Sydney Airport to pilot app-based enrolment for facial recognition system

New biometric system will deliver faster passenger processing, airport believes

Sydney Airport is working with Vision-Box to develop a mobile app that will allow travellers to capture an image of their face and their passport and use that data to enrol in a planned biometric-based authentication system.

Australia’s busiest airport expects to launch a pilot in mid to late 2018 of a facial recognition based system as part of its Fast Passenger Processing Project. The project team was stood-up in 2017.

(Last year the federal government revealed that it had awarded Vision-Box a $22.5 million contract to implement facial recognition at immigration processing in airports.)

Sydney Airport project manager, terminal design and planning, Lisa Airth told the Biometrics Institute Asia-Pacific Conference that the aim is to facilitate a more efficient journey for passengers and minimise the points at which they need to produce physical documentation, such as a passport or boarding pass. The process is also expected to have security benefits, she said.

The system will also allow the delivery of more experiences customised for an individual, tracking them through the airport and enabling a business lounge, for example, to greet someone by name and already have details of their personal preferences when they arrive.

Currently, passenger journeys through the airport require “lots of passenger interaction and manual intervention,” she told the conference.

The project is aligned with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) One Identity concept, using a single token to validate the identity of a passenger at each stage of the journey

Qantas has already committed to participating in the pilot and has aided in its design.

Airth said that “privacy and security” would be incorporated at every phase of the creation of an identity and authentication.

A range of touchpoints will be covered by the project, starting with passengers being able to check-in at the international terminal using kiosks (or potentially the app). They will then be able to move to an automated bag-drop zone, which will be the first “contactless” point – passengers won’t need to present their boarding pass or passport to leave their luggage.

The airport is also placing biometric cameras at security screening, allowing passengers to be tracked as they move through the terminal.

As part of the pilot two cameras have been stationed at the entrance and exit of the Qantas Lounge. Airth said that the cameras will allow lounge staff to personally greet passengers.

At Gate 25 there will be a “stealth boarding gate” allowing contactless boarding of aircraft. Registered pilot participants will also be able to use the technology when they return to Australia.

Passengers will still need to present their documents for processing at immigration.

The option of enrolling via a mobile app will be available some time after the pilot begins.

“This ultimately might mean one day, you will check-in from home and do your biometric registration and then head straight to the bag-drop at the airport, or go straight to security or immigration for clearances before you travel,” Airth said.

The platform being developed to underpin the system is called the PDE, or Passenger Data Envelope. It will connect to different integration points throughout the terminal. The PDE will be responsible for processing the biometric capture at registration and create the identifying token for an individual.

Airlines will have the ability to track tokens at each point of a journey through the terminal – allowing them to see how many passengers may have checked in, how many have dropped off their luggage, been through security or are in an airline’s lounge.

The PDE will only share “to the relevant people” when it is necessary, Airth said. The system will also only share part of the data – not the whole biometric token.

The pilot is expected to initially cover three flights a day, with the team planning to target off-peak periods to minimise potential disruption.

Most of the equipment required is already on-site and being tested. The pilot will be rolled out incrementally, beginning with check-in, bag-drop and the boarding gate.

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