Key players in the Middle East air industry will undoubtedly have welcomed recent figures from IATA (International Air Transport Association) predicting strong growth in passenger numbers over the next two decades. However, this positive trend will bring with it significant challenges. Notably these include ensuring that the passenger experience is not compromised by frustrating delays at border control and other airport pinch points. Furthermore, any efforts to ease these processes must be combined with rigorous security against threats including terrorism and illegal immigration. In pursuing these apparently conflicting goals, many within the industry have already identified biometrics as a powerful asset. But there remains vast potential to make further gains. In particular, airport operators now have the opportunity to create fully integrated ‘biometric pathways’, whisking travellers seamlessly from initial check-in right through to boarding.
IATA’s research suggests a near 5% CAGR for Middle East travel, equating to an extra 244 million passengers a year by 2035. As such it continues a pattern established over recent years, and local airport operators are already responding with major new infrastructure projects. For travellers, there can be little doubt that the priority is shorter queues, leaving them with more time to relax in shops and restaurants. And their views are reflected in many airport investment strategies: recent research underlines that faster passenger handling and wider use of self-service facilities are high on the agenda.
In terms of marrying convenience with security, the case for biometric technologies is compelling. For border control agencies, techniques such as fingerprint or facial scans provide irrefutable evidence of true identity. Furthermore, the very same processes are now being readily adopted by end users as an effortless means of authentication – perhaps most notably for unlocking their smartphones.
Authorities have typically been quick to appreciate these strengths. ePassports (biometric passports) are rapidly becoming the standard, and in turn have facilitated growing deployment of second generation, Automated Border Control (ABC) gates. Consequently, more and more travellers are enjoying the option of stress-free, self-service border crossings.
Established as a leader in this field, Gemalto’s extensive track record includes the recent installation of 87 ‘smart gates’ at Paris airports. But the advantages of this self-service, biometric-based model can now be extended much further. Working in conjunction with IER, Gemalto has launchedFly to Gate, an innovative concept that creates a unique biometric identity token for travellers. This is achieved by allowing passengers to create a temporary ID ‘token’, which can then be used to verify their identity at self-service terminals: not just at border control, but also check-in, baggage drop and boarding gates.
With the Middle East set to remain at forefront of air travel growth, airports and other stakeholders are being presented with challenges and opportunities in equal measure. However, competition remains intense, and delivering the right customer experience is likely to prove critical for future success. In this respect, the good news for all concerned is that biometric-based solutions have moved swiftly from the realms of concept to reality, and now offer operators and authorities all the tools they need to finally make trade-offs between convenience and security a thing of the past.
By Sandra Valero, Business Development Manager for Government Programs in the Middle East at Gemalto.