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Airport travel becomes easier and more secure with biometrics.

RCG Corporation : 29 June, 2007  (Technical Article)
A combination of biometric technology and RFID tags is providing passengers with more convenience as well as greater security at leading airports.
For some people, travel means hassles ahead. The hassles start when the passenger arrives at the airport. Dragging along bulky luggage, the passenger joins the lengthy queue at the airline check-in counter. In front of him, a number of people watching impatiently as a family check in their many suitcases while the airline check-in staff is busy selecting the most appropriate seats for the family, a couple with two infants and an elderly, to make sure they will get the best comfort while minimising any potential disturbance to other passengers. After a long wait, the passenger is finally getting his turn to check in. After the check in, he has to rush to go through the immigration and join yet another queue there.

The passenger tried to search for immigration counter with least number of people queuing. It still does not help. The immigration officer is checking almost every page of everyone's passport, and spending lots of time per passenger.

The third queue (and another hassle) comes when passing through the security check. Besides needing to take out all keys and coins and passed the security gates, the security officers are eager to implement a strict security measure. It is understandable that after the September 11 event, everybody seems to be extra careful about security issues. As the results, the passenger has to take out the notebook battery, takes off his belt and shoes.

When the passenger finally finishes all the procedure, he hears the final call for boarding. He wishes he could have more time for last minute shopping. He runs to the boarding gate, and manages to board the plane.

It is all about to change. At least, in some places, the change is already taking place. Airports around the world are moving towards system automation that increase passengers' convenience without reducing the level of security check required. The ultimate challenge it maximise passengers' convenience and make air travel a pleasant experience, minimize airline / airport resources, while at the same time maintain a high level of security.

Self-service check-in kiosks are getting more and more popular and have been applied in airports around the world. America Airlines kiosks allow passengers to select or change their seats, print boarding pass, drop their baggage in designated area, update their mileage status, and then proceed to boarding gate. Introduced in 2000, each customer on average spent 90 seconds to check in using the kiosk. The duration has reduced to 58 seconds. In 2000, only 5% of American Airlines' domestic passenger check in through the company website or kiosk. The number has increased to 68% now.

In 2005, IBM, one of the largest kiosk makers, sold about 2000 kiosks, five times more than in 2000. Among airline companies which use IBM kiosks are Alitalia, Air Canada, Air New Zealand, British Airways, KLM, Singapore Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and US Airways.

Still the kiosks are only good to minimise passengers' waiting time in front of check in counters and minimize airline companies' resources. An important part of the process is to verify the passenger identity to make sure that the person whose name printed on the ticket is the person who will board to the plane. This process is usually verified at the counter by the staff comparing the passenger's photo ID with his face. To serve this purpose, biometrics technology has been incorporated into the kiosks. The passengers can pre-register his unique fingerprint or facial data and compare it to his fingerprint or facial data scanned during check in procedure.

Government across different countries implemented biometrics as part of the effort to increase security. The US government has started a roll-out of electronic passports and visas, with biometric data encrypted on RFID chips. Biometrics as immigration control has been widely implemented, to name a few,

implementation of fingerprint scanning in Hong Kong borders and selected Canadian airport, and iris scanning in Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.

The US Transport Security Administration (TSA) started a pilot program on trusted passenger scheme. The aim is to expedite security screening of participating passengers and focus on other passengers who are subject to more extensive screening. Volunteering participants submit their biographic and biometric data to the TSA. TSA conducts initial security assessment to ensure that the participant is not suspected of being related to terrorist activity or a law offender.

Upon approval to be a trusted passenger, the participant will receive a card from TSA. The passenger presents the card and verifies his biometric data prior travelling in order to enjoy expedited screening process.

The International Air Travel Association (IATA) envisioned a seamless and integrated process called Simplifying Passenger Travel (SPT). The ideal flow can be described in the following scenario.

A passenger arrives at the airport bringing his ticket and all necessary travel documents. Upon arrival, he uses the self-service check in kiosk, presents his e-passport, credit card, or frequent flyer card for personal identification. The passenger is then required to verify his identity using biometric scanning. A boarding token is issued for the passenger. This token could be used as boarding pass. A bag tag is also issued so that the passenger can attach it to the bag himself before dropping the baggage in a designated area.

The passenger with carry-on luggage proceeds to the restricted area for immigration process and security screening. At the border control, biometric-based passport will speed up the process. The security screening will be conducted at the agreed minimum international standard.

The passenger can proceed to the boarding gate. He will be required do verify his identity using biometric recognition as well as present his boarding token.
Upon arrival at destination, the passenger reaches the arrival gate and authenticates his identity using biometric. The passenger information will be sent to border control authority and security control to enable security intervention when required. Otherwise, the passenger can collect his baggage and exit from the airport.

The process is an ideal vision which will significantly increase passenger convenience and comfort while traveling. The biggest challenge is how to realize the vision.

In order to answer challenges posed above, RCG has developed an airline VIP check-in solution that integrates RFID and multi-modal biometric technologies. It aims at streamlining passenger check-in process, enhancing security levels, and providing value-added customized services for VIP travelers. The total solution comprises of an automated VIP express check-in counter, integrated security screening technology, and enhanced customer service at VIP lounges.

The automated VIP express check-in counter is a self-service kiosk equipped with multi-modal biometric technology combined with RFID. It minimizes queuing and waiting time at check-in counters and immigration points. When arriving at airport, the VIP passenger scans his VIP card on a reader. The VIP card is an RFID card containing passengers' data. In order to increase the security measure, the data in the card is encrypted using the latest technology. The passenger then scans his facial followed by fingerprint to provide personal verification. The verification process is simple, quick, and secure.

The passenger is allowed to select his own seat or change his seat according to his personal preference. The boarding card contains an active RFID tag which enables the airline company to track the VIP whereabouts within the airport perimeter. With real-time positioning capability, airline staff can easily locate passengers who are supposed to be on-board. This can ultimately reduce unnecessary flight delays.

The passenger can proceed to the immigration checkpoint. The RFID card can also functioned as personal identification that can be read at certain points, including readers installed near the immigration counters. Before approaching the immigration counter, a face recognition system will be able to verify the passenger identity. The system enables comparison of the passenger's facial data against immigration database and alert the immigration officer should the passenger is subject to further questioning. Otherwise, the passenger can directly proceed to the boarding gate or VIP lounge. The backbone of the system is FxAlert system, a robust facial recognition system capable of performing facial data comparison at the rate of 750,000 records per second. This enables a seamless and non-intrusive identification and verification of passenger's identity.

The VIP passenger can proceed to VIP lounge. The RFID card will enable the system to retrieve information about the passenger's personal preference so that the airline will be able provide customized service such as preferred refreshment or reading material. The passenger will also be able to find information regarding his destination, such as temperature and weather condition. Real-time flight information such as service upgrade notification will also be provided to passengers through RFID activated kiosks. Furthermore, the passenger can use the kiosks for shopping in-flight merchandise and receive the goods onboard.
The combined solution is believed to bring additional security while adding convenience and comfort for air travel passengers.
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