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US domestic air travel recovering, biometrics and health passes needed for international rebound

IATA, Thales and SITA see potential for improvements

airport facial recognition masks

U.S. domestic air travel was approaching 2 million passengers per day, roughly in line with 2019 levels, even before the approach of the Fourth of July weekend, Brink reports. Biometrics will play a major role in allowing the aviation industry to ramp back up, a couple of its largest technology providers believe.

Nick Careen, head of IATA’s Operations, Safety and Security division spoke to Brink about when international travel will recover, and the role of digital health passes in that process.

International travel, where it is allowed at all, depends on manual entry of vaccination status, antigen or PCR test results, with different requirements in different countries.

Careen expects commercial agreements to be announced with some of the nearly-60 airlines IATA is working with on its Travel Pass app.

It will be 2022 before the industry is back to normal, however, he believes.

Thales and SITA each urge unified passenger flow

Thales is pitching its airport biometrics as a way for airports, airlines and border control agencies to improve security while improving, notably by speeding up, passenger experiences.

The complete solution, which encompasses check-in, self-service border control kiosks, smart airport operations technologies for optimized passenger flow, and boarding gates.

Passenger check-in can be performed ahead of time from anywhere with selfie biometrics, and then a temporary digital token generated. The passenger’s face biometrics can then be used in bag drop-off, security, passport control and boarding checks, in place of a ticket or ID card. Passengers’ biometrics can be recognized during boarding without taking off their masks, and if they are asked to share their health status, passengers can present a digital health pass within Thales digital ID wallet.

Biometric boarding gates can cut boarding times by a third, with identification in less than a second, according to Thales.

The company also says its kiosks can help simplify passport control for non-European nationals navigating the new requirements for the Schengen Area.

“For several decades, Thales has been helping to manage and secure sensitive infrastructure like stations, sports arenas and other major cultural venues. With its expertise in new technologies such as AI, deep learning and biometrics, boosted by the acquisition of Gemalto in 2019, Thales is in a position to provide airports and their ecosystems with new ways to increase operational efficiency, better protect the health and safety of passengers and enhance the travel experience,” says Thales Executive Vice President of Strategy, Research and Technology Philippe Keryer. “Thales technologies offer secure solutions that simplify the passenger experience while guaranteeing that personal data is protected and managed with complete transparency.”

SITA likewise sees its Health Protect app and “near walk-through, touchless airport experience” as the way to meet the 5 challenges it sees for the industry’s recovery.

The new ‘Your Runway to Success’ report addresses each of the five areas, including the potential for its SITA Smart Path and SITA Flex solutions to shift airport processes towards biometrics-powered automation and mobile services. The report also addresses passenger experiences in the air and aircraft efficiency.

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