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Thursday, 16 May, 2019, 14 : 18 PM [IST]

‘The next step for us is the ability to use a single biometric identity across borders & airlines’

Passenger willingness to use biometrics for hassle-free movement at airports and the Aadhaar identification are key to make air travel aligned with DigiYatra, believes Maneesh Jaikrishna, Vice President - Indian Subcontinent, Eastern & Southern Africa, SITA. In an interview with Disha Shah Ghosh, he elaborates on the acceptance of their varied products at high-passenger traffic airports of the US, Australia and Middle East and the scope to replicate the same in India.

Q. India has emerged as the fastest growing domestic aviation market in the world. With the kind of passenger traffic that our key Mumbai and Delhi airports have reached, what kind of technology adoption is required to ensure hassle-free and ease of passenger movement?
A. In the past three years, India has risen through the ranks to be known as the fastest growing civil aviation industry in the world. Currently, we stand as the third largest domestic aviation market globally with the possibility to become the third largest air passenger market by 2030. DIAL clocked an astonishing 13.8% growth in passenger traffic in 2017-18, while MIAL saw a 7.4% growth in 2017-18 in comparison to the previous years.

But this growth is not without its challenges. A rising number of air travellers every year not only results in cluttering of the airports, but also slows down the entire passenger movement. Beyond expanding the physical footprint of airports, the air transport industry needs to adopt innovative, cutting edge, newer technologies which have the potential to create a journey that’s secure, smooth and seamless, from end-to-end not just for the passengers but for the crew as well.

Several technologies have emerged which are either deployed or is in the trial phase at several airports globally to facilitate and smoothen the passenger movement across airports. SITA’s technology solutions such as Common Use Terminal Equipment (CUTE), Common Use Self Service (CUSS) and Baggage Reconciliation System (BRS) are deployed in several airports in the country which are operated under Airports Authority of India (AAI).

Apart from this, SITA is positioned to help India lead the way in introducing 100% biometric air travel which is aligned to Indian government’s initiative ‘DigiYatra’. While the use of biometrics for identity management is still in infancy in India, few factors like passengers’ greater willingness in using biometrics to speed up their journey through the airport and existence of Aadhaar system – one of the biggest biometric databases anywhere in the world – are only going to help in greater adoption of biometrics in India. As part of the DigiYatra initiative, passenger will have an option to use Aadhar-based verification to create DigiYatra ID and use their biometric identity no matter wherever they travel. With our Smart Path biometric solution for ID management now rolled out globally, SITA is well poised to deliver a seamless, paperless travel experience for passengers across India. A key benefit of our Smart Path solution is that its technology can be seamlessly integrated with government systems and our existing common-use infrastructure – check-in kiosks and boarding gates. This makes it easy and cost effective to implement.

Q. While biometric technology has been gaining support from certain quarters, there are apprehensions of data breach. With massive passenger data to be dealt with, what kind of measures one needs to put in place to ensure data protection?
A. This is an aspect that SITA takes very seriously. Firstly, biometric data is processed by SITA in accordance with applicable law and the relevant SITA customer’s instructions, only to the extent and only for as long as is necessary in providing the service involving biometric data processing for which SITA has been engaged.

At the same time SITA strongly supports initiatives such as IATA's One Identity and the Sovrin Foundation which seeks to set standards around digital identity which allow passengers to benefit from using their biometric identity in the airport while maintaining the privacy of personal data.

Q. Elaborate on the SITA’s Smart Path Technology and iBorder Management. What kind of acceptability have these products enjoyed in countries like Australia, USA, Mexico and the Middle East?
A. SITA has successfully rolled out SITA Smart Path in airports around the globe – from the USA to Australia. These airports are seeing the benefits of using biometric technology to automate passenger identity checks at airports across the world. We have been successfully helping airports and airlines incorporate biometrics into their existing infrastructure and government systems through SITA Smart Path. This makes it easy and cost effective to implement.

Some airports such as Muscat, Orlando and Brisbane have taken the first steps towards implementing e-boarding process and automated passenger ID checks where passengers can use just their face as their passport or boarding card. In the US, SITA’s Smart Path is being used in place of the traditional boarding pass, ID check and a government border check. This is the airline and government check in one step where the passenger merely steps up to a camera, has their images taken and them is given permission to board

This technology has now been implemented at Orlando airport with British Airways and the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). We gave British Airways’ passengers the option of biometric boarding at the gate, on flights from Orlando to London Gatwick and there was almost 100% take up. The airline was able to board a flight with 240 passengers in around 10 minutes. Based on this success, Orlando airport has now chosen SITA’s solution to be deployed at all of their 30 international gates and will be used by several airlines. More recently Miami International Airport became the latest US airport to introduce SITA’s Smart Path. Passengers flying to Munich on Lufthansa flight 461 can now board with the quick click of a camera instead of a boarding pass and passport.

iBorders Advanced Solution is capable of transforming border operations and improving the passenger experience. It ensures that the government agencies always have the right information at the right time to make better-informed decisions. These solutions allow governments to know who is coming in and leaving the country through the airports at any point in time. Governments can therefore accurately identify potential risks as early as possible in the border management process at the point of departure while ensuring passengers can be facilitated through the airports quickly. Passengers can therefore be facilitated through the airports quickly while the security agencies concentrate efforts on the suspects.

To strengthen national security by using biometric technology and identity verification through fingerprints, the Federal Government of Mexico as well as the Australian Government is by automating the border entry process with the introduction of SITA’s Automated Border Control kiosks. Similarly, the Government of Oman has deployed border management systems from SITA to facilitate visitor movement and streamline the Sultanate’s visa and residence permit processes.

In future, we can expect shorter queues at airports and a smoother transition in their entire journey for the passengers. The next step for us is the ability to use a single biometric identity across borders and airlines.

Q. As of today, which are the Indian airports using the SITA technology for passenger navigation?
A. SITA works closely with the Airports Authority of India (AAI) and has deployed its solutions at all 40 airports under them. With Common Use Self Service (CUSS) already implemented at all 40 airports, Common Use Terminal Equipment (CUTE), Baggage Reconciliation System (BRS) in 13 and Airport Management Solutions (AMS/AOCC) in 12 airports, not only does it improve passenger navigation, but also provides flexibility for airports and airlines. Some of these major airports include Bangalore International Airport; Chandigarh International Airport; Cochin International Airport; Kannur Airport and Mumbai International Airport; Nagpur (MIHAN) Airport. These airports enjoy the benefits of improved check-in, boarding and new self-service facilities thanks to SITA's technology. Apart from that, SITA has been working at the heart of Indian aviation for more than 60 years being the catalyst for innovation and being instrumental in introducing new technology.

Q. What kind of global trends have you witnessed in terms of adoption of smart technology to reduce the turnaround time for passenger movement?
A. As per the SITA Passenger IT Insights 2019, we can see how technology is contributing to a smoother passenger experience at every step of the journey. Among the notable highlights, the proportion of passengers sailing through automated passport control has risen from 21% in 2017 to 44% in 2018. Passenger satisfaction was 3.85% higher among those taking advantage of self-scanning gates to verify their ID compared to those using agent assisted controls. Passengers’ appetite for mobile services is also increasing, particularly for baggage tracking, where a lack of transparency can add stress to the journey. Ninety-five percent would welcome the opportunity to receive bag collection notifications via their mobile devices on arrival. Where real-time mobile alerts were provided, passenger satisfaction was 8.6% higher than among those who had to rely on display screens or public announcements, indicating that this investment in technology is already paying off.

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