Three ways biometrics in aviation is shaping the future of travel

Biometrics in Aviation

The impact of biometrics can be felt on industries from healthcare to finance to aviation, which is accelerating its adoption of the technology. Biometrics in aviation has become a staple of modernization efforts. Starting as a method for improved aviation security, biometrics has grown to include a whole suite of services, all of which have become crucial in enabling a seamless passenger journey. As the industry looks ahead and continues along the road to recovery, biometric technology use cases are likely to increase and evolve.

Recently, the Biometrics Institute released a 20-year Anniversary Report in which members highlighted how biometrics use in aviation has already augmented industry operations. While biometrics has often been associated with accurately identifying individuals, recent events have taken it from a novelty way to bypass long security lines to be a necessary component of modern airport operations. As the report notes, “[The industry] is poised on the cusp of another massive change in the way [that people] travel, thanks to biometrics.”

The Biometrics Institute’s 20year Anniversary Report highlights three ways biometrics can play a role in the aviation industry: security, passenger experience, and health and safety.

Following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11th, 2001, security at the airport changed drastically. As a result of these changes, there has been a larger emphasis on the role of security personnel to verify passengers and ID potential threats. For nearly two decades the security community has worked tirelessly to find ways to bolster passenger security while also finding ways to optimize their operations.

Using a biometrics-based security system, the report noted that passengers can be accurately identified from the first instant they step onto the airport grounds. From there, facilitating their journey safely can become a less intensive process and limit the “back-ups and queues that form” all around the airport. Along with a positive ID, biometrics can help security teams verify passport information and visas, match baggage from the correct person to the correct airplane, and even ensure that passengers are aboard the correct plane. This illustrates how biometrics can be used for more than just security but can be a critical part of the passenger experience as well.

Passenger experience
A major consideration for the aviation industry has been the passenger experience, specifically the seamless passenger journey. As the COVID-19 epidemic halted most air travel early on, many in the industry used that time to revisit how their day-to-day operations could be improved. Chief among those improvements was addressing the actual movement of passengers from point to point in the airport.

“Biometric ID technology removes that friction,” the report stated. “You can check your bags, move through security operations and enter the jetway—all with minimal stopping.” This is because your face provides all of the information that is required, and without the need to constantly verify documents, personnel can be freed up from key stations and deployed to assist in more urgent matters around the facility.

By consenting to the use of their biometrics on their end-to-end journey, customers could be identified by different biometric sensors at several touchpoints at the airport. Their personalized departure details could be displayed on screens as they approach. Passengers with reduced mobility could be guided to their gates on automated wheelchairs without the hassle of waiting for airport staff to push them. And airlines could reduce delays by knowing where their passengers are, if they will be on time for their flight or if their luggage needs unloading.

Health and safety
The final role that biometrics can play is addressing likely the largest concern present among passengers today: contracting an illness. The world is still dealing with the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 and as a result, the fears which grounded entire air fleets in 2020 remain. Biometric technology can play a role in alleviating these concerns. Referred to as a “curb-to-curb” biometric solution, the report explained that “passengers today can go from their point of origin to their destination without touching anything other than their items.”

Further, biometrics could help airports and airplanes perform a vital public health role and monitor passengers, if they consent, for signs and symptoms of a variety of illnesses. Identifying individuals who are experiencing fever or other symptoms could help medical staff better treat passengers if they were to fall ill.

The future of biometrics in aviation
Ultimately, biometrics represents an improvement in how the aviation industry can conduct its business. From bolstering security to enriching the passenger experience, to helping prevent and mitigate illness outbreaks, there is good reason to expect more use of this technology. While these three applications come readily to mind, the report noted that “momentum is building for wider application of [biometrics] through commercial aviation.”

So long as privacy challenges are managed appropriately, biometrics have a role in achieving a seamless customer journey. The Institute has released a range of good practice guidelines to help organizations assess and implement responsible and ethical use in biometrics which we are urging anyone operating in this space to consult.

These include the Institute’s updated Privacy Guidelines which we believe are the most comprehensive, universal privacy guidelines anywhere in the world, the Good Practice Framework which provides a pathway through all the steps you need to consider when implementing biometrics, and the Three Laws of Biometrics© which consists of three concise principles to prompt you to remember the fundamentals of using biometric technology responsibly and ethically.

The Biometrics Institute Three Laws of Biometrics©:

  1. POLICY – comes first: Any use of biometrics is proportionate, with basic human rights, ethics and privacy at its heart.
  2. PROCESS – follows policy: Safeguards are in place to ensure decisions are rigorously reviewed, operations are fair and operators are accountable.
  3. TECHNOLOGY – guided by policy and process: Know your algorithm, biometric system, data quality and operating environment and mitigate vulnerabilities, limitations and risks.   

These laws really are a gateway to the Good Practice Framework.

As the industry looks ahead to the future, stakeholders will likely view the use of biometrics as a growth-rich technology. How it is used, gaining and retaining public confidence and the role that it will play will be an important part of any future-thinking conversation for airlines, airports, and airplane manufacturers. “The biometrics boon is coming,” the report added. “And it will transform, refresh, and enhance the travel landscape for decades to come.” More ethical and robust privacy practices will lead to greater customer buy-in, allowing airlines and airports to get to know their customers better – and provide them with a better service. That is when biometrics will really take off.

To download and read the full report from the Biometrics Institute, click here.

To learn more about biometrics solutions and the role that they can play in the modern aviation industry, click here.

The Biometrics Institute membership represents over 200 member organizations from around the world with a network that is close to 10,000 individuals, many of them experts in their respective fields and key decision-makers in the government and private sector. To find out more, click here.


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