A new approach needed

A new approach needed

By Bob Davidson is Head, Aviation Facilitation at IATA

The world of commercial aviation is changing rapidly. Every year more people take a flight and with increased frequency. In 2015 more than 3.5 billion individual passenger journeys were undertaken, a number that is expected to double by 2030.

This exponential growth together with new security threats to countries across the globe requires knowing who is in your airport, boarding your aircraft or entering your country at all times.

The industry’s existing identity management systems and processes are simply unable to keep up with the growing mass of data that they are required to handle. Their ability to keep up with this growth demands that they start looking at new ways of handling identification.

Slow change

The biggest challenge is that the air transport industry is slow moving. Hamstrung by complex systems owned and managed by numerous stakeholders – airlines, governments and airports –means change does not come easily. Adopting entirely new methods of doing business takes considerable time and effort.

We must look with renewed urgency at new ways of providing faster and more secure identity management.

Bob Davidson, Head, Aviation Facilitation at IATA


Yet new emerging security threats require that we make that effort. We must look with renewed urgency at new ways of providing faster and more secure identity management. The attacks on Brussels airport early in 2016 underline that urgency. 

Better assess threats

As an industry, we agree that co-operation and open communication will be vital if we’re going to be successful. We may even have to look at how we can better assess threats before people even enter our airport terminals. Information gathered in advance, shared and vetted, will allow us to continue to open up the doors of the airport terminals and get people on our aircraft.

Many governments around the world are already extending their border control offshore and trying to make decisions about the suitability of individuals for travel before they get onboard aircraft.

Another part of the problem in today’s environment is we identify individuals at one point in our airport process yet that identity is not longer valid at the next touch point. Therefore we have to re-identify the passenger over and over again as they move through the airport.  We simply can no longer support that process model.


The question is what technology will support these requirements? We’ve heard a lot about single token versus e-passport. In the short term e-passports will probably be the best solution. With more than 1 billion e-passports in circulation today and growing, we need to make use of the biometric contained in the chip to relive capture comparison and establish if the document was issued correctly and the right person is in possession of that document.

Single token travel

Further into the future we’ll be able to make use of that live capture biometric as a single token so that passengers verify their identity just once. From an identity verification point of view, the use of a single token allows airlines and governments to do a far more effective vetting process on passengers while providing a smoother passage through the airport. This same identity will also allow airlines and airports to know their customer and provide a more personal experience.  

We will need to agree across stakeholders a roadmap on how do we incorporate the new ideas and allow all the stakeholders to achieve their objectives. We also have to recognize that the perfect solution may not have been developed yet and are flexible to incorporate emerging technology solutions as we move forward.

But the changing world around us means that we need to re-engineer our processes and do a better job making use of new technologies available to us.

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