20-year Anniversary Report: Collins Aerospace

Collins Aerospace: Biometrics: Changing the way we travel… and it’s all for the better

The travel industry, like all others, has experienced dramatic changes resulting from the influx and adoption of new technologies. As has happened so many times before, today we are poised on the cusp of another massive change in the way we travel, thanks to another innovative solution:  biometrics. Biometric technology gives us the ability to accurately identify individuals and to empower them based on that positive ID.

To some, the word “biometrics” conjures fear and skepticism. Chief among the concerns are fears about privacy of personal information — if individuals allow their biometrics to be used for one purpose, that information could then be used for some other purpose without their consent. Others fear a “Big Brother” plot, where the government uses a large biometric database to track and control people.

These worries stem from a lack of understanding of biometric solutions, how they are used, and what kinds of controls are in place to manage the data they gather. Further, the value of biometrics — and how they can dramatically improve both aviation/airport operations as well as the travel experience for the passenger — is underappreciated.

Biometrics simply means to measure (“metrics”) the body (“bio”). Every individual has a unique set of measurements — whether it’s the distance between their irises, the width of the space between their eyebrows or the length from their hairline to their chin — that can be used for identification.

This idea is not new — it actually dates back to the 19th Century. A young records clerk with the Paris Police Department named Alphonse Bertillon determined that a system based on precise measurement of certain body parts — circumference of the head, length of the middle finger, size of the ears, etc., in addition to standardized photographs of the individual — would provide a way to identify people that relied on fixed, unchanging attributes or characteristics, regardless of whether they changed their appearance.

Fast forward to the Digital Age, where we have morphed from the physical measurement of body parts to the digital measurement of body parts, which is transforming industries that require accurate identification of individuals.

A game-changer for air travel

Chief among those industries is air travel. Airports and airlines must be able to accurately identify who’s traveling where, ensure the right passengers are on the right plane, verify passports and visas for international transfers, and match baggage to the right individuals. Essentially, every part of the commercial aviation infrastructure depends on the proper identification of people.

And it’s the human-to-human exchange of identification documents and personal interactions that add friction to the flow of people through airport and airline travel procedures. The back-ups and queues that form because of these interactions also detract from a positive passenger experience.

Removing friction from the process

Biometric ID technology removes that friction. It makes the identification process faster, easier and far more accurate. With one facial scan upon entering the airport, for instance, your face becomes your ID throughout your journey.

You can check your bags, move through security operations and enter the jetway—all with minimal stopping, showing documents and waiting for verification. Your face provides all of the information required.

The technology also enables passengers to make their way through their journey with less support. Fewer security personnel are needed to ask questions and check documents. Airline personnel are no longer required at key stations — such as baggage areas and airline gate entrances — and can be deployed elsewhere.

In a post-pandemic world, biometrics will also reduce a major concern associated with air travel: the fear of contracting disease by touching public surfaces or interacting with people who are ill. We already have “curb-to-curb” biometric solutions that enable a passenger to move from the point of origin to the destination airport without touching anything other than his or her own items. A face and a smart phone are all that’s required.

Biometric systems can also be equipped with health diagnostics that can help identify individuals who have a high temperature or other symptoms so they can be evaluated by medical personnel. In combination with virus testing, this system could mean moving closer to disease-free flights and enable the reopening of borders now under COVID-19 restrictions.

Biometric technologies make air travel safer in other ways, too. Think about how much more secure your smart phone or laptop or bank account is when your face or fingerprint is required to unlock it rather than a password. Now think about how much more secure air travel will be when that same technology is fully embedded into commercial flights. With the added accuracy of biometric identification, airlines will know exactly who is on each flight.

By reducing passenger concerns about illness and safety, we can increase the number of people willing to fly as well as the frequency of trips. Less fear leads to increased passenger volume.

All of these improvements amount to a vastly more efficient air travel ecosystem that can accommodate significant increases in capacity.

The Biometrics Boon Is Building

Biometric identification technologies have been in use in airports throughout the world for several years, primarily for immigration and border control. But momentum is building for wider application of the technology throughout commercial aviation as airlines, airports, passengers and other stakeholders begin to see the enormous value this technology can offer.

Biometric IDs will make quick work of matching facial images to ensure people are who they say they are—and give them the freedom of movement that comes with that identification. It’s a simple, efficient, low-risk solution that will bring countless improvements to the way we travel.

Without question, the biometrics boon is coming. And it will transform, refresh and enhance the travel landscape for decades to come.

Collins Aerospace                                                                                                             

Applications and use cases | Privacy and policy | Research and development | Technology innovation

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