Fingerprints and iris scans to replace the flashing of ID cards at airport check-ins? India’s civil aviation ministry is very close to linking passenger biometrics using ID cards like Aadhar card and passport numbers with the databases of airlines and airports.
An Aadhar-based e-boarding entry is expected to make boarding easier for passengers and heighten security at airports, giving a seamless, paperless experience, similar to marquee airports such as Amsterdam’s Schipol airport, Brisbane airport and Hamad airport (Doha).
Presently, passengers show their printed or mobile air tickets coupled with their government-approved identity card to enter an airport.
IT major Wipro has been given the task of developing a blueprint for Aadhar-based access across India’s airports.
Aviation secretary R N Choubey is quoted as saying in a Times of India report that passengers will in the future be able to use their biometrics to prove identity before entering boarding terminals. They will no longer be required to produce their ID cards.
Nor will a flight ticket or e-ticket be needed as the linked airline databases will show the details of the flight the passengers are booked on.
International flyers, however, will need passports to travel.
Choubey in the TOI report said: “We have set up a special unit in Airports Authority of India (AAI) for giving shape to this ‘digi yatra’ programme. Airport operators, especially from Bangalore and Hyderabad, are part of this as they have done a lot of work in this field. We will soon know the indicative cost of the project and time frame in which it can be implemented.”
Kempegowda International Airport (KIA) in Bengaluru has started an Aadhar-based kiosk as a pilot project, and it is being tested with passengers of one airline.
Passengers of Jet Airways flight 9W 450 from Bengaluru to Mumbai can also experience a digitised, automated airport process, according to a Deccan Herald report.
Baroda and Vijayawada airports are likely to be the next to join this bandwagon.
Airport officials say that giving biometrics at each stage of the airport process will do away with the stamping of “security checked” on physical boarding cards, which is the current practice at airports to check if passengers have been through all the pre-boarding security clearances.
It might also help bring down the cost of security personnel deployment at airports, officials feel.
The database will also reveal if the passenger has been through checking and security check gates before being allowed access to the boarding gate ahead of flight departure time.
This move is expected to end passenger woes as it will reduce crowding at boarding gates and dispel their anxiety of clearing all security protocol in time to board their flights.
“Airlines will also be able to know the last level the missing flyer was at in case he does not report for boarding in time,” Choubey told TOI.
The Bureau of Civil Aviation Security and Central Industrial Security Force have already stopped the stamping of handbag tags at 17 airports and will begin trial runs soon at 10 more airports, including Pune and Ranchi.
An April 11, 2017, Mint report stated that India was now at the fourth spot in 2016 global air traffic rankings. Domestic air traffic definitely saw a surge with India jumping to number six in 2015 with 109 million passengers from the number seven spot in 2014 with 94 million passengers in 2014. Nearly a majority of the passengers were domestic.
The Aadhar privacy row
While it is not mandatory to produce the identification document yet, earlier media reports had suggested that the aviation ministry was planning to make Aadhaar or passport number mandatory for domestic travel very soon.
It remains to be seen whether the SC’s August 24 ruling which declared that privacy was a fundamental right, at par to right to life and liberty, will impact this move in any way.
The ruling was preceded by a debate on privacy that began with legal challenges to Aadhaar-biometric system. The specific case of whether the Aadhar violates the right to privacy will be heard by a separate set of judges soon.
Will this move be a cause for concern?