Airlines trial biometric ID checks for frequent flyers

Plans for a biometric technology standard to fast-track frequent flyers through airport check-in procedures and security controls...

Plans for a biometric technology standard to fast-track frequent flyers through airport check-in procedures and security controls will be trialled in Europe later this year.

The secure travel initiative S-Travel aims to reduce check-in times and cut costs for airlines. It is backed by an industry consortium of airlines, airports and technology suppliers as part of an effort to tighten airport security following the 11 September terrorist attacks in the US.

The project, which was due to be piloted last year and has been approved by the European Commission, aims to create the first biometric technology standard for the airline industry.

Although airports around the world, including London and the US, are experimenting with various forms of biometric technology, there are concerns that the systems may not be compatible, minimising any benefits to passengers and airlines.

A five-month trial for the would-be European standard will begin in September involving Alitalia passengers travelling between Milan and Athens.

Under the planned system, frequent flyers will carry smartcards storing personal biometric information - eyes, fingerprints or faces - which will be checked by security devices such as card readers.

The biometric technology - iris scans, facial recognition or fingerprints - has yet to be decided.

Radio frequency identi-fication tags are also being considered for the project, which is being managed by airline industry supplier Sita.

Passengers carrying radio frequency identification smartcards have the added advantage of not having to insert their cards into machine readers.

"Our goal is to make air travel easier," said Michel Saunier, director of the S-Travel initiative at Sita. "The traveller does as much as they can for themselves."

The scheme's success will hinge on getting European airlines and airports to shelve technical differences and back industry standards.

"At this stage there are plenty of experiments and pilots [of biometric technology] taking place but the problem is of interoperability," said Saunier.

"For example, a German airport would like to use a German biometrics provider but a British airport might want to use British technology. The goal is to use enrolment procedures that could be used all over Europe."

The S-Travel scheme aims to minimise technical disruption to airports and airlines by using a software layer to integrate with existing departure and check-in systems. The total cost of the scheme is likely to run into tens of millions of pounds.

The project will be financed by European Commission and Sita.

Members of the S-Travel advisory group include airlines Lufthansa and British Airways and airports in Brussels and Paris.

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