Guest Editorial by David Menzel, Founding Member, Secure Journeys, Sales Director-Government Markets, SITA
In the past five years, the number of international travelers passing through US airports has increased by more than a fifth, to 124.2 million in 2017.
Last year alone, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers interacted with 7.6% more US citizens traveling internationally than in 2016.
This has inevitably put CBP resources under stress, with their workforce pulled in multiple directions.
For example, CBP officers are being reassigned from airports to land-border crossings – creating further delays and congestion in airport security areas.
Due to concerns expressed by US airports, Congress took notice and acted by introducing separate House and Senate proposals in January to increase CBP staffing levels at airports.
The proposals were welcomed by ACI-North America President and CEO Kevin Burke: “Additional officers are long overdue as CBP already faces a severe staffing shortage of thousands of officers across all of our air, land, and sea ports.”
“This is a problem that will only get worse when stronger border-security measures funnel more traffic through these ports.”
Filling the vacancies would make an appreciable difference.
But with a continuing strong increase in international air travelers forecast for the years ahead, and the levels of hiring of CBP officers dependent on shifting budget priorities in Congress, the problem cannot be addressed long-term simply by hiring more people.
Technology has an essential role to play in resolving the impasse.
(We are rapidly moving toward a day when your fingerprint, iris or face will become the only ID you will need for any number of transactions in a journey. It will be fundamental that any solution developed cannot be bespoke. It needs to work for multiple airlines, easy to adopt within existing infrastructure, seamless for the passenger and provide the highest degree of security without interrupting the passenger flow. Courtesy of SITA and YouTube. Posted on Aug 1, 2017)
US AS AN EARLY LEADER
CBP has long recognized the potential for technology, expanding its Trusted Traveler Programs, introducing biometrics, automating forms collection and eliminating duplicative processes.
Certainly automated self-service passport control kiosks (APC), mobile passport control (MPC) and global entry kiosks have helped to better secure and expedite travelers moving through Federal Inspection Stations (FIS).
SITA has been in the vanguard of these changes worldwide, with the US as an early leader.
(Roel Hellemons, General Manager Strategic Planning & Development, and Kevin Morgan, Business Development Manager at Brisbane Airport explain how working with SITA they could add biometrics into their existing check-in and boarding process to create a secure and seamless passenger journey, based on a single facial scan. Now with SITA Smart Path, passengers at Brisbane Airport can board their flights with a single glance at a camera, no more tickets to scan no more passport to show, and it is all based on a simple enrollment process that takes less than a minute, hear what passengers have to say about the new process. Courtesy of SITA and YouTube. Posted on Nov 6, 2017)
SITA APC kiosks are now a regular feature at airports – including Boston, JFK New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Diego and Tampa.
McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas was an early convert, with SITA’s automated passport control kiosks going live in early 2015.
With an average transaction time of just 90 seconds, wait times for users of SITA APC kiosks are reduced by up to 60%.
In mid-2017, using SITA’s technology, Miami International Airport also became the first airport in the world to bring the convenience of mobile passport control into its own airport app.
It means that US citizens and Canadian visitors arriving into Miami can use the app to submit details to CBP, and simply receive a barcode on the phone to present for faster clearance upon arrival in the US.
BETTER INFORMATION, QUICKER SCREENING
Technology is also helping to ease congestion as passengers travel through security. For example, some airports have used SITA technology to display and analyze real-time wait time information to better manage resources.
In Orlando, SITA reports that its queue management system helped reduce wait times by enabling the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) “rapid response to unexpected conditions.”
The system uses Bluetooth, cameras and wifi sensors to calculate passenger throughput and uses algorithms to predict wait times. Hartfield-Jackson International (ATL – the world’s most traveled airport) has also been exploring technology solutions to improve security wait-time reporting.
Meanwhile, Delta was the first airline to invest in the implementation of automated screening lanes, in 2016, in co-operation with the TSA.
The airline has since enabled the installation of approximately 40 lanes in cities around the country, including 17 at John F. Kennedy International Airport and six lanes at LaGuardia Airport.
The new automated screening lanes offer several features designed to improve the screening of travelers by automating many of the functions previously conducted manually, which allows travelers to move more swiftly and efficiently through the checkpoint.
BIOMETRICS CUTS FRICTION POINTS
Biometrics for identity management is gaining considerable traction as a way for the air transport community to optimize limited resources while improving security and the passenger experience.
Biometrics are used to recognize and verify someone’s identity by analyzing their fingerprints, voice, face, iris or hand geometry signatures.
Confidence in the technology is reflected in a global market growing from US$ 3.24bn in 2016 to an expected US$ 12.22bn by 2023.
JetBlue was the first US airline to use facial recognition biometric technology to board passengers in a single step without the passenger needing to show either their boarding pass or passport.
Working with JetBlue and CBP at Boston’s Logan International Airport, SITA demonstrated that biometric technology can reduce friction points in the airport experience – including at boarding, where integrating checks with government systems is one of the hardest challenges to solve.
The technology eliminates any boarding pass scanning and passport checks. Passengers just need to look into the camera for a quick photo, and they are on their way.
The integration of the airline and government systems by SITA showed how passengers can enjoy a seamless experience, while demonstrating how airlines and government border agencies can work together to enhance security.
SITA is also working with Orlando Airport on a similar trial with British Airways using biometric eGates.
In February this year it was announced that SITA’s work with JetBlue and CBP had won the respected Air Transport World Aviation Technology Achievement Award for 2018.
While biometrics and other technologies offer great promise toward addressing resource constraints and creating a better and more secure passenger experience, widespread adoption will only be achieved once concerns around privacy and cost are successfully addressed.
Airports, airlines, governments and technology companies are building safeguards to balance privacy with security while improving the passenger experience.
As a result, early adopters trialing biometric technology (such as the JetBlue initiative detailed above) have seen very high rates of voluntary participation by passengers.
A 2017 report from the International Biometrics + Identity Association (IBIA) entitled ‘Setting the Record Straight on Face Scans in Biometric Exit’ noted that Biometric Exit is essential for security and immigration and fully complies with US Federal law.
They state that the pilots have been technically sound, using technologies in use worldwide.
They also stress that the pilots are not mission creep towards government surveillance, that they will not increase access to sensitive data by private entities – such as airlines, airports and technology companies – and that the technology has been proven internationally and by CBP.
Finally, IBIA noted a recent survey by IATA in which the traveling public globally expressed their strong support for biometrics and other technologies that make air travel easier.
Another concern is, who bears the cost?
The Secure Journeys Working Group, founded by SITA, is one forum through which participants across the air transport ecosystem can collaborate on improving airport security through the use of innovative technologies.
Just as all stakeholders involved in enabling a safe and secure air travel passenger experience have a shared responsibility to the passenger and to each other, the cost of enhancing and facilitating security should not fall on one entity, but be shared among all stakeholders.
This is a topic that has already been explored with some success – for example the TSA is helping to fund airport improvements through its facility modification other transaction agreement (OTA).
At the same time, there is increased recognition that a return-on-investment approach is needed to determine levels of spend by each stakeholder, considering potential cost savings as well as security improvements.
The US Government first required an automated system to match arrival and departure information in 1996.
Following the 9/11 attacks, the requirement was strengthened to include biometrics.
In December last year, the US supported the unanimous adoption of a UN Security Council resolution to increase aviation security further, including the collection of biometric data from travelers.
Technology has radically changed in the past 20 years, with SITA and other technology companies working with airports, airlines and governments to make travel easier, less stressful and more secure.
It means, for example, that CBP is working towards full implementation of biometric exit in the air environment by 2022.
While technology has a huge role to play in creating a safer environment, trained people will always be an essential part of any effective security process.
The trick is to maximize the benefits of the former while ensuring the best use of the latter.
Enormous strides have been taken in recent years to bring these two elements together.
The result is a safer country and a simpler journey for all.
About the Author:
David Menzel is a Founding Member of Secure Journeys, and serves as Sales Director-Government Markets, for SITA.
David has a broad range of experience and skill sets ranging from sales leadership, business development, new markets, government (DHS agencies primarily), Capitol Hill legislative lobbying.
Additionally, he has extensive experience in start-ups, capital raising, strategic partnering activity, marketing communications, security and identity management markets, industry association committee involvement, panel speaking, and working group leadership.
 CBP Trade and Travel Fiscal Year 2017 Report