ingersoll-Rand, hand readers are used to verify the identity of more than 18,000 airport workers and secure around 180 doors at the airport. Since their introduction, the hand readers have produced more than 100 million biometric verifications, with more than 50,000 produced on an average day.

The hand readers are a highly visible component in San Francisco’s access control system. An employees has a template made of his or her hand geometry and the information is then routed to the selected doors that person is allowed to go through. The thinking is that access control regulations require airports to validate people gaining access to the airfield, not a piece of plastic.

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