Make processing of passengers run into mere minutes? With more of biometrics, airports can make that happen. Image Credit: Shutterstock

The Middle East is one of the fastest growing aviation markets in the world, with airports expected to handle around 1.1 billion passengers during 2024, more than double the 2019 figure of 405 million.

While these figures have ensured the continued economic growth of the region, this rapid rise puts incredible pressure on existing airport infrastructure. Present-day technology such as biometric authentication, predictive analytics, automated borders and security screening, smart baggage handling and 5G connectivity have solved challenges related to congestion in busy airports and is allowing a great seamless and contactless passenger journey.

However, there is a pressing need to integrate a multi-faceted technological solution that holistically improves efficiency, enabling passenger numbers, and therefore profits, to grow without impediment.

An emerging field of interest is biometric technology, which has the potential to significantly transform airport operations and improve the overall travelling experience. By identifying and authenticating passengers through their unique individual, physical, and behavioural characteristics, biometric solutions are a reliable form of ID verification.

While it is increasingly being used in airports around the world, regulatory and privacy concerns, integration with existing airline systems, and presumed operational challenges need to be addressed as key steps before full implementation and adoption of biometric solutions.

In a digital era, where cybersecurity became paramount, biometric solutions shine as a dependable technology — especially in sensitive and secure environments like airports. From highly accurate identity verification procedures and fraud prevention, to swift passenger screening, quick response to security alerts and continuous monitoring, biometric solutions significantly and efficiently enhance airport security. Such a solution is non-intrusive, minimising the need for and impact of ‘invasive’ passenger procedures.

Reduced waiting times

Some of the busiest airports in the world, such as New York’s JFK International Airport, have left passengers frustrated by long waiting times. With a large volume of domestic and international travellers, ordinary or even advanced airport infrastructure can still result in waiting times of over 48 minutes at security checkpoints.

Since 2019, multiple consumer surveys have highlighted the need for shorter wait times, with one such survey revealing that 80 per cent of passengers want to wait no longer than 20 minutes for security and baggage processes.

IATA’s 2022 Global Passenger Survey highlighted how biometrics are a promising ground-breaking innovation in reducing wait times. Findings revealed that 75 per cent of passengers are willing to use biometric technology as an alternative to conventional security procedures.

This growing preference is linked to the need for hassle-free queues and saving time. For instance, biometric based solutions such as Thales' Fly to Gate can reduce airport passenger processing by 30 per cent via self-service and automation.

The outcome of this is happier customers and greater profits potential for airports (retail, leisure, F&B outlets), without any compromise in safety and security. Biometric technology has the power to revolutionise the conventional travel experience.

Future of authentication in airports

Like most innovative technology, biometric solutions uptake has been met with legitimate reluctance. Common fears are linked to facing data loss during security breaches, worrying who has access to the data, how personal information will be used and stored, and much more.

After all, the basis of biometric technology requires the storing and handling of an individual’s physical traits — it may well be that your face is your boarding pass.

Emerging biometric technology providers are well aware of some concerns and are addressing them with responsible positioning. Alongside leveraging facial recognition technology in smart gates to offer outstanding operational efficiency for airports and airlines, biometric solutions can be built to provide an end-to-end airport self-service experience thanks to secure digital identity management.

Fly to Gate, is a stark example of this — innovated and developed by Thales, the solution is created around IATA’s OneID concept that enables passengers to create a Digital Identity token ahead of their travel journey. This token provides the traveller with a temporary digital identity that can be used to identify him or her in seconds at all airport touchpoints, without handling any documents.

A biometric solution that integrates individual digital identity, enables passengers to have complete control of their private data through a proven secured digital wallet. This one stores their Digital Travel Credentials (DTC) as defined by ICAO.

The ID token is only temporarily created and stored in the platform until the take-off of the plane.

This emerging technology will only continue to make airports more connected, scalable and secure — playing a vital role in shaping the future of trusted air travel.