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Avoiding delays at a high-tech airport

Introduced five years ago, the high-tech Privium identity system allows travelers to record their passport information and unique iris patterns on a smart card.

india Updated: May 06, 2006 10:45 IST

For Wesley Britton, signing up to have his irises scanned at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport was an easy decision.

A structural engineer in the space industry, Britton passes through the bustling European hub four times a week, and being able to avoid long passport lines can often mean the difference between making or missing a connecting flight.

"I actually go through the airport quite often, so this was worth it," Britton said, after spending about 20 minutes in Schiphol's Privium office to sign up for the service.

Schiphol, at its peak, handles about 160,000 passengers per day, and is one of the world's most modern airports, with iris-scanners and a security scanner that would replace body searches, now being tested. There is also airport-wide wireless Internet access, countless flat-panel screens and, as it is close to the city, a live map online that tells nearby residents which runways are being used and what levels of jet noise to expect.

Introduced five years ago, the high-tech Privium identity system allows travelers to record their passport information and unique iris patterns on a smart card. Then, with a quick scan of either eye to verify identity -- a method widely considered more secure than fingerprints -- an automatic gate opens and Privium members are whisked through immigration.

Total time elapsed: 10 to 15 seconds.

The iris, the colored area around the pupil that controls its size, contains several times more unique information than a fingerprint. Even identical twins have different irises, and the ID method can be used regardless of whether the user is wearing contacts or eyeglasses.

Schiphol, as Amsterdam's airport and starting point for much of travel between Europe and the rest of the world, needs to adopt modern technology to keep the 44 million passengers it handles every year safe and happy, said Mirjam Snoerwang, an airport spokeswoman.

"It's very fast and there's no possibility of fraud," said Snoerwang, who, like other airport employees, is required to use the iris scanning system to enter secure areas.

The program costs 100 euros ($126) per year. For an extra 20 euros, Privium members can get priority check-in as well as priority parking.

No more frisking

In addition to iris-scans, Schiphol is piloting another scanning system that is aimed at speeding up the process of checking a passenger's belongings.

Airline staff and ground personnel at Schiphol must also have their bags and personal belongings checked, and are, in fact, scrutinized more carefully than many of the passengers.

Instead of being frisked by a security guard, the subject can stand in a pod-like machine that uses non-harmful millimeter waves -- different from X-rays -- that can see through clothing and detect any suspicious objects.

To deal with the potential embarrassment of having a body image displayed, all images are viewed in a separate room by security personnel who cannot see the subjects' faces. All images are discarded once viewed.

"It is very quick, compared to being checked," said Coby Tetteroo, a KLM flight attendant on her way to work a domestic flight.

About half of airline and ground personnel use the scanner, which will be piloted until the end of this week. The system is also being tested in Mexico City's airport and London's Paddington train station, with the goal being to ultimately roll it out to all travellers.

That would relieve congestion at many airports -- especially in the United States -- where security and body checks were increased after the Sept 11, 2001, World Trade Centre and Pentagon attacks.

More than 30,000 have signed up for the Privium system, with a similar system being adopted at Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta International Airport.

First Published: May 06, 2006 10:45 IST