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Sydney Airport considering using biometrics to replace passports

Sydney Airport is considering implementing a plan that would replace the manual inspection of passports and boarding passes with facial recognition for all international travelers departing from Australia, according to a report by Australian Business Traveler.

The move comes a few months after Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection unveiled plans to implement a new biometric system at the country’s international airports by 2020, which will include replacing existing paper ID passports with face, iris and/or fingerprint recognition.

The first phase of the plan would require travelers to approach automated check-in kiosks, scan their passport and have their photograph captured, which would then link their facial image with their travel document and identity.

At the boarding gate, cameras would identify passengers as they walked up to the barriers, triggering the gates to automatically open and allow the passenger on board. Brisbane Airport is currently trialing the concept with select Air New Zealand flyers.

If implemented, Sydney Airport will take the concept one step further by linking the same facial recognition system with all touchpoints throughout the terminal, including baggage drop, admission to the security screening queues, being processed by passport control without a passport, making duty-free purchases and entering airline lounges without a travel document.

The same technology could identify passengers eligible for the Express Path channel based on data provided by their airline and could direct or admit them accordingly.

If the passenger’s identity details and biometrics were retained from flight to flight, the process could eliminate the need to scan or show a passport all together.

“We’re just looking to bed down now with an airline partner,” Sally Fielke, Sydney Airport’s general manager of corporate affairs, said. “There are a lot of airlines that are ready to go … but the other exciting part of it is Border Force, who have now invested in that top technology – so you’re going to see the eventual eradication of SmartGates, and with the growth of facial recognition technology, longer term, the eradication of passports.”

“The (first phase of) biometrics is going to happen pretty quickly: we’re going to bed that down quite soon, but of course, we’d like it all to have happened ‘yesterday’,” Fielke continues, with the system to be based on SITA’s existing Smart Path platform.

SITA’s president Asia Pacific, Sumesh Patel, said that “for the passenger, across their entire journey, they’ll cut their processing times by almost 70 percent” from using both automated processing and smaller gains in time as they won’t require storing and retrieving their documents at every stage of the airport process.

Sydney Airport also plans to use facial recognition technology to measure ‘traveler sentiment’ in real-time throughout its international terminal, in an effort to determine whether passengers are happy and enjoying the airport experience, or whether they’re lost, frustrated, running late or bored.

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