Heathrow airport tests iris scanning

Selected travelers arriving at London’s Heathrow airport may now bypass the customs queue and enter England by glancing into a camera.

Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. and British Airways PLC, together with U.S. technology company EyeTicket Corp., are following what seems to be a trend, and on Friday announced a five-month trial of a self-service border passage system using iris recognition.

Up to 2,000 American transatlantic flyers who travel frequently with Virgin and British Airways will be invited to use the system in London. These travelers must have their irises scanned and their identity verified by the U.K. immigration service before they can use the service. The iris data will be stored in a central database, but separate from all other passenger information held by immigration and the airlines, the companies said in a statement.

Self-service immigration stations, dubbed JetStream, have been placed in the immigration halls of two Heathrow terminals. The barrier is opened and a border passage ticket is issued after looking into a camera about 10 inches (25 centimetres) away.

Other European airports are running similar trials. Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, for example, has issued about 1,200 chip cards to nationals of the European Economic Area in a trial that started in October and is set to last a year. Users of the Dutch system carry their own iris information on the chipcard and can also use the system for departures.

Iris recognition is a form of biometric identification, just as palm recognition, fingerprinting and facial scans. Iris recognition is seen as one of the most reliable types because the iris, the coloured portion of the eye, never changes and is unique for each person.

Virgin Atlantic in Crawley, England and can be reached at +44-1293-747747, or on the Web athttp://www.virginatlantic.com/

British Airways in Harmondsworth, England, can be reached at +44-845-779-9977, or on the Web athttp://www.ba.com/