Facial-recognition systems used at Virginia airports

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Facial-recognition technology is being used at about 15 high-volume airports around the country.

Passengers speed through the international boarding areas at Washington Dulles International and Ronald Reagan Washington National airports in seconds, thanks to new facial-recognition technology.

The technology helps streamline passenger verification on outbound international flights. Large aircraft such as a double-decker Airbus A380 are “boarding 500 passengers in 22 minutes. Normally it takes 45 to 50 minutes to board,” says Colleen Manaher, executive director; planning, program analysis and evaluation in the office of field operations for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The new biometric screening system at Dulles and Reagan, veriScan, was designed by the Office of Technology at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) in partnership with the CBP. MWAA oversees the two Washington-area airports. The system was developed in response to a congressional mandate for CBP to implement biometric exit processes for commercial flights leaving the U.S. 

With veriScan, passengers walk up to an iPad equipped with the custom-developed software.  Their photos are taken, encrypted and transmitted to CBP. The airport pictures are matched against existing travel document photos.

“Currently it’s being used in a two-step process. The first step, the passenger presents a boarding pass to the gate agent. With the second step, veriScan technology replaces manually checking a passport or document,” says Andrew Trull, a MWAA spokesman. “We are moving to a one-step process that will replace both the document check and a boarding pass for passengers.”

Airlines began a veriScan pilot program at Dulles in July. Reagan activated the system for a limited number of international flights in late November.

“To date, we have used the technology to process more than 20,000 passengers boarding at Dulles to fly internationally with a 99 percent match rate,” says Trull.

Facial-recognition technology now is being used for exit and entry of international passengers at about 15 high-volume airports around the country.

Some third-party vendors have developed software that meets the CBP’s specifications, but MWAA found its in-house solution is equally effective at about a tenth of the cost of commercial options.

“We decided instead of investing in those, we would develop our own software,” Trull says. “It’s more flexible and versatile.”

Twenty-seven airlines that either tested veriScan or participated in a pilot program at Dulles are now adopting the facial-recognition system.

The early adopters include SAS, United, Air France, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Emirates. Other airlines and airports also are interested in using veriScan.

“We would like to see it expand,” Trull says. “We are doing pilot programs and tests at other airports.”

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