The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) has
become the newest player in airport biometric facial-recognition and boarding
technology. But uniquely, the only hardware needed to operate the technology,
known as Veriscan, is an iPad.
"We wanted to be flexible. We wanted to be adaptable,"
said MWAA chief information officer Goutam Kundu, whose technology innovation team designed the software.
The MWAA debuted the system last July at Dulles. Currently,
18 airlines are using it at international departure gates there, and JetBlue is
using the system at Washington Reagan National.
The MWAA also has its first airport customer for the system,
Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), which tested it last fall and is now deploying
Veriscan in partnership with nine airlines in its international Terminal D.
The rollouts relate to a mandate from Congress that U.S.
Customs and Border Protection collect biometric records on all foreign
nationals departing the U.S. In an April report, the Department of Homeland
Security said that it is working toward full implementation of biometric exit
from airports within the next four years.
The exit checks advance the federal government's goal of
more thoroughly tracking visa overstays by foreign nationals. The use of
biometric exit technology provides customs officials with more reliable
confirmation that someone has departed on a flight than do airlines' passenger
As of the end of the 2018 federal fiscal year last
September, biometric exit solutions had been deployed at 15 airports. Last
fall, Orlando Airport became the first in the U.S. to deploy facial-recognition
technology at all international departure gates.
Primarily, the technology employed at those exit gates has
comprised solutions developed by the tech companies NEC, SITA and Vision Box.
Broadly speaking, the MWAA's Veriscan operates in a similar
fashion to those companies' solutions. Flyers have their photo taken by a
biometric facial-recognition system deployed at the departure gate. The photo
is then matched to passport and visa photos that Homeland Security has on file.
Processing takes just a couple of seconds. Once a match is
verified, the traveler is cleared for U.S. departure and informed of this via
videoscreen. There is no need to produce a passport.
If the systems are integrated with an airline's passenger
manifest, they enable the passenger to go directly from the photo kiosk onto
the aircraft without showing a ticket.
However, Kundu said a major differentiator for the MWAA's
Veriscan solution is the simplicity that comes from its deployment via iPads.
The NEC, SITA and Vision Box solutions are deployed via their own hardware.
Kundu said the MWAA decided to develop its own technology
after concluding that available products in the marketplace were pricier and
more heavily engineered than they had to be. The products, he added, required
expensive supporting infrastructure, in some cases including cables and
"Supporting something like that for the long run was
going to be very expensive," Kundu said.
Indeed, Michael Youngs, DFW's vice president of information
technology services, said price was a major factor in the airport's decision
over the winter to deploy Veriscan. At the time, Veriscan cost significantly
less than half of the cost of its marketplace competitors on a per-unit basis.
Youngs said the airport was also impressed by the speed at which the MWAA was
able to come to Dallas and install a pilot of the system.
"The cost, the simplicity of the solution and the
experience that MWAA had implementing it at their own airport really impressed
us," Youngs said.
So far, nine of the 11 airlines that fly internationally
from DFW have begun using Veriscan at the airport, Youngs said, and they've
experienced matching success rates of 97%.
Those carriers are using the system only for exit clearance
thus far and haven't integrated their passenger manifests into the process to
enable ticketless boarding. DFW's largest carrier, American, has not yet begun
using the system, but Youngs said that is because American is working to
integrate the full solution, including ticketless boarding. American plans to
install Veriscan at its first gate by the end of June.
Among the 19 airlines using Veriscan at the Washington-area
airports, four have begun using it for ticketless boarding in addition to
facial exit verification, Kundu said. The success rate has been 98.5%, meaning
that the likelihood of a false positive or negative ID is just 1.5%.