I was one of over 10,000 people who attended Passenger Terminal Expo (PTE) last month. Whilst walking around the event it struck me how much progress has taken place within the past year regarding the sector’s readiness to adopt new technologies to improve the passenger experience and help make smart airports a reality. 
In Stockholm last year there were a number of large companies and specialists showing off their new biometric-enabled solutions for passenger identification, access and service. However, these were typically standalone implementations, such as biometric bag drop, check-in and boarding gate. Similarly, solutions to monitor and manage passenger traffic flow through an airport as well as data collection and sharing. 
Airlines & Airports Continue to Integrate New Technologies 
This year it was evident that for the leading (and typically largest) companies, these new solutions are becoming much more deeply integrated into total solutions. Now desks, kiosks and examples of robots are starting to become connected with security, boarding and departure, displays and signage, retail and hospitality with a view to enabling a single point to manage airport operations more efficiently and with greater coordination. 
 
Evidence of this is clear from the announcements made in just the past month. Vision-Box is in the process of installing biometric self-service boarding gates across JFK’s Terminal 1 for Lufthansa following a successful trial in Los Angeles. This follows trials and installations in seven additional airports globally. SITA has announced Aegean Airlines passengers in Athens can register upon arrival in the airport with a passport scan and photo to use its Smart Path to depart without having to show any additional documentation. Heathrow Airport has installed a further 100 self-bag drop machines from ICM across Terminals 2, 3 and 5 in addition to the 24 it already had in T5. We expect that these will be integrated into Heathrow’s airport wide IT infrastructure and systems to provide additional benefits in the future. 
 
In Singapore this is going even further with a six-month trial of contactless immigration system that uses facial and iris recognition to clear travellers at immigration without a thumbprint or passport being required to be presented. No advance registration is required since the back-end system can identify the person and confirm that they hold a valid passport. 
 
Latest Solutions Integrate Biometrics, Digital Identity & IoT 
This can be illustrated by the developments and initiatives around single token passage through airports. As part of our on-going research into smart airports and aviation we spoke with a variety of companies in London to discuss and experience their products and platforms and the potential for such solutions. The primary focus of our discussions were biometrics, digital identity, identity verification and mobile solutions although the IoT was a common topic too. 
 
Panasonic’s demo of its One ID Solution on its booth captured much of this, showcasing how a person can move from curb to gate with facial recognition to authenticate them. I found it to be particularly relevant as it is being deployed for the Tokyo Olympics next summer and as well as check-in and bag drop it also included a mobility aspect featuring one of Whil’s wheelchairs equipped with a smartphone. A person is authenticated via their passport and facial recognition and is then able to use the automated check-in service and pass through security. At additional display points or information robots, passengers can be identified via facial recognition and assisted with personalised directions to the gate in time to board their flight. The Whil wheelchair can be summoned during this process and using the smartphone camera can recognise the passenger and carry them to their correct gate without any further instruction or input, towing any additional luggage if necessary. Its FacePRO solution works with One ID to identify and track passengers to alert staff if they are lost and need assistance. 
 
Mobile Integration Takes This to The Next Level 
Heathrow Airport had a booth featuring an interesting demo with Yoti, showcasing the trial that they have been running to use passenger’s smartphones as a means of verifying a passenger’s identity through the Yoti app in advance of travel and off-premise. This allows the ticket to be stored and displayed on the smartphone which is used in tandem with facial recognition to allow the passenger’s identity to be authenticated during each touchpoint within the airport. Whilst only a demo it offers an impressive digital experience which can be widely rolled out once the right databases and access rights are in place. 
 
Similarly, IDEMIA disclosed that, having proven its biometric solutions for several applications within Paris airports with Air France, it is pressing ahead with a second phase centred around a mobile app for check-in and other features to improve the passenger experience. Elenium is doing similar in partnership with Etihad Airways with travellers registering their biometric data on their smartphone before starting their journey, which then allows them to drop their bags without any additional check-in as it is all done automatically via facial recognition. It goes slightly further as the bags are then assigned to that biometric token, so no tags are required either and personalised information is provided via displays within the airport. 
 
The advantage of these off-site mobile solutions is the greater accuracy, automation and efficiency that can be gained. Currently airlines waste a lot of time checking that the information manually entered is correct with multiple checks of Advance Passenger information conducted. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology, smartphone cameras and biometric sensors are now at a level of accuracy and reliability that a travel document can be authenticated, and the passenger’s identity verified in a quick and frictionless manner, saving staff resources and improving the passenger experience. 
 
Latest Developments Show Progress Being Made 
This is not a foregone conclusion yet as barriers remain to be overcome. Notably the sharing of suitable passenger data between airlines, airports and governments, especially across international borders. The very first trial of this nature was announced only this month, with Collins Aerospace SelfPass enabling single sign-up identification to create a biometric token used at self-service check-in, bag drop and tag, security and boarding gate for both the outward and return legs of the journey (rather than just one-way). It even allows passengers with Samsung smartphones to register in advance of travel, highlighting the rapid developments that have taken place in the past 12 months. 
 
Further indications of market development can be detected in the recent acquisitions made; companies acquiring others with specialisms in new technologies is a sign that a market is progressing towards maturity. ICM which is one of the leaders in biometric-enabled self-bag drop machines was acquired by Amadeus, one of the leading providers of IT systems. Also, Thales completed its acquisition of Gemalto, adding its biometrics, identity and security capabilities to its own systems business groups. Both of which, along with the high level of partnerships in evidence at PTE, provide evidence that vendors are increasingly looking to incorporate broader capabilities into their solutions as they are increasingly incorporated into wider connected networks and systems across airport operations, much as Collins Aerospace, IDEMIA, Panasonic and Sita were showing in London. 
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