Bio-smartcard offers global air safety boost

The European airline industry and software suppliers have outlined plans to develop a global system that uses biometric...

The European airline industry and software suppliers have outlined plans to develop a global system that uses biometric technology to fast-track frequent-flyers through airport security checks.

The secure travel initiative, s-travel, aims to boost passenger confidence and reduce check-in times.

The groundbreaking project which will be partly funded by the European Commission, will see the first mass market use of controversial biometric technology.

Under the plans, frequent-flyers will carry smartcards storing personal biometric information, and security devices will measure their physical characteristics - eyes, fingerprints or faces - to confirm identities. Digital certificates will also be used.

Computer Weekly has learnt that the system is due to be tested later this year on Alitalia passengers travelling between Milan and Zurich. Analysts estimate that a full roll-out would cost tens of millions of pounds.

The project will be managed by the airline industry IT supplier Sita, and industry group the International Air Transport Association. If the pilot project is a success the aim is to roll it out globally to every major airline and airport. Contracts and funding arrangements have yet to be concluded.

The initiative, submitted to the European Commission earlier this year, follows the 11 September terror attacks in the US and a slump in demand for air travel.

The smartcard technology will be developed by Gemplus, the smartcard specialist, while the biometric technology will be designed by Keyware, a specialist technology supplier.

The project's leaders claimed its international scale marked a breakthrough for biometric technology and smartcards.

"This is important because it is being co-ordinated across borders by the European Commission. It is bringing together various types of technology to ease passengers' progress through the airport without compromising security," said Catherine Meyer, vice-president of industry relations at Sita.

While individual airports, including Heathrow, are testing iris recognition systems there has yet to be an industry-wide attempt to establish a common system for biometric technology.

Details of approved smartcard holders, including biometric information and other personal data, will be stored on a central database.

However, project sources admit that the initiative still has to tackle some politically sensitive issues, including who will have access to the database and how passenger information will be shared across national borders by governments or industry groups.

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