Airports without passports?

LAS VEGAS – If you are going to the airport you need to prepare yourself to be inconvenienced. The check-in and security lines seem to be getting longer and longer.

But one woman is trying to drastically change this experience for passengers.

Colleen Manaher is a U.S. Border Security officer, and she took to the stage at the 2017 AWS Re:Invent show, in full dress uniform, to tell the audience of of a passport-less, boarding pass-less airport experience that she said is coming sooner than you think.

According to Manaher, security officers will soon be going to a transformational change in the service they currently provide. Operations such as the U.S. Customs, Border and Protection Service is rethinking how they look at and manage identification data. Manaher had a light-bulb moment during a tour of Under Armour, the sports apparel manufacturer, where she learned about just-in-time data along with using data for what you need at that given moment.

Just-in-time data management led to many questions for Manaher such as what if security was managed through a plane’s manifest? Or a cruise ship or land border traffic passenger lists?

Colleen Manaher of the U.S. Customs & Border Protection service at the AWS Re:Invent 2017 show

“When we look at the data we have there is no ‘me’ in it and we need more ‘me’ if we want to transform border security,” she said.

Manaher is working with airlines such as Delta and JetBlue. Government agencies such as TSA along with cloud provider AWS, technology vendor NEC and consultancy Deloitte to create a new vision of security for passenger travel.

“Let’s say you are at home and on your couch and you suddenly need to get to London and be back home in three days. What do you do? You’ll go on your laptop and there will be a facial recognition app that will capture your image and that image will be sent to U.S. Customs, Border and Protection (CPP),” she said. “We already know 98 per cent of the people who travel already. So, you are on your way to the airport and you have baggage to check in. You will not have to show your passport or your boarding pass. Instead your face will check in your bag. TSA security will be waiting for you and more importantly they’ll know that you’re coming. They know this because CPP will have told them.”

All of this will be done with a tablet device using a plane’s manifest, she said, and the passenger check-in process will be completed ahead of time.

The second part of this equation is a person’s travel going home. Manaher said, a process that she said will soon be as simple as sending a text message welcoming you home and informing you to report to global entry, with no line to wait in.

This new airport screening process is being piloted right now at JFK Airport in New York. Manaher said that behind the curtain its all about the image the traveller sends, through the cloud, to CPP. “And, this all happens in two-seconds with AWS services such as EC3, RDS, Cloud Watch, Glacier and Direct Connect,” she added.

The promise of a passport-less airport experience will be about video analytics and machine learning. “It’s a face on the move,” she said. Manaher went on to say that CPP will be able to look into a crowd and know where a man named John is. “This is the future.”


Beyond the JFK pilot, two Vancouver-area solution providers, TriNimbus Technology and Innovative Travel Solutions, the latter an independent business that works inside the Vancouver International Airport, are also working on similar passenger processing challenges.

Innovative Travel Solutions has already developed a BorderXpress kiosk for the airport. There are more than 1,200 of these kiosks through airports in Canada, the U.S., the Caribbean and in Pacific Rim countries.

The Vancouver Airport Authority is Canada’s second busiest airport and serves approximately 22.3 million passengers a year. There are 55 airlines at the Vancouver Airport and it can enable people to get to more than 125 countries around the world.

These kiosks were hosted on two on-premise data centres right inside the Vancouver airport. This ended up being tough to support for those machines outside the city of Vancouver.

Innovative Travel Solutions wanted to scale this solution because the company knew it was growing fast and there were plans to deploy more of these units at other airports. The idea of the virtual server came about, but for that to work security needed to be a major focus because of the confidentiality of the data being processed.

Innovative Travel Solutions is working on developing a commercial version of this solution so that they can distribute it to other airports around the world.

Meanwhile, the TriNimbus solution consists of a similar plan that is now being used in 34 airports in Canada, the U.S., the Caribbean, and some Pacific Rim countries, with Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud supporting the airport’s application and supporting servers. One of the added benefits of this cloud solution is that border-control now has around the clock guaranteed high availability for kiosk apps. App uptime along with system updates through AWS CloudFormation templates are now seamlessly refreshed on virtual servers.

Under this solution, the airport can add new virtual servers as needed.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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