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 manifests. 

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 electronic gates. 

"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%.

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