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Digital identity is key to coping with surge in air travel

The International Air Transport Association’s One ID digital identity initiative will pave the way for seamless air travel from curb to gate and help airports cope with growing passenger traffic

The surge in air passenger traffic, a shortage of airport manpower and Covid-19 travel requirements have increased processing time for air travellers over the past year.

Not only do travellers have to grapple with changing travel restrictions, they also have to verify their identities at multiple checkpoints, from the moment they arrive at the check-in counter to the time they go through security and board the plane at the gates.

Against this backdrop, providing a contactless and seamless travel experience is necessary for airports to cope with the growing demand for air travel in the aftermath of the pandemic, according to Vinoop Goel, Asia-Pacific regional director of airports and external relations for the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

“The process has to be paperless – we don’t want to come up with a digital process but then also require people to print documents,” Goel said. “Passengers need to own and control their data and the verifying parties should require only the minimum data.”

Those are some of the key principles behind IATA’s One ID, a digital identity initiative that will ease identity authentication and verification while allowing passengers to assert their identity online and in off-airport situations.

Speaking at Identity Week Asia 2022 in Singapore this week, Goel said IATA has established a One ID working group that brings together different stakeholders, including government agencies, immigration authorities, security agencies, technology providers, airlines and airports, to work out some recommendations and guidelines, which should be ready within a year.

Under the One ID framework, a traveller’s credentials, health certificates, visas and flight details will be sent in advance to relevant government agencies, which will then approve the passenger’s entry into a country based on that information.

“The passenger will also have to share his or her biometric information, such as facial images, so that receiving parties can authenticate and say this person who looks like this is approved to fly,” said Goel. “So, when passengers reach the airport, they are ready to fly and are able to pass all the checks without having to prove their identity again and again.”

Under the One ID framework, a traveller’s credentials, health certificates, visas and flight details will be sent in advance to relevant government agencies, which will then approve the passenger’s entry into a country based on that information

While the One ID framework is being developed, some airports such as Singapore’s Changi Airport have already implemented immigration gantries to capture biometric data, but still require physical scans of passports. At some US airports, inbound trusted travellers can identify themselves through facial recognition at designated kiosks without having to scan their passports.

Goel stressed that for One ID to take off, governments will need to follow the same framework so that travellers are able to leave and enter a country using their digital identities. “What we don't want is the world to be so fragmented that every country is implementing something digital, but they are not able to interoperate with each other.

“That would be a disaster for a travel – your digital identity might work for domestic processes like opening a bank account, but imagine if you’re not able to transfer money overseas. That’s the problem that we’re trying to avoid,” he said.

With global air travel expected to return to pre-pandemic levels by 2024, Goel said there was no way the aviation industry could support that growth with current paper processes.

“You can’t keep building more and more check-in counters at airports,” he said. “There isn’t enough space, you will have massive congestion and you don’t want to take the joy out of travel. The only way to enable this growth is through a contactless process, and that starts with developing the right standards and foundations of digital identity, admissibility and a contactless processing.”

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