Just before the covid-19 ended overnight with normal air traffic, the public airport company Aena, the airline Iberia, the multinational technology company Thales and the services company Inetum had launched in 2019 a pilot program of facial recognition so that passengers could access both the security control and the plane itself with only their biometric data, without the need for a DNI or a boarding pass. For Iberia, “the pandemic has given, if possible, more meaning” to the initiative, since it is a way to avoid contacts and, therefore, infections.
After two years of testing, the option is available for three destinations: Santiago de Compostela, Oviedo and San Sebastián, all of them departing from Terminal 4 of the Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport. It was also tested on flights to Brussels, but is no longer available because “documentary proof” is required there. According to Aena, the stored biometric data is not only used for these flights, but also “can be linked to any other Iberia trip, in order to access the biometric security filter.” That is, to go to the security control area as soon as you enter the airport, but not the plane.
Iberia acknowledges: “The reality is that little is still known”, although it assures that “whoever uses it has a very good regard for the service.” At Aena they insist that it is difficult to “make a reliable assessment [de la acogida del proyecto entre los pasajeros], taking into account that 2020 and 2021 are being atypical years for aviation ”. Miguel Mendoza, commercial manager of Thales, explains: “On paper, it seems that it will be accepted, but what happens with all innovations is that at the beginning they cost. I imagine that for the young generations this will be part of their lives, but for the older ones it can mean a problem. Of course, for those of us who do everything with a mobile phone, it is an advantage. Although there will always be detractors. ” Even so, he is convinced that it will be the prevailing technology in the future.
When the passenger is going to request their boarding pass for a flight, and as long as their destination is one of the four mentioned, the option to activate biometric recognition will appear. You have two options. The most immediate is to download the Iberia mobile application, where you must capture your ID on both sides, or your passport, and take a selfie video to record your facial data. If the mobile phone does not have NFC (English, near field communication), you can always resort to the second way, which is to activate it at the airport itself. Once there, you will need to go to the facial recognition kiosks located before the security control area. As in the application, you must pass your ID or passport through the available reader and show your face. Only with that, you will be able to access both the security control and the plane itself, returning to face the biometric recognition camera, which is located on a green stand.
A non-transferable technology
The user can avoid showing his boarding pass and ID on the two occasions in which he is required, but the security control is exactly the same for all users. “The check-up is the same, the difference is that, in the boarding process, you access” by the face, “explains Mendoza. Although facial recognition is available, the passenger is not free to remove the belt, put the portable or go through the metal detector. Nor do you avoid carrying your ID and boarding pass. Although you probably do not have to use them, it is still mandatory to carry them with you.
According to Aena, its objective is “to use biometric technology in all possible airport processes”. One of the characteristics that they value the most is that biometric identity is non-transferable. As Mendoza explains, “currently, it could happen that, using a false passport or ID, the plane was accessed”, while biometric data cannot be falsified and the technology with which they work focuses precisely on contrasting them with those it collects. the microchip that incorporates the identity document, where the fingerprint is also stored.
Thales defends that its biometric algorithm has a reliability of more than 99% and, in case of discrepancies between the stored data and the passenger’s face when facing the camera, it would not be allowed to pass, and even a warning would arrive at the police to verify the identity of the person herself.
While it is difficult to question the security of using biometric data at an airport, users may be concerned about what happens next with such sensitive information. Aena explains that it is the “sole owner of the biometric database and, therefore, responsible for its management. The information obtained is treated in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation ”. According to Mendoza, once the passenger has accessed the plane, these data are destroyed, unless the traveler himself wants them to be stored for future occasions. However, what Iberia warns through its website is that to unsubscribe “from the biometric profile and delete personal data, an email must be sent to Aena’s Central Data Protection Unit attaching a photocopy of the DNI / NIE / Passport and a recent photograph ”.
This pilot program is not the first to be launched in Spain. Aena had previously carried out a test at the Menorca airport together with Air Europa, Everis and Dormakaba. As they explain in the company, they hope to expand projects of this type and plan to launch one for baggage check-in: “It is one of the ones that has the most options to implement biometrics, since in this process the verification of the identity and present the boarding pass “. Iberia expects that biometric recognition will be consolidated throughout 2022 on a greater number of routes.
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