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BW Businessworld

Travel: Open Sesame!

Hassle-free, frisk-free, paper-less air travel is the need of the hour considering the ever-growing numberof Indian air travellers

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Imagine taking a flight from any of the major airports in India without having to show a physical copy of  the ticket or the boarding pass or standing in long queue for manual security checks and frisking or waiting for the stamping of your passport, etc. All that will be required is to share a high-resolution image of the face and/or the finger print at a designated kiosk probably outside the airport and then simply walk through the airport and board your flight. Of course, before that you would have dropped off your baggage at an automated drop point. The security aspects would also be handled via the automated body scanners, high-end camera and what not, to  run the background and match your face and finger prints with an existing database like Aadhaar. The idea will be to provide a seamless and fast-paced air travel experience.

Is this for real? Is it doable? Of course, this is for real and parts of such an experience are already under implementation across some of the busiest airports in cities such as Frankfurt, Miami, London, Sydney and Dubai.

In India, a part of such a system is set to be put on trial basis across airports in Varanasi (the Parliamentary constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi), Vijayawada and Kolkata as part of what the government is calling a “Digi Yatra” or digital travel. These measures and some more have been chosen for starting the Digi Yatra programme, according to Guruprasad Mohapatra, Chairman, Airports Authority of India (AAI). “We are in the process of issuing tenders. The project may take off in the next 6-8 months,” Mohapatra told BW Businessworld in Jaipur recently where he was a speaker at an international seminar on India Air Transport organised by SITA (Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques), the Global IT services solution major for airlines and airports.

The Biometric Connect
As of now, the government is examining the possibility of linking those undertaking the Digi Yatra with the Aadhaar database or capturing the biometric details at the time of booking the air tickets. “Considering so much of buzz around the safety and security of Aadhaar, the project is taking some time. Once a decision is made on the back-end linkage of air traveller’s biometric data, this will roll out across more airports,” says a senior official connected with the safety and security aspects of airline travel.  

Meanwhile, SITA has already offered the Smart Path biometric solution as part of its advanced ID management solution to the Indian government. What is a ‘smart path’ solution? The smart path solution requires the passenger to register at a designated kiosk on arrival at an airport. All relevant data like ticket details, biometric, photo etc. are taken and saved. Now for the subsequent journey the passenger has to show up at the Smart Gate, the machine will capture his photo and grant him/her access. “The face gives access to the airport and helps the passenger board the aircraft without having to show the travel documents at multiple points,” says Hani El-Assaad, SITA President, Middle East, India and Africa. “In many respects, India is leading the way with the use of biometrics in all walks of life. We feel this presents an opportunity for the government of India to work with the air transport industry and lead the way to drive new efficiencies in passenger processing and establish India as the world’s most efficient travel system,” he adds. This technology has been tested at several global airports including Orlando with British Airways using it on its flight to Gatwick recently.

 A recent research report published in SITA’s 2017 Passenger IT Trends Survey says Indian passengers have shown greater willingness to use biometrics to speed up their journey through the airport. It shows that 70 per cent of Indian passengers say they would definitely use biometrics if given the option, removing the need to show a passport or boarding card at key points in the airport. The surprising thing here is that the response by Indian air travellers was well above the global average of 57 per cent. It should be noted that Aadhaar, India’s biometric identity system, has over one billion enrolled members and can easily be synced with any such smart technology.

In fact, Maneesh Jaikrishna, SITA vice-president Indian Subcontinent, Eastern & Southern Africa, believes that India should leverage the Aadhaar system with the Smart Path technology. “If Aadhaar system is used with our Smart Path technology, SITA will be able to deliver a seamless biometric experience across all airlines and airports – both domestic and international – in India. This would allow passengers to use their biometric identity no matter where they travel,” says Jaikrishna.  

Special Access
The much delayed proposal of allowing hassle-free air travel to frequent fliers to overseas destinations like business leaders, celebrities, doctors, lawyers, sports personalities, etc., by installing electronic gates or e-gates is set to take off at Delhi’s IGI Airport in “next 2-3 months”, according to P.K. Bhardwaj, Commissioner, Bureau of Immigration.

What is an e-gate? It will be an automated gate having the ability of scanning Passports and clearing low-risk Indian Passport holders, the work that is currently executed manually by an immigration officer.

According to the proposal, all those wishing to avail the services of e-gate or invited to do so will have to be vetted and pre-approved by the security agencies. Background checks including checking police records for criminal cases or pending economic offences will become mandatory. Once cleared at the e-gate, the passenger will then automatically be allowed to head to the baggage claim area and collect the baggage.

If you need proof of the success of such e-gates, one does not have to look very far. In 2017, Hamad International Airport at Doha, Qatar, installed 19 e-gates at the departure lounge and 16 e-gates at the arrival lounge to ease the entry and exit process for resident expatriates. This service is now being accessed by resident expatriates with only their identity cards without the need for any prior registration. Moreover, there is no extra cost or fees for this service.

Now that is what you call a technology-aided seamless travel experience!

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