Governments and industry must act to facilitate “seamless travel” and prevent aviation gridlock, the head of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) has warned.
WTTC president and chief executive Gloria Guevara said: “In two or three years, your face could be your passport and boarding pass. That is what we want to achieve.”
Guevara noted the industry handles four million air passengers a year globally, but airline association Iata forecasts numbers will double by 2037.
She told the International Travel Crisis Management Summit (ITCMS) in London: “Are we going to grow the number of airports 100%? I don’t think so.”
Guevara said industry and governments must act “if we are to move from processing 10 million passengers a day at airports to 22 million a day”.
She told the summit: “In Washington last week we announced the first round-trip biometric pilot study, Dallas to London – involving two airlines, two airports, multiple hotels, a cruise line and car rental sharing information. We will announce a second pilot soon.
“We want to increase security while creating a seamless experience. I don’t want to spend more time in lines.”
Guevara insisted: “A seamless travel journey offers an opportunity for growth despite capacity issues. There is an opportunity to transform the way we travel.”
But she said: “It needs a harmonised approach. There is still a lot of work to be done.”
Isabel Hill, director of the National Travel and Tourism Office at the US Department of Commerce, said the US is an advanced stage of testing biometric security.
She said: “This is succeeding as a security programme and as a facial-recognition programme.
“Machines read faces in some cases better than border staff. We can board a 400-seat plane in about 22 minutes. It is very exciting.”
Hill said the system has had a 97% success rate in trial.
She added: “We own the back-end, the private sector owes the front end [of the system].
“It is primarily about security but not just counter terrorism, we are looking at criminal activity, at intellectual theft, at pandemics as well.”
Matthew Finn, managing director of security consultancy Augmentiq, agreed biometric facial recognition “is absolutely the way to go”.
But he told the summit: “There are challenges and they are significant. Data is very easy to optimise and automate. The technology is there – how to do it is the hard part.
“There is a lot of talk about collaboration but not a lot of people are collaborating – handlers, airports, technology companies.
“Privacy is a very important concern, so is political will and appetite.”
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