Airports embrace biometrics

Facial recognition technology

While travel continues to increase in popularity – with some estimates putting global annual tourism spend at US$1.5 trillion – few would consider airports a particularly enjoyable part of the overall experience. Onerous security measures are just one element that can sap the fun from a trip, before one has even boarded the plan.

However, technology could potentially have the answer, with airports around the world reportedly falling over themselves to invest in smart inventions such as artificial intelligence and biometrics, a trend that could hopefully make the experience of air travel a good deal less stressful for consumers. A new forecast from Acuity Market Intelligence suggests that the number of biometric touchpoints – such as AI-powered facial recognition – throughout airports, from check-in to boarding gates, could increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 27 per cent between this year and 2022.

“Smarter, seamless travel is no longer a vision for the future,” said Maxine Most, Principal and Founder of Acuity. “It is happening now, all over the world. In the past month alone, reports from Asia indicate massive uptake. As airport AI-enhanced biometrics become mainstream, so too will consumer comfort and preference for the convenience of the experience. This will change passenger expectations and drive demand for similar solutions within airports and across the entire travel sector, from cruise ships and car rentals to train stations and ferry terminals.”

A number of airports have recently announced the adoption of these technologies. Narita Airport (also known as Tokyo Narita Airport) has talked of its plans to be the first airport in the world to allow all passengers to board flights using facial biometrics alone, with no need to stop for identification; these biometrics will also be used for check-in, bag drop and so on. AirAsia, meanwhile, is piloting facial recognition for passengers boarding flights at Senai Airport in Johor, while Hong Kong Airport plans to launch an identity system based on facial recognition and utilising a single token by early 2020.

Airports in Miami, Orlando and Atlanta in the US are also using variations on facial recognition technology, while Bristol and Dublin Airports in the UK are currently trialling the SelfPass biometric solution from Collins Aerospace, said to be the first solution of its kind that enables a single enrolment that can be used across multiple countries.

While the widespread adoption of facial recognition technology has rightly had some privacy advocates worried – there are undoubtedly numerous ways in which these advancements could be used to unscrupulous ends – it seems inevitable that airports will continue to make use of them. And if they make passengers’ lives easier, as with any such controversial technology, it could well be that the need for convenience ends up steamrollering any concerns over individual liberty.