Solve the border equation – pre-travel authorization and more

Solve the border equation – pre-travel authorization and more

Solve the border equation – pre-travel authorization and more

The best border management solutions need a range of tools - not least the ability to authorize travelers before they leave, pushing your borders out to the point of departure.

Border Management

 It's that time of the year when millions of us are looking forward to a break. Meeting passengers’ expectation during these peak travel periods has driven much IT investment by airlines, airports and government bodies – to smooth processes and ease frustrations. For a country's border authorities, the demands of tourism are often as important as keeping borders open for commerce.

International tourist arrivals show virtually uninterrupted growth, more than doubling in the past 20 years – from 528 million in 1995 to 1,087 million in 2013. And they’re set to grow still further. According to the UN World Tourism Organization, tourist arrivals worldwide are set to grow by 3.3% a year to reach 1.8 billion by 2030.

Peak pressure

Strong growth will be seen in Asia and the Pacific, where tourist arrivals are set to increase by 331 to 535 million in 2030 – that’s 4.9% a year.

The Middle East and Africa are expected to more than double their arrivals in this period, from 61 to 149 million and from 50 to 134 million respectively.

In the meantime, Europe (from 475 to 744 million) and the Americas (from 150 to 248 million) will grow relatively more slowly.

Much of that traffic is focused around major holiday periods and, on a daily basis, around peak travel times. For example, the Greater Orlando Airport Authority has to handle five flights a day from the UK arriving at its peak hours between 4 pm and 6 pm.

They’re mainly Boeing 747s, often with more than 400 passengers, which presents the immigration area with a surge of travelers within a tight timeframe. Because of the scheduling of trans-Atlantic flights, the authority has no flexibility in altering that surge, so it’s had to find solutions to supplement passenger processing and make it work.


The time taken to process undesirable or inadmissible persons represents a significant drain on resources and budgets, not to mention the cost of processing and repatriating a single inadmissible asylum seeker, for example, which can run into tens of thousands of dollars.

With security and immigration issues in the political limelight, and overall global passenger numbers forecast to grow from 3 billion now to 7.3 billion by 2034 (IATA figures), it’s no wonder investment in IT at air borders is on the rise.

And it's not just one or two systems needed to solve the border equation. It demands a sophisticated multi-layered approach that encompasses multiple stakeholder organizations. Increasingly, that approach includes pre-travel authorization.

“In effect, that means governments can push out their borders, pre-clearing travelers in their country of origin and delivering a smoother experience on arrival. With growing numbers of passengers today and particularly at peak times and for big events, this is a critical advantage for a country,” says Dan Ebbinghaus, Senior Vice President, Government and Security at SITA.

“At government level, pre-clearance of travelers requires extensive integration across multiple systems and departments,” he adds.

That level of integration enables the performance of timely intelligence-based risk assessment of travelers based on data they’ve provided in advance of travel, while applying for a paper or e-visa; an electronic travel authorization (ETA); or authority to board based on data provided by passengers to airlines as part of the reservation or check-in process.

What's needed

Clearly, an effective pre-departure travel authorization, as delivered through SITA’s iBorders TravelAuthorization, must therefore include a full visa issuance and management system.

With SITA’s iBorders, visitors and sponsors can apply for e-visas via an online portal, with vetting including eligibility, watch list, identity and immigration status checks, as well as validation of quotas and sponsor registrations.

Functionality also addresses resolution of problem cases, notification of approvals, renewals, extensions, cancellations, sponsor management and more.

ETAs, in the meantime, enhance security by providing governments with an early opportunity to vet visitors from visa waiver countries that are not vetted as part of a visa application.

Crucially, iBorders provides a real-time system that works through the Internet as well as through travel agent and airline systems. It allows visitors to obtain authorization and, in most cases, receive immediate approval.

As regards authority to board, SITA’s implementation of interactive advance passenger information (iAPI) supports real-time denial of boarding based on the latest risk assessment, admissibility status and watch list checks, as well as validation of travel documents against the ETA, visa and passport and other databases.

This allows a government to authorize travel in real time, one passenger at a time, at flight check-in.

Australian first

In partnership with SITA, the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) pioneered pre-travel authorization with the introduction of the Electronic Travel Authority System (ETAS) in 1996.

Passengers apply for a authorization online or through their airline or travel agent at the time of making their travel reservation, receiving an immediate confirmation.

By providing advance notice of intent to travel, ETAS gives Australia the opportunity to pre-screen travelers against known wanted persons and risk profiles, improving overall security.

ETAS enabled Australia to cope with a huge influx of visitors to the Sydney Olympic Games 2000 without compromising border security or making huge investments in border infrastructure.

On ‘Super Monday’ traffic was more than double the average for that day, and all passengers were processed quickly and efficiently. Today, Australia processes over 2.5 million ETAS transactions a year using iBorders and 3.5 million ETAS queries.

Indeed, the thinking that underpinned ETAS evolved to create the advance passenger processing (APP) system (also known as Interactive Advance Passenger Information System, or i-APIS) implemented by SITA for Australia’s DIAC in 2002.

The Sydney Olympics experience led to the adoption of iBorders by other governments staging big events such as the FIFA World Cup, the Winter Olympics, the Commonwealth Games as well as big religious and cultural events that generate a significant influx of overseas visitors.


APP went one step further by integrating pre-travel authorization into the airline check-in process, allowing Australia to perform additional pre-screening shortly before flight departure, with the ability to authorize or deny the boarding of each traveler in real time.

The use of APP is mandatory in Australia and has been implemented by all airlines flying to the country, with 99.8% of APP transactions taking less than 2.5 seconds – a remarkable achievement given that flights to Australia originate from all over the globe.  

In that time the transaction is sent from the check-in location across the SITA network to Australia, where a risk assessment is performed, and the board/no-board directive is returned. 

The risk assessment involves various document and visa checks, including watch-list checks as well as checks to ensure that visitors have a valid ETAS.

With boarding approved, the expected arrival of the passenger is reported to DIAC through a direct connection to the border control system. This provides the authorities with more time to check passengers arriving in the country, and to plan any intervention well in advance.

The coverage of the APP System has been progressively expanded by the provision of web-based services, and is now also used for pre-checking of passengers on cruise-ships, and crew on cruise-ships, cargo-ships, and airlines.

APP is used today by 11 governments and more than 130 airlines, processing over 200 million transactions a year.


In helping governments worldwide keep their borders secure, SITA’s iBorders portfolio provides a complete set of capabilities to modernize border security, including pre-travel authorization.

“Pre-approval early in the travel process is a vital component,” says Ebbinghaus. It’s accomplished by iBorders TravelAuthorization, which effectively exports the border to the country of origin allowing authorization on a person-by-person basis. It also reduces the cost and resource involved in processing inadmissible travelers.

“Airlines benefit, too, reducing fines for infringement of border management requirements,” he adds.

From the time that SITA joined with the Australian government to effectively manage the huge numbers of visitors for the Sydney Olympic Games, the company has been at the forefront of border security.

Much has changed in the 20 years since Sydney. And in the next 20 years, passenger numbers are set to double.

“The right range of border management solutions has never been so critical a part of the border equation, not only for today’s security but also to ensure tomorrow’s legitimate visitors are able to arrive and leave simply and effectively.”

Oman boosts border security

With an ever increasing number of visitors, Oman has embarked on an investment program to attract 12 million visitors by 2020. Passenger traffic at Muscat International Airport has grown 329% since 2007, reaching 9 million passengers in 2014. Nearly half the country’s population is composed of expatriates who require visas.

The need to invest in infrastructure has been of paramount importance. So too has investment in making sure borders are safe while also ensuring improved facilitation and a good experience for travelers arriving and leaving the country.

The Government of Oman deployed border management systems from SITA to ease visitor movement and streamline the Sultanate’s visa and residence permit processes.

The agreement sets up a layered approach to border control, providing the Royal Omani Police with an effective, efficient and flexible visa processing and security clearance process.

Under the agreement, SITA is deploying an iBorders® solution that encompasses risk assessment of traveler data from air and cruise lines, a comprehensive border control system used at immigration checkpoints across Oman, a complete e-Visa solution and a centralized Visitor Information System.

Of course, with APP and APIS (traditional advance passenger information) as part of the solution as well as e-Visas, there’s the ability to screen passengers in advance, effectively pushing borders away from the country’s physical frontiers to ensure decisions are made sooner.

The entire solution, which is being fully integrated into the country’s existing border management systems, enables a focus on high-risk travelers.

In a major program to integrate information and data exchange, iBorders is being deployed at 28 airports, seaports and land border crossings across Oman, as well as more than 15 regional offices and over 50 Omani embassies and consulates.

Easy come, easy go in Jamaica

Jamaica is a tourist hotspot, so it’s a priority to ease border processes for travelers while optimizing security.

To help, rather than requiring outbound passengers to queue at immigration checkpoints, the Government’s Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA) is conducting a risk analysis of each of the 4.8 million passengers these airports handle each year, before they leave the island.

To make it possible, PICA has turned to iBorders®  TravelerData from SITA. Passenger information for more than 4.8 million passengers is processed by SITA's systems each year.

The service processes and checks advance passenger information (API) from airlines and presents it to PICA readily programmable format for fast risk assessment

The new service is handling API data from more than 40 carriers flying into and out of Jamaica. As a result, passengers can go direct to the lounge and shopping areas after clearing security – completely avoiding the need to queue at an immigration checkpoint.

Abu Dhabi gets APC kiosks, and Miami doubles use

Automated Passport Control (APC) is the US-specific directive to introduce automated passport control kiosks across the country, which has seen SITA’s self-service border solutions embraced by many of the country’s airports, pioneered by the Greater Orlando Airport Authority.

SITA’s APC kiosks are now in use at JFK New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Diego, Tampa and more.


Passengers traveling to the US can now also pre-clear US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at Abu Dhabi International Airport. SITA’s APC kiosks enable passengers to provide travel documents, biometric data and customs declaration prior to speaking to a US CBP officer.

This increases efficiency by off-loading work from the immigration counters to the kiosks. SITA collaborated on the project with CBP as well as Abu Dhabi Airports and Etihad, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates.

Announcing the move, Richard Hill, Etihad Airways’ Chief Operations Officer, said: “Since its opening in January last year, pre-clearance has been extremely popular with passengers flying from Abu Dhabi to the US.

“The introduction of self-service automated passport control kiosks, which allow passengers to pass through border controls quickly and seamlessly, has significantly improved their travel experience.”

Passengers from the US, Canada and the 38 countries that are part of the US Visa Waiver Program can also use the kiosks in Abu Dhabi for self-service immigration. The whole process takes less than 60 seconds.

Miami's momentum

Miami International Airport (MIA) was one of the first to work with the US’s CBP on the APC imitative. The airport’s early installation of kiosks has reduced wait times for US citizens by as much as 40% – leading to the decision earlier this year to roll out 44 more APC kiosks to a total of 80.

 “This investment in more than 40 additional kiosks for MIA demonstrates our commitment to providing the best possible arrival for our international travelers,” said Emilio T. González, Director, MIA. “It is one of several investments we are making to improve the overall passenger experience.

“The APC kiosks are a great example of how our work with SITA has allowed us to investigate innovative and smart technology and roll it out quickly when we see the benefits.

“SITA's solution out-paced the competition with its design, functionality, ease of maintenance, durability and commitment to security by using the industry's most advanced biometric technology.”

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