The Flight toward Frictionless Travel is ready for Take-off
Key enablers like Intelligent Biometrics technology are already in place to make line management and security screening more efficient, but collaboration is paramount to make air travel truly hassle-free
Glamorous in its early years, air travel has become a commoditized product involving the waste of much precious time in airports. Endless queueing has become a central feature of air travel today, with waiting time spread across four bottleneck areas that make travelers dread international gateways: counter check-in, bag drop, security screening, and boarding. While aviation is undoubtedly among the most technologically advanced sectors of the economy, the larger business of air travel has not applied the same level of innovation to the customer experience.
But frictionless travel is getting ever closer. State-of-the-art facilities are appearing at busier hubs like Atlanta, Detroit, and Dallas-Fort Worth, transforming airports from places to catch a flight into shopping and entertainment destinations. Airlines are leveraging digital technology and introducing new services accessible through mobile devices and the internet. Immigration is benefitting from the growing adoption and use of electronic passports, while airport security is utilizing groundbreaking biometric technology to maintain and improve the security process without needlessly compromising the traveler's experience.
In the United States, which has five of the world's 20 busiest airports, the length of time needed to get through security has significantly increased in the years after 9/11. To counter ever-increasing security threats, numerous layers have been added to the security screening process—a pain point the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has remedied in the past merely by recommending passengers arrive at the airport at least two hours before an international flight.
These days, digital innovations are speeding up the security process and making it more efficient by eliminating repetitive and unnecessary steps. Facial recognition systems, for one, are becoming a key resource for the Federal Government, particularly for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). To meet Congressional mandates related to the 9/11 Commission, the CBP implemented the Traveler Verification Service (TVS) screening platform, which leverages the advanced facial recognition algorithm of NEC, a leading global biometric provider.
Currently ranked #1 by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology, NEC's intelligent facial recognition solution can quickly and accurately verify a traveler's identity with a simple scan. The software-based platform creates a unique and unified biometric key that allows traveler's flight check-in, while simultaneously matching them against security watch lists and flight manifests, a simplified process that keeps everyone safer and less stressed. Deployed at 17 airports with high-volume U.S. entry-points, the NEC-powered TVS system has thus far identified three dozen individuals attempting to enter the country using false identification.
NEC invests $1.2 billion each year in research and development, and partners with the aviation and biometrics industries through organizations such as International Biometric and Identity Association (IBIA), Airports Council International (ACI) and the Security Industry Association (SIA). "NEC's commitment to building trust and transforming the way people live and work is manifested in its collaboration with industry and non-profit groups to educate the public on the effective and responsible use of the technology", said Benji Hutchinson, Vice President, Federal Operations, NEC Corporation of America.
Similar movements are unfolding in Asia-Pacific region, which is forecasted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to be the source of more than half of the expected 7.2 billion passengers traveling in 2035.
At Narita International, Japan's busiest international hub, NEC is working with Japan Customs to provide incoming passengers a seamless arrival experience. Set to pilot this April, an electric customs entry gate featuring NEC facial recognition technology will shorten waiting time in the customs inspection area, where passengers' identities will be verified at both an electronic declaration terminal and an exit gate equipped with NEC's facial recognition technology. A smartphone application will facilitate electronic customs declaration, letting travelers register baggage contents and passport information. Because the facial image taken at the gate is used only for identification purposes, data is permanently deleted after entrance to ensure travelers' privacy.
Broadening horizons for collaboration
The deployment of intelligent solutions like NEC's facial recognition systems from East to West is proof that the vision of a truly safe and seamless travel experience is beginning to manifest. But a host of challenges lie ahead.
For one, pressure is rising for the aviation sector. According to the IATA, cross-border travel will grow by as much as 50 percent over the next 20 years. In 2017, airlines worldwide reported carrying more than four billion passengers—a figure expected to increase to 7.2 billion by 2035. No doubt, that level of demand will put a strain on already struggling infrastructure, which could disrupt current progress made in enhancing the travel journey from curb to destination, and even impact the industry's future growth.
It is critical the industry build momentum for these kinds of collaboration, because the fact remains that players and stakeholders within the aviation ecosystem largely operate in silos. The level of transformation needed to make travel entirely devoid of friction must be systemic, one that is driven by strong institutional relationships between governments, industry stakeholders, private enterprises, and travelers themselves.
The World Economic Forum recently put forward the concept of a "Known Digital Traveler Identity," which focuses on utilizing traveler-managed digital identities to enable governments, in partnership with industry leaders and passengers, to pre-vet and identify security threats while enhancing the flow of cross-border travel. The Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies needed to bring that concept to life are already here—intelligent biometrics, cryptography, open-source distributed ledgers, and mobile interfaces and devices in which travelers can store, carry and share their digital identity accordingly.
It must be noted, however, that these technologies are merely levers for change. The amount of time it takes for industry—and its collaborators—to pull at these levers will determine how long or short the runway is for frictionless travel to finally take off.
MARCH 14, 2019
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