The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), the independent airport authority responsible for overseeing the management and operation of the two major Washington DC airports, allows passengers to board airplanes without a boarding pass or passport using the VeriScan Biometric Identity Management based on Apple’s facial recognition technology.
Passengers can now use their faces as boarding passes and passports at airports in Washington D.C and several other airports in the United States. The verification procedure is based on the veriScan biometric identity management system based on Apple’s facial recognition technology. In 2018, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the United States Customs and Border Protection, has asked the airport authority in the U.S. capital to implement a biometric verification solution for passengers leaving the United States on flights commercial. “At the time, CBP was already using biometrics at American airports to verify the identity of people arriving on American soil, but it wanted to extend the procedure to departing passengers. That’s why veriScan was developed, “said Goutam Kundu, CIO of MWAA.
Since then, the MWAA, which operates both the Ronald Reagan International Airport and the Washington Dulles International Airport, has started to extend the use of veriScan biometrics to other applications, notably offering its platform to other airports in the country. “Since my team regularly improved operations and passenger transportation at our airports, they already had a good understanding of business needs, existing and emerging,” said Kundu. “These opportunities have also been validated by our partner airports, which share a lot in common with us”.
A locally developed approach
In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the United States Congress asked the Secretary of Homeland Security to develop a plan to establish an automated biometric entry and exit system at the American border, including at the country’s airports. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection had implemented facial recognition technology at points of entry, and asked the MWAA to resume its biometric standards to manage the departure of passengers from its airports. Kundu said the MWAA needed a quick and easy-to-implement solution, but the airport authority also felt it was essential that the solution provide a better experience for passengers, and that it bothers them. less possible. “We wanted to avoid having to install additional, expensive and heavy infrastructure, such as electronic boarding gates or other proprietary technologies which, moreover, could not evolve at the rate of biometric technology and associated regulatory standards Said Kundu again. “So we looked for a viable minimum solution that would meet our requirements.”
This was done by avoiding the solutions available on the market, which generally involve large-scale modifications of the physical infrastructure and a technology with a large footprint, which required significant expenditure. Instead, the MWAA has developed its own solution using Apple iPads fixed on stand-alone supports or articulated arms in the boarding area. “The use of commercial materials and equipment made it quick and easy to get everything we needed,” said MWAA’s CIO. “This facility allows extremely rapid deployment. And because the tablet can be mounted on standard equipment, veriScan is portable and flexible and the solution is suitable for all existing boarding processes of any airline, regardless of the number of accesses for the boarding which the company needs, whatever its preferences in the matter, not to mention the fact that it can also use the existing furniture at the boarding gate ”. The innovation team at MWAA Labs designed, tested and implemented the platform, in collaboration with regulatory bodies, air carriers, third-party integrators and airport operating teams from Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. For this platform, the MWAA received the “CIO 100 Award in IT Excellence”.
Build on broader integration
The veriScan mobile app is installed on tablets, which act as biometric scanners using Apple’s face detection technology. When a passenger approaches, the tablet detects their face and captures, optimizes and encrypts their photo. The application then transmits the photo to CBP’s Traveler Verification Service (TVS), which compares it to its database in which the US Customs and Border Protection stores traveler photos. known. Verification is almost instantaneous. The result is returned to the veriScan system and displayed on the scanner, indicating to the passenger whether he can proceed to boarding. According to Mr. Kundu, this step replaces the passport check at the boarding gate. For airlines that have integrated their departure control system (DCS) with veriScan, this step allows the passenger to check-in simultaneously, and therefore to fully dematerialize the boarding process. Once boarding is complete, all data is purged from the veriScan system, which ensures that no Personally Identifiable Information (IIP) is ever kept.
However, the solution encountered problems connecting to the existing systems of certain airlines. “We were surprised by the different data reporting methods used by different airlines,” said Kundu. “Not only were they very different, but some were still using outdated methods that most other carriers had abandoned.” As a result, the team had to work with airline technical groups to devise new methods of transmitting the data necessary for registration. “Initially, we thought a standard verification handshake would be enough, but many airlines preferred to use their own identification and access management system (IDM / IAM), so when they asked, we could integrate our system to theirs, ”added the CIO of MWAA.
Biometrics at all stages of air travel
According to Mr. Kundu, the most difficult aspect of the project was to ensure that the team worked out a future-oriented solution, while working with stakeholders with different priorities. “We wanted a solution that made sense to the passenger, regardless of any point of contact on their journey through the airport,” said Mr. Kundu. “Today, our challenge is to generalize biometrics at the boarding gate, and tomorrow, the challenge will be to extend biometrics to the entire passenger experience up to the boarding gate: biometrics at the counters, baggage check-in, passenger lounges, trade concessions and more. To achieve this, this project required strong partnership and collaboration with private and public entities, as well as with partner regulatory bodies. “We had to get closer to each of them to find a common framework that could work on all of these points of contact with passengers.”
The project has created a multitude of opportunities for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. And in particular, it represents a new source of revenue for the MWAA, since other airports across the country have purchased licenses for its platform. At the international level, a pilot project has been launched at Dublin International Airport. According to Mr. Kundu, the project also led the MWAA to develop relationships with the main suppliers of departure control systems (DCS) in order to allow greater integration. “Following the coronavirus pandemic and its strong financial implications, extra-aeronautical revenues, essential for the financial viability of an airport, will continue to be a priority for all airports,” said Kundu. For him, the lesson is clear: “Do not believe that commercial income is the only option when you are faced with a commercial problem. When the mission is essential and can bring an element of strategic differentiation, put your best resources to work, ”he advised.