Biometrics could soon replace your passport when travelling internationally from Australia under ambitious plans tabled by Sydney Airport: doing away with manual inspection of passports and boarding passes in favour of facial recognition, allowing passengers to breeze through the terminal.
Under the first phase of the plan which still requires a physical passport, travellers would approach automated check-in kiosks, scan their passport and have their photograph taken, which links their facial image with their travel document and identity.
Then at the boarding gate, cameras would identify passengers as they approach the barriers, which would automatically open and allow the passenger on board: a concept currently being trialled at Brisbane Airport with selected Air New Zealand flyers.
But Sydney Airport’s plan takes that further, linking the same facial recognition system with every other touchpoint throughout the terminal, including baggage drop, admission to the security screening queues, clearing passport control without a passport, completing duty-free purchases and even entering airline lounges document-free.
That same technology could also identify passengers eligible for the Express Path channel based on data provided by their airline and could direct or admit them accordingly, and if identity details and biometrics were kept on file from flight to flight, could eliminate the need to scan or present a passport entirely.
“We’re just looking to bed down now with an airline partner,” Sydney Airport’s General Manager Corporate Affairs, Sally Fielke, told Australian Business Traveller at the CAPA Australia Pacific Summit in Sydney.
SmartGates will eventually disappear
“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, explains that “for the passenger, across their entire journey, they’ll cut their processing times by almost 70%,” thanks to both automated processing and smaller gains in time in not needing to store and retrieve their documents at every stage until the gate.
Sydney Airport also plans to use that same facial recognition technology to measure ‘traveller sentiment’ in real-time throughout its international terminal: that is, whether passengers are happy and enjoying the airport stage of their journey, or whether they’re lost, frustrated, running late or bored.
“Maybe we use that information to adjust queues quicker than what our existing beacon technology is already telling us… but really, the sky is the limit,” Fielke concludes.