As passenger numbers increase and border security tightens, space-constrained airports are investing in new technology to cope with the strain on their resources
One example of that investment is the installation in July of 74 BorderXpress kiosks at Pafos International Airport and Larnaka International Airport in Cyprus. This was the first implementation of permanent kiosks for entry and exit border control anywhere in Europe, although the technology has proven successful in around 40 other airports and seaports in other regions.
In a nutshell, the kiosks enable airports to increase passenger traffic and reduce wait times – without having to dedicate more space or staff to border control.
Chris Gilliland, director of Vancouver International Airport’s Innovative Travel Solutions (ITS), which developed BorderXpress, explains: “We launched the kiosks in Canada in 2009 (at Vancouver) and since then our commercial arm sold them to 44 airports and sea ports across North America, the Caribbean and the Pacific. Over 160 million passengers have used our solution – so they’ve been tried and tested.
“In Europe, changes in regulations have prompted and accelerated the need to look at alternative ways of automating border control. EU citizens travelling between EU countries and Schengen states will need to go through border control and this places huge demands on border officers. Plus, airports don’t have space to expand.”
Of course, there is other technology that can automate border control, such as e-gates. But Gilliland contends: “What’s unique about the kiosks is that they have a much higher throughput than e-gates. They can process all types of passenger, including families; they are accessible to all; they can accept all types of passports and government ID documents; and this is all at a third of the cost of an e-gate.”
In addition, the kiosks do not require the allocation of additional space.
ITS is an independent business unit of Vancouver Airport Authority. It considers processes and technology to help solve problems at Vancouver International Airport first, taking its solutions to the wider market if there is demand for them.
The development of BorderXpress came about during the late 2000s, when the airport was unable to expand its terminal fast enough to cope with the increasing volumes of passengers – and nor was the Canada Border Services Agency able to provide any extra resources to manage the task.
So, says Gilliland, “we developed a kiosk to complete the administrative functions of border control. By the time a passenger reaches the border control officer, the biometric checks and so on are all done, so all the officer needs to do is verify them and ask any additional questions that might arise.”
The traditional border officer, trained in such skills as profiling, is still the final authority – and governments like that, he observes.
BorderXpress kiosks are easily configured to meet the needs of individual governments. They can discuss with ITS which citizens should use the kiosks, which biometrics they want to check, which questions they want to ask and any other requirements they have.
“For instance, in Cyprus, the departure control kiosks handle all citizens (EU and non-EU) but for arrivals, they’re limited to just EU citizens. We can change the setup within 24 hours if necessary,” Gilliland points out.
Since the launch of BorderXpress in Cyprus, interest from other European airports has been “fantastic” as they prepare for the new Schengen entry-exit legislation that will come into force in 2020.
There is also, of course, the question of border control for those travelling between the UK and the EU post-Brexit. Gilliland says ITS is open for discussions with British airports and the UK Border Force and would welcome the opportunity to demonstrate its border control kiosks.
Just recently, the UK Budget released in October included plans to enable eligible travellers from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the US to use ePassport gates at 14 ports in the UK and at Eurostar terminals in Brussels and Paris, starting in Summer 2019.
This expansion is part of the UK government’s continuing investment in digital technology and is expected to improve the flow of passengers at busy airports such as London’s Heathrow gateway, automating the processing of as many as 6 million additional passengers arriving in the US every year.
All passengers passing through ePassport gates are automatically checked against Border Force systems and watchlists, freeing up Border Force officers to concentrate their energy and attention on other areas such as identifying potential victims of trafficking.
Any passenger rejected by the gates’ facial recognition technology and other checks is diverted to have their passport verified by an officer. The whole system is monitored by Border Force staff.
Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes said: “We want to encourage people who boost our economy through tourism and business to travel to the UK, while at the same time maintaining border security.
“Expanding the number of nationalities eligible to use ePassport gates supports this aim. Increasing the use of digital technology is part of our ambitious programme to improve the passenger experience and meet the challenge of increased passenger numbers.”
Meanwhile, Heathrow said passengers departing the UK are “set for a biometric revolution as the airport announces plans for a full-scale roll out of new biometric services from the summer of 2019. The new technology will be a first for the UK’s only hub airport and will streamline the passenger journey through Heathrow from check-in to take-off – which could reduce the average passenger’s journey time by up to a third.”
The £50 million project covers new technology that uses facial recognition at check-in, bag drops, security lanes and boarding gates to create a seamless experience for passengers travelling through the airport.
“Passengers have already been trialling the new services in the live operation throughout 2018 and feedback has been tremendously positive,” Heathrow said.
Heathrow customer relations and service director Jonathan Coen added: “As our passenger numbers continue to grow, we must look for innovative ways to make it easier and quicker for them to travel through Heathrow with choice, whilst keeping our airport secure. Biometrics are key to helping us do that,” he summed up. |