Japan to test biometrics for airport check-in

Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport plans to conduct a trial using contactless IC (integrated circuit) chips and biometrics technologies to help accelerate the time it takes to check in at Japanese airports.

The trial, which is expected to be held between mid-January and March next year at Tokyo’s Narita Airport, aims to establish a simpler and faster airport check-in process while maintaining security. It is part of an e-airport initiative announced by the Japanese government in June 2001 that is designed to make Japan’s international airports the most technologically advanced IT in the world, according to a Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport ‘s statement.

Participants include NTT DoCoMo Inc., Japan Airlines Systems Corp. and New Tokyo International Airport Authority. For the trial, 1,000 participants will be chosen among Japan Airlines Systems’ frequent flyers who often travel overseas.

Prior to using the airport, passengers that participate in the trial will need to register their passport information, face recognition data and iris recognition data. Passport information will be put on an IC chip, which can be embedded in either a mobile phone strap – a common accessory for Japanese cell-phone users – or a card that passengers can carry with them.

At check-in, a passenger’s passport information is read through from the contactless IC chip and a facial recognition device confirms that the passenger matches the individual data stored in the chip. After authentication is completed, an automated check-in terminal issues a boarding pass and the passenger proceeds to a security gate. The IC chip and a positive iris match allow the passenger to go through the security gate.

Iris recognition and IC chip are re-authenticated at the boarding gate. The passengers who finish these procedures will be allowed to board aircraft earlier than other passengers, the ministry said.

The trial itself will not significantly reduce check-in time for Japanese passengers, said a ministry official who declined to be identified. In the future, this will achieved by eliminating the need for more passengers to present their passports to an airport official for identification. In this way, the government hopes the system can cut the check-in time in half, he said.

In addition to the automated check-in system several other trials have been conducted this year as part of the e-airport initiative, such as offering wireless LAN services on trains to Narita Airport and at the airport.