Let’s make borders smarter – the case for automation

Poised to usher in a new era at border lines around the world, automated border control gates and kiosks are shining a light on the way forward.

Advances in biometrics and more use of e-passports make a compelling case for automated borders. So why not let low-risk passengers process themselves, freeing border agencies to focus on those posing a greater risk?

"The right play off between border management and facilitation remains a difficult balancing act,” says Dan Ebbinghaus, VP Border Security, SITA. “We want borders to be as open as possible for legitimate visitors, but firmly closed to those deemed undesirable.

“We’re happy to welcome tourists and those coming on business, but equally aware of the need to deal effectively with security concerns. At the same time, as passenger numbers and political pressures keep growing, budgets remain under stress.”


No wonder keeping people moving through the airport and national borders has become such a daunting task. Existing systems frequently struggle to cope – while future increases threaten to stress already overloaded processes and systems to breaking point.

It’s not only an issue for border agencies but also for airports and airlines. As their own resources are increasingly stretched, they too feel the pressure to improve passenger services. It matters little to passengers if baggage delivery is the best in the world if they have to spend two hours in immigration getting through border control.

Automate the frontline

So, how to be smarter at the border? Poised to usher in a new era at border lines around the world, automated border control gates and kiosks are shining a light on the way forward.

The magic of automated border control gates and kiosks is their ability to automate the frontline, removing the need for a border guard to manually check the travel document and identity for each and every traveler. So says a new paper from SITA, ‘Smarter Borders: Using Automation to Increase Security and Efficiency’.

Qualified border agents can then be redeployed to focus their attention on potential high-risk travelers, improving security yet enhancing efficiency for the benefit of passengers.

Travel programs

Automated border control relies on a number of prerequisites. They include the use of e-passports and biometric verification, such as face, iris or fingerprint, combined with a risk assessment of the traveler.

Automated border crossings are already widely used in trusted, or registered, traveler programs. Passengers register, physically enroll their biometric data and voluntarily submit themselves to a background check in order to use the automated border control system. Often targeted at frequent travelers or migrant workers, these programs can be transnational.

Critical mass

Developments over the last few years have made the business case for border entry automation increasingly compelling. Technology has matured to minimize error rates in detection, standardization has helped countries adopt a common approach, the use of e-passports is widespread, and travelers are enthusiastic about using self-service technology.

“But perhaps most importantly, e-passports have reached critical mass, helped by adoption of the ICAO standard,” says Ebbinghaus. According to analyst firm IHS Technology, 113 million e-passports were in circulation in 2013, a figure due to rise to 175 million by 2019. Over 100 countries have implemented e-passports. That represented around 60% of all passports in circulation in 2012.

“There’s also the important massive advance made in biometric matching – particularly in face recognition,” he adds. Results from a recent trial of SITA e-gates, which use class-leading biometric technology, show that 92% of eligible travelers were processed successfully with no operator intervention. That includes both the document and biometric checks.


For those taking the automation route, the two main options to consider are e-gates and kiosks, though both can be used in different combinations, according to the SITA Paper.

E-gates have been widely adopted in Europe as a direct replacement for the manual border counter. Travelers queue up for the e-gate, then enter a secure and private enclosure with barriers either side of them.

Once the document and biometric checks are completed successfully, the front door opens to let the passenger through. Typically, one border guard supervises a bank of several e-gates and deals with those passengers that need further processing.


Kiosks are more appropriate where the goal is to automate most of the process but the traveler still has to speak to a border control officer for a final check. Kiosks can automate the travel document checks, identity verification and customs declaration as well as integrating with back-end systems that perform a risk assessment.

Once that’s done, a printed receipt shows the traveler’s details, including face image and a status indicator. In most implementations the traveler then takes the receipt to a border control officer stationed at the exit of the immigration hall who performs the final vetting. See also: ‘The kiosk rises’.

The ‘soft side’

It’s not just about technology choice. Softer factors also come into play – such as queue management, signage and passenger education – and they’re critical to the successful deployment of automated border control.

“Getting travelers to the right area and using the technology correctly requires planning and preparation,” concludes Ebbinghaus.

”But the benefits of getting it right can make a significant impact on the continuing battle to smooth the end-to-end journey for passengers while providing a secure environment for travel and for host countries.”

The magic of automated border control gates and kiosks is their ability to automate the frontline, removing the need for a border guard to manually check the travel document and identity for each and every traveler.

It’s not just about technology choice. Softer factors also come into play – such as queue management, signage and passenger education.

‘Big area of dissatisfaction’

Most passengers (78%) are generally satisfied with their travel experience, according to the 2014 SITA Passenger IT Trends Survey by SITA and Air Transport World.

But after complaints about baggage, the second biggest area of dissatisfaction is the security and border control procedure.

A quarter of passengers said that it needs significant improvement, with a further 44% saying it needs some improvement.

Read the survey

Automation portfolio

SITA’s iBorders® Border Management is an integrated border security solution that greatly improves the efficiency of borders by targeting resources at higher-risk travelers while speeding up processing for the low-risk majority.

SITA has deployed automated border crossings worldwide, using both kiosk and e-gate technology, with benefits including increased passenger throughput and improved security.

iBorders®BorderAutomation offers a secure self-service alternative to traditional resource-intensive manual border controls for travelers holding biometric travel documents.

It includes automated border control gates (ABCGates) and kiosks (ABCKiosks) to speed up border crossings for travelers presenting biometric travel documents. This frees up skilled resources to focus on the higher-risk minority.

Both ABCGates and ABCKiosks support all ICAO recommended biometrics and a wide range of different biometric technologies.

They integrate with iBorders® TravelerData, SITA’s advance passenger information (API) and passenger name record (PNR) solution. This includes integration with government watch lists, identity management and pre-travel systems.

Learn more about SITA's automation portfolio

The industry's border solutions

SITA’s border solutions have been developed in close cooperation with border agency partners on all continents, as well as airlines, airports and industry groups.

This has enabled a profound understanding of the expectations, ambitions and concerns of all those involved in the handling of border security.

iBorders® Border Management provides governments with a complete set of capabilities to transform border security. It improves the experience for travelers and secures borders with information, intelligence, optimized interactions and comprehensive insight into every aspect of border operations, through a four-layered model of capabilities:

iBorders® Information provides comprehensive traveler information from airlines and other carriers, as well as integration with external information sources, such as government databases, to enhance controls at the border and speed up the processing of people and goods.

iBorders® Intelligence transforms traveler information into actionable intelligence using powerful risk assessment tools combined with travel document and identity verification, to identify high-risk travelers and persons of interest.

iBorders® Interaction offers pre-clearance of travelers before they travel, as well as secure risk-assessed self-service border clearance for travelers holding biometric travel documents, freeing up border management resources while improving security.

iBorders® Insight provides comprehensive statistics and metrics on border performance, combined with predictive tools that enable efficient allocation of available resources and management of border operations.

Automation in action

As the proven global leader in border security and identity management, SITA provides solutions for 36 countries and over 60 government entities who use iBorders® technology to process over 100 million passengers annually.  Self-service border control gates and kiosks are a growing area.

USA drive

SITA’s self-service border control kiosks were first seen at Miami International Airport in 2013. Then, in 2014, SITA was first to market with the new Phase III Automated Passport Control (APC) kiosks, working with the Greater Orlando Airport Authority.

APC is the US-specific directive to introduce passport control kiosks across the country, which has seen SITA’s self-service border solutions embraced by many of the country’s airports.

In addition to Miami they include other international airports in the USA, such as JFK New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and San Francisco – a growing list of airports who all now have biometric immigration kiosks provided by SITA.

At the end of 2014, automated passport control (APC) kiosks went live at JetBlue’s new international arrivals hall at JFK International Airport, New York.

A Jamaica first

Jamaica is the first country in the Americas to allow passengers arriving from any international location to use kiosks for self-service immigration border clearance.

iBorders® BorderAutomation ABCKiosks are expected to increase passenger throughput at Jamaica’s borders by 60%. Passengers arriving at the airports in Kingston and Montego Bay can look forward to faster border clearance with the launch of ABCKiosks.

Jennifer McDonald, CEO of Jamaica’s Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA) said: “It is important that we welcome all our visitors to Jamaica in the best way we can and with SITA we had the confidence to offer this self-service to all passengers, and not just those who enroll in a trusted traveler program.

“SITA’s kiosks use biometrics and work seamlessly with our existing border management systems to offer this great service - fast and secure border processing for everyone.

“It was SITA’s extensive border security experience combined with its unique solution of kiosks, biometrics and border management that made it the ideal supplier to implement the system and provide the ongoing support that we need to ensure its smooth operation in the years ahead.”

When in Rome - ABCGates

Europe is in the throes of adopting border automation too. For example, following installation of iBorders® BorderAutomation ABCGates by SITA, more than 3,000 passengers a day are clearing customs and immigration at Rome (Fiumicino) International Airport.

The ABCGates verify each passenger through facial recognition and fingerprints. They also quickly verify the passenger is the passport holder and is authorized to enter the country.

This process enables low-risk passengers to use self-service facilities, reducing wait times. At the same time, it allows Customs and Immigration agents at the airport to focus their limited resources on potential high-risk passengers.

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