The Changi Airport Group, which manages Singapore’s Changi Airport, has announced a phased re-opening of the refreshed and updated Terminal 2 beginning May 29. Biometric identity will help expedite passenger processing at this terminal as Changi Airport prepares for increased passenger traffic in the coming months.
Changi’s T2 closed for upgrading work in May 2020, taking advantage of a reduction in passenger numbers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The upgrades are ongoing, with a planned completion date of 2024. When work is finished, the upgraded terminal is expected to handle five million more passengers than it did before the project began. This increase would put the terminal’s capacity at 28 million passenger movements per year.
The first phase of T2’s progressive re-opening addresses the needs of peak-hour travel for airlines operating in Terminal 3. It adds capacity for critical touchpoints, including arrival immigration, baggage claim belts, and contact gates at the southern wing of the terminal. A few flights will depart from boarding gates at T2, though passengers will still check-in and clear departure immigration at T3 during this phase of the reopening.
Mr Tan Lye Teck, CAG’s Executive Vice President of Airport Management, said of the reopening, “CAG is encouraged to see the strong pickup in travel demand and has worked closely with our partners to bring forward the progressive reopening of T2 ahead of the June travel peak to meet this demand. The start of flight operations at T2 will provide more capacity to support our airline partners, who are also gearing up to serve more passengers in the months ahead. T2 will reopen in phases over the next two years to support Changi’s recovery as a regional air hub.”
Biometric automation at immigration
One of the expanded T2 features will be a larger Arrival Immigration Hall. It will rely on automated immigration lanes and wider special assistance lanes to speed up passenger processing. The automated immigration lanes will be available to Singaporeans and residents who have enrolled their iris and facial biometrics with the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA). Eligible foreign visitors who have registered their biometrics on arrival in Singapore can also access these lanes.
Singapore’s ICA has embraced biometric ID, introducing the Multi-Modal Biometrics System (MMBS), which captures iris, facial and/or fingerprints of arriving and departing travellers at ICA passenger halls. ICA also has plans to make biometric identification available to foreign travellers who may visit Singapore often and prefer the speed and convenience by allowing them to register for Biometric ID for future trips. The Straits Times reports separately that the ICA intends automated clearance to be the norm for all travellers to Singapore beginning next year, 2023. The automating of these processes also supports pandemic containment, reducing the number of interpersonal contact points throughout the journey.
Passengers welcome biometric touchpoints.
The adoption of biometric automated immigration lanes is consistent with the advance of this form of identification and its popularity with passengers. The Global Passenger Survey (GPS) published by the International Air Transport Association in November of last year reflected greater trust placed on this technology.
- 73% of passengers are willing to share their biometric data to improve airport processes (up from 46% in 2019).
- 51% would be willing to share their biometric data with partners, including hotels and car rental companies, if it helps facilitate their onward journey.
- 36% have experienced using biometric data when travelling.
- 86% of those who have used biometric data to travel were satisfied with the experience.
And the immigration process accounts for two of the top three touchpoints where passengers welcome the ease of biometric identity:
- 51% Entry Immigration
- 47% Exit Immigration
- 34% Security check
Airports have been investing in IT to support greater automation of the journey, with biometrics playing an essential role in that. SITA’s IT Trends report reveals:
- 84% of airports will invest in self-service processes.
- 83% of airports will implement touchless solutions for passengers and staff.
- Nearly three-quarters of airports are also investing in biometric ID management solutions for passengers (74%), with 45% of those planning significant programs and 29% conducting R&D programs.
As SITA reports, “Investment in solutions for passenger identity management have increased in 2021, with several areas seeing growing implementation.” SITA says biometric identity will support several passenger processes beyond border control.
- Self-check-in remains a key aspect of identity management solutions, with over half of airports (59%) in 2021 having implemented this (up from 46% last year).
- A further 23% plan to implement self-check-in by 2024. Self bag-drop also remains critical, with 46% having invested (up from 35% last year) and a further 32% planning to do so.
- Airport security (up from 28% to 40%) and enrolment at the airport (up from 20% to 29%) have seen growth in the past year.
For future investment, the focus is on departure and boarding gates.
- 27% of airports have implemented automated border gates at departure using biometrics and travel documents, but 64% plan to have these implemented by 2024.
- 24% have implemented self-boarding gates using biometrics only, but 62% plan to by 2024.
- Over the next three years, 38% of airports plan to implement a secure, single biometric token for all touchpoints, though this is only implemented in 3% of airports today.
Is this the dawning of the age of passport-less travel?
Big hullabaloos made over the colour of passport books may be a thing of the past sooner than we might have imagined. As biometric identity becomes the norm, these paper documents could go the way of the dodo.
While the universal deployment of biometric identification is a welcome concept in the travel space, some issues with the technology will still need to be ironed out before we leap forward. Addressing data security, privacy controls, restricted access to biometric databases, and eliminating false-positive/false-negative results are only a few of these issues. There are ethical concerns, particularly in terms of the broader application of biometric data in commercial spaces. What is the risk of our biometric identifiers being sold or traded between companies and for consumer profiling? It is far greater than zero.
For those who may want to take a quick look at the possibilities and challenges ahead in a biometric world, this Thales Group report is a good resource.
Singapore’s broad adoption of biometric identity, and similar programs advancing elsewhere in the world, could mean at least some of us will get to experience a journey right out of what has been, up to now, merely speculative fiction.
The question becomes what we will make of this brave new world.