Author Bio ▼

IFSEC Insider, formerly IFSEC Global, is the leading online community and news platform for security and fire safety professionals.
November 16, 2021


Whitepaper: Enhancing security, resilience and efficiency across a range of industries

Growth in biometrics-driven digital identity to automate airport security and improve passenger experience 

A new report from P.A.ID Strategies and Valour Consultancy has found that the adoption of biometrics will rise four-fold in airports by 2030 – but what does this mean for security? John Devlin from Valour Consultancy explores. 

Efforts have been underway to incorporate more self-service and automation into airport touchpoints for several years. To date, evolving solutions at check in, bag drop, pre-security, immigration and boarding gates have had varying degrees of acceptance.  

Most of us will be accustomed to self-check in kiosks upon arrival at an airport and ABC eGates at border control, as these have both been widely deployed by airlines and government agencies. Depending upon where we live and fly from/to, we may also be familiar with eGates at pre-security and for self boarding. Similarly self-bag drop processes which are deployed in pockets of varying size in different regions. 

In the past three years there has been an increase in the number of touchpoints incorporating biometrics. As a consequence, industry activity and interest has been ramped up. If anything, the ability to process passengers through the necessary touchpoints has been enhanced by the massive disruption and uncertainty in the wake of COVID-19.


As a result, we have forecast that the number of biometrically-enabled touchpoints in airports worldwide will increase from 12,079 at the end of 2020 to over 50,000 in 2030. 

Speaking generally, Asia Pacific and the Middle East have so far led the way for biometric adoption. Some countries in these regions have well-established citizen identity programs which can be utilised, while others have less cultural reservations around the use of biometrics to process passengers.  

Europe has tended to be more cautious – typically opting for automation before progressing to biometrics – but this evolution has begun and is picking up pace. North America has sometimes lagged in this respect, preferring a agent-led approach to security, but some recent developments suggest that this is changing too. Whilst examples can be found in Latin America (and Africa to a much lesser degree), they are less common and have made less progress in the past two years.  

Some of this trend has been driven – and limited – by regulatory approach and government mandates. Border control is an obvious application, making use of ePassports and the personal data that they hold, to match with biometrics captured on-site. Others are more commercially driven, with paid-for traveller programmes offering expedited passage through one or more touchpoints. As airlines and airports compete on a wider array of factors than price alone, the benefit of an improved passenger experience is now coming to the fore. Greater emphasis is being placed on reassuring passengers of safe, contactless/touchless travel and quicker, smoother passage through airports. 

Additional benefits related to the greater adoption of self-service and automated touchpoints are improved operational efficiency, more flexibility in processes and staffing, improved retail and ancillary revenue opportunities plus increasingly tailored services to passengers with the digitisation of operations. 

Airlines, including AirAsia, Delta and Lufthansa have all started to offer optional biometric enrolment into their identity programmes. Automating this process, whether via mobile apps or on-site kiosks, improves the accuracy and reliability of data capture, eliminating manual entry errors and providing a high level of assurance when verifying a user’s identity and matching to their passport data. This has become increasingly common in other regulated environments, such as banking and financial services, and there is no reason (bar outdated regulations and processes) why this cannot be more widely deployed within aviation and travel sectors.  

Airport biometrics improving authentication processes

However, a successful model is not solely reliant on registration and capture; it is also about subsequent inspection and authentication. Biometrics provide a much quicker means of confirming traveller identity with a known level of accuracy and is less suspect to variable manual errors. Passenger throughput and flow management is improved and can be tracked and assessed using the (anonymised) data gathered as a result. 

An additional benefit of biometric touchpoints is in terms of flexibility and efficiency. Most, if not all, airlines and airports are presently operating under a cloud of uncertainty and with reduced headcounts. More self-service and automation technologies allow personnel to be focused on where they are most needed. An eGate at pre-security can check boarding passes, ensuring only those with the correct access and credentials are passed through without staff interaction. Similarly, self-bag drop and self-boarding gates can serve the majority of passengers with minimal staff intervention; typically one member of staff can supervise four or five stations whilst one or two others are on hand to support those with additional requirements. These smarter touchpoints can also better cope with varying levels of demand and can be scaled to different airport tiers, ranging from full implementations to the use of lower-cost pods and camera stations. 


The ability to integrate biometric touchpoints into security and border management platforms is acting as a driver to evolve traditional processes. At present, some countries still mandate agent inspection of passenger identity credentials and boarding passes at bag drop and departure gates. More instances of touchpoints being linked to offer seamless passage through airports will be realised as regulations adapt to permit these new approaches. 

We are already seeing both international and domestic implementations of seamless, curb-to-gate, touchless, biometric processing, incorporating border control and supporting smart borders and immigration policies. These are not yet widespread, but with stakeholder support within the sector growing, this is starting to gather pace and is reflected in the four-fold increase projected. 

The next stages will see more mobile enrolment and the incorporation of digital identity “wallets” and digital travel credentials (DTCs), which in-turn will help to facilitate an evolution in security and border control. As stakeholders become more comfortable with compliance relating to privacy and protection of personal data they will look to such solutions as a basis to gather, process and share passenger data. Combined with behavioural and data analytics, machine learning and risk-based decision making it will be possible to extend seamless experiences to seamless borders and traveller processing in airports.  

Initial project implementations are underway and being assessed in countries including Canada, the Netherlands and the UAE where the aim is to allow 80% of passengers to pass through passively monitored checkpoints without stopping. The remaining 20% will be subject to varying degrees of checks, depending on the calculated level of compliance and risk. 

Read the full report, here >> The Seamless Passenger Journey in Smart Airports – 2021


Listen to the IFSEC Insider podcast!

Each month, the IFSEC Insider (formerly IFSEC Global) Security in Focus podcast brings you conversations with leading figures in the physical security industry. Covering everything from risk management principles and building a security culture, to the key trends ahead in tech and initiatives on diversity and inclusivity, the podcast keeps security professionals up to date with the latest hot topics in the sector.

Available online, and on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts, tune in for an easy way to remain up to date on the issues affecting your role.


Related Topics

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments