Biometrics: The 'New Normal' For Airports

03 Jun, 2020 . 4 minutes

Travel industry experts say technology is the answer to the effects of Covid-19. As revenues fall, they expect investment in technology like biometrics to define the future.

The industry can capitalize on consumer appetite for biosecurity once the world economy bounces back. Since the outbreak began, the travel sector has signaled growing demand for faster and frictionless health screening.

Airlines have been hit hardest. Aviation is an important contributor to many countries’ gross domestic products because of its connection to tourism, manufacturing and the transport and warehousing of goods. The US Transportation Security Administration screened around 2.5 million passengers a day nationwide in 2019. In April this year the average number fell to 110,000 as a result of Covid-19. Big US airlines have asked for government bailouts.

Short-term solutions like state bailouts, private funding and add-on services are not considered the primary approach to creating revenue and returns. Innovation on contactless and self-service technologies, however, are considered the mid and long-term solution. The latest market analysis shows positive compound annual growth rate forecasts from 2019 to 2024 for biometrics - like 3D sensors with 22 percent and health care biometrics with 19 percent.

The virus is a setback for a travel capacity that was projected to double by 2030, but experts think it will not stop the industry - especially the aviation sector - from achieving that target.

Not losing touch with touchless technology

Airports are spending more on tech innovations to deliver a “touchless” experience and reclaim customer trust. Authorities now expect travelers to complete boarding without lifting a hand. Is it going to happen soon? That depends on how biometric data are managed and protected.

Up to now biometrics have been used by travel authorities like the TSA - but only for identification purposes. They did not track health data, so there will need to be a recalibration of existing systems, but medical authorities argue temperature data alone will not be enough to accurately isolate a patient with Covid-19. Health screening will require an operational overhaul and a shift from simple image surveillance to tracking a broad range of health statistics and data.

Will this transition be collectively accepted as the "new normal" by both travel providers and customers? Technology may have helped mass surveillance, but its ability to distribute the data of personal records in a secured and trusted manner is doubtful.

NuData Security, a Mastercard company, wrote on that more than 1.9 billion data records were compromised during the first quarter of 2019. The company also said that, since 2013, more than 14 billion records were exposed or stolen. With third-party data exploitation there will always be debate over customer trust and privacy.

Unless well-governed and trustworthy data management processes are established a “touchless” biosecurity technology may still be a distant goal.

Collaboration going ahead

More people are ready to accept biometrics to meet safety and compliance requirements. Companies in the private sector are filling the gap and contracts worth millions are underway.

Biometric providers such as identity and access management software company Veridium have seen a fivefold increase in customer engagement since the outbreak. Its CEO, James Strickland, told the Telegraph Covid-19 had created momentum as more users wanted to log in safely at home.

Biosafety company Soter Technologies has been lobbying big airlines like United Airlines as well as Abu Dhabi International Airport. New York-based Soter developed a health screening and metal detection device, expected to hit the market in June. It costs $35,000 a machine.

Etihad Aviation Group's Etihad Airways, which flies out of Abu Dhabi, has run a beta test of self-service kiosks developed by Australia's Elenium Automation to monitor and process biometric data like heart and respiratory rates. Singapore’s Changi Airport has installed thermal screeners to measure the temperature of all staff and passengers in transit areas.

Big international airports are not going to be the only entities to collaborate and invest in biosecurity. When travel industries recover, tech innovation adoption will be vital to demands for health safety and security.

Contactless technology will play an important role in facilitating faster and more secure services while ensuring a social-distancing-friendly environment. Adopting new technology like biometrics will become a long-term strategy to bolster travel. Biosecurity will come first for travelers.

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