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Airports recognise the passenger challenge and opportunities ahead

Technology has the potential to redefine air travel for both airports and their customers as passenger numbers swell. Jim Slevin, Aviation Business Unit Manager at Human Recognition Systems (HRS), a leader in the field of identity management, looks at how proven biometric technologies are being used to create the airports of the future.

Air travel and the aviation industry are changing. Worldwide passenger numbers are predicted to double to 5.9 billion by 2030 and economic activity supported by aviation is forecast to more than triple to $6.9 trillion*. As airports set out their plans for expansion in order to meet rising passenger numbers and to capitalise on the growing retail opportunity this presents, competition within the industry is fierce.

Against this backdrop, passengers are becoming increasingly savvy. As well as looking for the best possible service and deals from airlines, they are looking for a faster, simpler and more personalised service from airports. With over 20 international airports in the UK alone, airlines and by association their passengers are increasingly able to shop around and make choices about which airport best suits their needs.

Technology will have a key role to play in helping industry to meet these operational challenges and increasingly it is proven biometric technologies that are providing the solutions. Identity management platforms, powered by biometrics, not only have the potential to easily handle large numbers and deliver a personalised passenger experience, but also to improve security and operational efficiency through self-service automation and introduce new lines of revenue from non-aeronautical sources. Forward-thinking airports are already using these technologies to set themselves apart and be future ready.

Scotland’s busiest airport streamlines security screening to drive non-aeronautical sales

The state-of-the-art queue and operational management solution deployed at Edinburgh Airport earlier this year is a prime example of this type of technology in action. The innovative passive facial recognition system was installed to conduct a thorough performance review of passenger traffic through security screening and to reduce queuing times at peak hours.

The system now measures the journey time of the 13,000 passengers who pass through security every day. By using passive facial recognition coupled with the integration of other airport operational data the airport is able to use accurate real-time information on passenger numbers, queue and process times and other sources of operational data to predict and react to emerging bottlenecks. By accurately deploying additional resources, it is able to reduce the time passengers spend passing through security, which in turn increases the time spent in the retail areas of the airport and helps drive non-aeronautical retail sales.

Passive facial recognition to improve passenger flow and airport operations

The MFlow Journey system is unique in terms of journey measurement and requires no conscious interaction by staff or passengers. As passengers enter a designated area, an anonymous facial image of each passenger is captured and translated into a unique code. The code is then used to track passengers as they move through the airport, timing their movement between specific waypoints.

Aggregated by HRS with a wealth of operational data allows the airport to review performance, set targets and create alerts if the passenger experience or operational efficiency are outside set goals. This means the airport can easily identify and rectify emerging operational issues before they impact the customer’s available retail time, or even their propensity to spend. A web-based dashboard, coupled with email and SMS alert systems, allows for immediate action on real-time events.

MFlow Journey can be deployed at one specific point within an airport, such as the security area at Edinburgh Airport, or accommodated across the whole airport to cover arrivals, departures and transfers. The system also has the potential to be deployed as a complete end-to-end solution, from check-in to departure, in combination with other products in the MFlow suite.

Delivering robust airport access control solutions at London Gatwick

London Gatwick is another airport that is constantly reviewing its operational performance and looking at ways that technology can support its goal of providing a world-class service for every passenger. HRS has been working on a series of new initiatives with London Gatwick to introduce innovative technologies as part of the £45m South Terminal refurbishment. As well as deploying 54 MFlow Journey cameras to measure passenger flow through the Central Search Area, Gatwick became the first airport in the world to deploy ‘iris at a distance’ technology within MFlow Track , the world’s leading security and self-service passenger verification platform.

Initially, the airport conducted a trial designed to improve passenger flow and enhance security within its Common User Lounge, where domestic and international passengers share the same retail opportunities. The system was developed to assign a passenger’s unique iris patterns to their boarding pass, in order to prevent passengers swapping boarding passes within the lounge, while simultaneously reducing the time taken to search and check individuals.

As a result of these successful trials, and as a response to increasing passenger demand for easy-to-use self-service options, London Gatwick has gone on to install a permanent system that integrates and manages multiple biometric devices. Today, iris recognition technology is part of over 20 high-tech eGates, which match enrolled biometric credentials against passenger travel documents within the new South Terminal’s Passenger Search Area.

Travelling towards a more efficient and profitable journey

With Gatwick and Edinburgh in mind, it’s clear to see that the industry is moving towards a biometric end-to-end enabled airport – something that has the potential to make the passenger journey much simpler and more secure while also delivering huge operational efficiencies and non-aeronautical revenue opportunities for airports.

The key to success lays in collaboration between airports, their business partners and trusted technology providers so that proven solutions with commercial return through a focus on the passenger experience and differentiation at its heart. Through the increased adoption of such technologies airports will be in the best possible position to tackle the challenges of operational efficiency, growing passenger numbers and an increasingly service-conscious travelling and shopping passenger with confidence.

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