Aviation Trends: Biometrics Comes of Age in 2018 with AI and Blockchain Evolving in 2019


As 2018 comes to a close, the editorial team at Connected Aviation Today is looking back at the year and the progress that the aviation industry has made in embracing new technologies. With the goal of creating a seamless end-to-end travel experience, technologies such as biometrics, artificial intelligence, blockchain, and others are emerging as innovated solutions. But how far has the industry come in terms of adoption?

We had the opportunity to chat with Tony Chapman, Senior Director Marketing, Product Management and Strategy, at Collins Aerospace, about his thoughts on the evolution of biometrics and other emerging technologies. According to Chapman, the biggest impact on biometrics came from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) programs. “The CBP breathed new life into biometrics,” Chapman told us. Over the years there was initial resistance to biometrics, but as border security requirements became a focal point for the current administration, the CBP reinvigorated biometric pilot programs to improve passenger validation through facial biometrics. “Many of these trial programs have now been funded as full implementations,” Chapman added.

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“This past year has been more of a ‘coming of age’ for biometrics,” Chapman said. Adoption is clearly growing, he tells us and points to a few key examples from this month alone. American Airlines, for example, became the latest operator to launch a biometric program for international customers in the boarding process at Los Angeles International (LAX) airport. Passengers traveling on selected flights can opt to be a part of a facial recognition program.  Similarly Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International Airport (ATL) has partnered with Delta Airlines to open the first U.S. biometric terminal, which helps create a frictionless travel experience, moving international travelers through screening faster and more securely.

Creating this seamless end-to-end travel experience is what the aviation industry is trying to achieve. Chapman predicts for the new year that the industry is going to continue to see successes in leveraging emerging technologies such as biometrics, AI, and blockchain to get there, but there will be other challenges that lay ahead. 

For example, the current biometrics programs in place are very U.S.-centric. The industry is long way off from a global biometric solution due to the different requirements for travelers in each country. “The challenge remains in making biometrics a global solution,” Chapman tells us. “While you may be enrolled in the biometrics program through U.S. immigration, the challenge remains in sharing the enrollment with other countries.” Each country still has different requirements. Yet, these challenges will begin to be addressed in the new year. 

In 2019 Chapman predicts we will continue to see pairs of countries collaborating for a biometrics program, but for a global solution, there needs to be a governing body involved that can make recommendation and set standards. “There are several trials set for 2019 to help solve this issue,” he said. He predicts that the end-to-end journey will evolve with permanent enrollment.

In other efforts to create a more seamless passenger journey, Chapman believe that the adoption of baggage drop programs will continue to be on the rise, as TSA baggage requirements evolve. Earlier in 2018, IATA required members to manage and track baggage throughout the journey. From demonstrating acquisition of the baggage and delivery of the baggage as it changed custody, to providing inventory of the bags upon flight departure. New technology innovations automate the baggage process for greater security effectiveness and efficiencies. In 2019, Chapman’s personal opinion is  that TSA will give “greater approvals” for pilot programs for baggage drop.

New technologies are impacting the future of these programs and testing for 2019. AI, for example, is being used for facial recognition. This involves determining what a “live” face is opposed to a mask or an artificial image of a face, which is critical to maintaining security at an  unattended bag drop. Airlines are also looking at blockchain for data sets that are shared by many parties. One example is an airline that is leveraging blockchain for frequent flyer miles. Sharing the data with vendors enables payment for goods on the aircraft, for instance.

While these new technologies are changing the traveler experience, one key challenge is understanding the most effective way to leverage them for “the best use case, not the first use case,” Chapman tells us. “There can be a tendency to want to leverage an emerging solution, such as blockchain technology, for the sake of being the first, and not thinking strategically about the solution.” Chapman warns that before jumping onto the technology bandwagon, there needs to be thought around the application and processes. Automating an existing process is not necessarily the most appropriate approach.

Did you miss any of our 2018 Year in Review pieces? Click here to read. Want to read more 2019 predictions? Click here.