Airports invest in security technology

Trials of security-related technologies are beginning to boom at airports worldwide. Three airports and an airline have recently announced trials of products that identify so-called trusted passengers.

Billund Airport in Denmark has installed a Bluetooth network that will track 300 to 500 volunteer passengers as they move throughout the airport. Schiphol Group NV, which operates the Amsterdam airport, is offering its self-service border control system featuring iris-recognition technology to other airports and airlines. Virgin Atlantic Airways is expected to announced a trial tomorrow for the use of biometrics at Heathrow International Airport in London.

Red-M, a British company whose Genos operating system supports both Bluetooth and 802.11-standard wireless technology, has installed a wireless network at Billund Airport that will work in conjunction with BlueTags A/S, an Aalborg, Denmark-based company that manufactures Bluetooth-compliant devices. It’s based on Bluetooth technology from Bluetooth SIG Inc.; the network was developed by Red-M.

Passengers participating in the trial carry Bluetooth-compliant devices with their identification encoded in the BlueTags, which are read by Red-M access points from up to 100 metres away, said Steve Gallagher, director of business development for Red-M. They can pass through checkpoints and have their location tracked throughout the airport. The technology can also be used to find a passenger whose baggage is loaded on a plane, but who hasn’t boarded.

In general, these “trusted” passengers are travelers whose identity has been authenticated by their employers and through frequent-flier programs.

Anders Nielsen, property manager and technical director at Billund, said the trial could prove useful not only to move trusted passengers through the airport but also for other commercial uses. It could be used, for example, in parking garages to tell passengers where the nearest parking space is via a short message system message to a wireless phone, Nielsen said. Likewise, visitors to duty-free shops can get information on sales promotions. Airport planners can track passengers’ movements through the airport to best configure the flow of foot traffic through check-in and security points, he said.

The trial at Billund has been running for a few days with no problems and should be complete after a few weeks, Nielsen said.

In Amsterdam, Schiphol is working with Joh. Enschede BV , provider of the iris-recognition technology, to promote the system worldwide, because international interest since it was launched last October has been “enormous,” said Marianne de Bie, a Schiphol Group spokeswoman. Schiphol and Joh. Enschede intend to start a joint venture, De Bie said.

No deals have been signed, and Schiphol Group won’t speculate on how big the market for its airport security system could be, but initial contacts have been made with European and U.S. airports and airlines, De Bie said.

About 1,200 frequent travelers have been issued passes for the Dutch system, dubbed Privium. These people don’t have to stand in line for customs and instead go through a special passage where their iris geometry is compared with the iris information stored on their passes, after which an automatic gate opens. The user experience has been good, according to De Bie.

In addition, Aeritas Inc. in Dallas is running a pilot of its FreedomPass biometrics program with 2000 of Deutsche Lufthansa AG’s frequent-flier passengers on the Frankfurt to Munich route, which has heavy business travel. That pilot has been under way since May 2001.

The Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic trials will offer similar biometric screening processes.

(Joris Evers of IDG News Service contributed to this report.)