IATA is presently working on the development of one ID, and that would eliminate the use of paper-based travel documents with the help of biometric technology. However, with so many stakeholders involved in its implementation, will it ever come to fruition?
Facial recognition and remote check-in have been 2 of the foremost vital technological innovations in aviation’s recent history, re-shaping everything from customer experience to security.
It is with the International air transport Association (IATA), however, that these 2 are being combined into one solution for the first time. The idea, which the association is branding as one ID, brings together biometrics, electronic boarding passes and travel visas into a single form of digital travel document that virtually eliminates mobile or paper-based alternatives.
A project that has been years in the making. It’s being seen as a possible solution to booming passenger rates, which IATA expects to hit 8.2bn in 2037, and the looming prospect of limited capacity in major markets.
While still in its infancy, it’s beginning to gain traction amid industry bodies, governments, and other stakeholders. Recently, it was even endorsed at the 40th Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which itself is cooperating on the project.
If it does come to life, it could prove to be a game-changer for an industry that’s presently desperate to simplify processing and find a solution to its capacity woes.
Creating a digital identity (One ID)
Passengers traditionally need to register their documentation before traveling, generally when booking a flight or when checking in. This triggers a domino effect of controls from security to arrivals, all the way through border security and boarding, during which documents are certified multiple times.
“From the feedback we received from passengers, it’s clear that there’s more and more need to simplify the data checking method,” explains IATA head of Aviation Facilitation Celine Canu. “One ID allows you to go through all of them without needing to show passport or boarding pass.”
The technology depends on four components, namely creating a digital identity and an identity management platform. Also using biometric recognition to verify identity verification and establishing a trust framework.
“The main actors in these scenarios would be government agencies, airlines, and airports,” says Canu. “We’ve been viewing their requirements, and one of the key components is to have a solid form of identity; if you want it to be shared ahead of time, it’s to be in a digitalized way.”
As a result, IATA and ICAO are working to develop a certification process of electronic passports and digital identities. Based on these principles, a passenger’s digital identity and travel authorization will be registered, asserted and verified online, as well as briefly stored on a cloud-based platform or digital devices, virtually removing the requirement for documents altogether.
“We also need to ensure that all actors trust that form of identity, particularly the border control, which must know whether an ID has been tampered with and its owner is authorized to come into the country,” Canu continues. “So, part of One ID is also to allow the storage of digital travel authorizations.”
Finally, being able to log personal data onto a platform means even the most unexpected, last-minute procedures can be dealt with remotely. This would permit government agencies to use a person’s digital identity to produce emergency documents without needing the passenger to go to the consulate personally.
Real-time access through biometrics
Once trust is established, and a virtual bank of digital data is created, access will need to be granted to all stakeholders involved. IATA’s solution to this is the so-called identity management platform (IMP). A system where stakeholders will be able to access passenger identity data and signals for passenger processing. Which will grant them real-time visibility of passenger movements throughout the airport.
As Canu explains: “Once you have this system, then you can also introduce a brand new element, the biometric recognition. So, when you as a passenger walk through the airports, rather than having to show your documents multiple times. Your face is just what you need to be recognized. It’s checked against the gallery of images which is built just for the duration of the departure processes and if it matches, you’re good to travel.”
Visas and other travel authorizations would also be integrated into the IMP. “When governments receive your information,” adds Canu, They perform a number of security checks making sure that you are not on their watch list, and that you’re not persona non grata within the country.
“We want countries to do that in advance, at least 2 days before the travel to ensure that if you’re not likely to be refused at the border, we prefer that you are before departure, it’s easier to handle the situation.”
Lack of trialing opportunities makes implementation harder
As Canu herself concedes, several issues still need to be addressed before One ID can become available. Specifically, the lack of a trialing phase and the need to establish trust and uniformity amongst different stakeholders make achieving this goal far from easy.
First of all, launching such a system might take longer than expected due to the fact that there are not current trials to test its practicability. “We are trying to be realistic,” she says. “We think we’ll have a fair implementation of the system by 2035, and this is because there are only some elements of one ID being trialed, there’s no full end-to-end process presently being tested.”
Adding to this, Canu explains that industry-wide collaboration is paramount to making One ID work, although not always achievable: “If we wish One ID to be efficient, we need to have this cooperation between airlines, airports, and governments,” she says.
“This is taking place in some countries but not everywhere. The challenge will be to make sure that we have this cooperation at least in the major markets where we process the highest number of passengers.”
Communication and cooperation will be equally important on the consumer’s end. As Canu says more needs to be done to establish passenger’s trust in biometric technology. “There’s a need to better communicate on what data is already shared with governments,” she continues, “as many people complain that they don’t want governments to have their biometric data but don’t realize that they already have it; when you show your passport, there’s a picture of you which is your biometric.”
Fifteen years down the line, IATA hopes its solution can at first be adopted in markets that are struggling with capacity.
“One ID is going to be possible in the coming years in 2 or 3 countries, however a rollout of the project and wider adoption isn’t going to be for now,” says Canu. “This is first because you need to have some specification for the digital identity, the first step will be next year, then governments can have to produce those IDs.”
This makes for an additional inconvenience for IATA, as she admits that while the solution will eventually remove the need to use documents all together, passengers will still be advised to bring their own at least in the first few years of implementation.
In this context, IATA is encouraging more and more governments to follow the US’ example and take charge of checking passengers’ documents away from airlines. As Canu explains, “Although airlines are in principle still liable, it’s the government who truly takes this responsibility. So, in the coming years, we hope that we could see a lot of those examples to remove the liability from airlines’ shoulders.”