Why airport facial recognition is about to take off

airport facial recognition

Facial recognition is now being used in airports across the world to increase security and act as boarding passes

Facial recognition technology truly excels when it is applied to correctly identifying people in large crowds. We’re already seeing powerful access control systems deployed in buildings, shops, schools and stadiums. So, using facial recognition in airports and other transport hubs is a logical next step.

Improving airport security is a huge challenge. London Heathrow, for example, is one of the world’s largest and busiest airports, hosting 81 different airlines and serving 204 destinations in 85 countries. Over 78 million passengers move through its four terminals every year – that’s an average of 213,000 travellers per day.

Automated passport control

Some airports are already using facial recognition technology to cope with passenger volume. If you’re a regular flier, and you have a biometric passport, you might have used an automated ePassport gate to pass through passport control, rather than queueing to see a border officer.

As Nidirect explains, these gates “use facial recognition technology to compare your face to the photograph recorded on the ‘chip’ in your passport. Once the check is made successfully, the gate opens automatically for you to walk through.”

Airport facial recognition reducing queues
Facial recognition trials are hoping to replace boarding passes with face IDs for a truly paperless journey

Of course, this is just the beginning. In Australia’s Sydney Airport, Quantas has been trialling what it calls a full ‘couch-to-boarding gate’ facial recognition process.

The airport security technology is designed to deliver an improved and entirely paperless airport experience. It allows selected Quantas travellers to use their face as their ID as they move from check-in and bag drop, through to lounge access and boarding.

Your face will be your passport

“In the future,” said Sydney Airport CEO Geoff Culbert, “there will be no more juggling passports and bags at check-in and digging through pockets or smartphones to show your boarding pass – your face will be your passport and your boarding pass at every step of the process.”

Tracking passengers from their arrival at an airport to their departure point has other advantages too. For airlines that operate executive lounges, for example, it allows members to access the facilities without having to show a membership card or a boarding pass. Better still, it can also enable airlines to personalise the lounge services they provide.

Airport facial recognition passenger tracking
Facial recognition could be used to identify lost or late passengers, thereby reducing flight delays.

With cameras installed throughout an airport, facial recognition technology could also allow airlines to locate missing passengers. Singapore’s Changi Airport is testing a system that could solve this very problem. If an airline knows where all its passengers are, and how far they are from the gate, it can anticipate boarding delays and improve customer service.

A facial recognition system is also in place at 14 international airports in the United States, where it’s being used to spot illegal travellers. In fact, only three days after the system was switched on at Washington Dulles International Airport, it caught its first imposter.

Faster, smarter and always-on

As US Customs and Border Protection explains: “A 26-year-old man traveling from Sao Paulo, Brazil presented a French passport to the CBP [Customs and Border Protection] officer conducting primary inspections. The officer utilised CBP’s new facial comparison biometric technology which confirmed the man was not a match to the passport he presented… A search revealed the man’s authentic Republic of Congo identification card concealed in his shoe.”

Initial trials of facial recognition systems have been so successful that other major airports, including Hong Kong International, Chennai and Bengaluru International, are planning to deploy the technology in the future. Faster, smarter and always-on, they promise to increase airport security and automate access control, reducing those annoying airport queues and making your next visit to an airport a more enjoyable one.

Airports are the latest in a growing number of buildings that are turning to facial recognition to monitor and control access. Big or small, find out how the VIA Smart Access Control System could help you and your business here.

VIA Technologies, Inc.