number of commercially available
products reflects this.
But, interestingly, the use of facial
recognition technology, at one time
a small percentage of the automated
biometric marketplace, recently
has “exploded.” Use of passports
with embedded facial imagery has
become widespread, and eventually
this convenient hands-free
technology may become dominant
in some market sections, of which
aviation may be one.
To state that the biometric
marketplace is active is an
understatement. Every day I
receive a press announcement
about another product that uses
biometrics, or another biometric
recognition algorithm, or another
new modality, such as vein
The end result of all this activity
has been a steady drop in price of
commercially available products,
a steady increase in reliability and
performance, and an increase in
And this applies across all
biometric modalities — fingerprint,
facial recognition, iris recognition
How are biometrics currently
used at airports?
Biometric technology currently
is used at airports in several
applications. These include:
c Passenger processing
c Passenger screening
c International passenger
c Airport staff background
screening and access control
c Airport staff access control systems
Most of the passenger processing
at airports, excluding security, is
still done directly by the airlines,
but the increased deployment of
common-use systems has started to
change this responsibility division.
Most common-use systems are
still at international terminals.
Currently, no major airline uses
automated biometrics directly as
part of airline passenger processing.
There isn’t perceived to be a “need”
and, hence, there is no competitive
advantage. This contrasts with the
recent rapid adoption of smartphone
boarding passes, a development
almost inconceivable only a few
years ago. Airlines are typically cost
conscious, and without an identified
market or a cost saving need, do
not usually automate processes, or
introduce new technology.
The situation is completely
different when one looks
at the security aspects.
Passenger screening in the
U.S. since shortly after 9/11
has been the responsibility
of TSA, except for a handful of
“privatized” airports. In recent
years, there has been a steady
increase in the sophistication
of the identity verification
of travelers by TSA staff at Traveler
Documents Checking podiums.
These now have devices to do basic
verification of typical identity
credentials such as driver licenses.
And, of course, DHS has pushed
for many years for the “Real ID”
measure to enhance security. But
the current biometric recognition
technology used — facial image —
is still not automated and relies on
trained operators comparing against
a simple photograph.
But it is in international
passenger facilitation that the
major developments in the use of
biometrics for passenger processing
have been occurring recently. In
the last few years, the equipment
and processes used by Customs and
Border Protection (CBP) here in the
U.S. have changed dramatically.
Airport after airport in this country
is moving toward a self-service
approach for passport and customs
processing for many categories of
passenger. First was the premium
service “Global Entry,” a fee-funded
service, and then later the provision
of generic self-service kiosk
machines for all passengers.