DULLES, Va.–The authority that oversees Dulles International and Reagan National airports near Washington, D.C., this month unveiled its own design of a facial recognition system that it will deploy to both airports this fall to meet a government mandate that all foreign nationals departing the U.S. have their biometrics checked to help ensure they are leaving the country in accordance with their visas.
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s (MWAA) veriScan system captures a facial photo of all travelers at the boarding gate of international flights just before they make for the jetway to board the aircraft. Once the photo is captured, an encrypted file is then delivered to a Customs and Border Protection database, called the Traveler Verification Service, that contains the photos of all passengers booked for a particular flight, and if a match is generated, the traveler is cleared to enter the jetway.
Photos of travelers are captured as they are moving toward the camera, with the entire process of capture, matching and clearance taking less than two seconds per person, a MWAA official told Defense Daily.
CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said during a presentation at Dulles for media, government, airline, airport and other stakeholders that match rates are in the 98 to 99 percent rate regardless of race or gender.
For the Dulles and Reagan deployments, veriScan will be donated to all airlines with international flights, which amounts to about 71 flights daily at Dulles and between 11 and 13 at Reagan. Operations and maintenance of the systems will be the responsibility of the airlines. The MWAA official said it takes 30 minutes to train a gate agent on how to use the system.
The business model that MWAA is using for veriScan is unique so far in that with the system developed in house using commercial off-the-shelf technology, the costs are low. The camera application is on an Apple iPad, and combined with proprietary software for encrypting the photo and sending it to CBP and the inhouse staff talent, veriScan is about one-tenth the cost of other biometric exit systems being priced, the MWAA official said.
Jack Potter, MWAA’s president and CEO, told HSR after the presentations that after hearing what the proposed costs would be to deploy facial recognition technology at each international departure gate, he directed his technical staff to develop the in-house solution. He said veriScan was developed in just over a month and was ready to begin testing in mid-July.
After about 45 days of testing, MWAA now hopes veriScan will be deployed to all of its international airlines by Nov. 1, although Potter told attendees that the pace of the rollout will depend on the airlines.
Congress mandated that biometrics be used to verify the entry and exit of all foreign nationals arriving to and departing from the U.S. as a way to better identify these individuals and to ensure they aren’t known or suspected terrorists. CBP has been using fingerprints for around 15 years to record the entry of foreign national into the U.S., and is now also adding facial recognition to the arrival process as a way to speed up the entry. McAleenan said that using facial recognition to identify people before they reach a CBP station, has sped up processing to one or two minutes per person versus upwards of 10 where the technology isn’t being used.
For now, at Dulles and Reagan, the photo taken by veriScan and matched through the TVS serves as a traveler’s identity document but they still have to present their boarding pass. In the near future, working with the airlines, Potter said the hope is for the facial recognition process to take the place of both the travel document and boarding pass, which will further speed the boarding process.
Still, Potter said that passengers for a flight aboard an Airbus A380 jumbo jet, which can hold well over 300 passengers, boarded in 23 minutes using the current two-step process with veriScan.
Some airlines are already evaluating facial recognition technology to meet the biometric exit mandate and serve as a traveler’s boarding pass. Potter said that MWAA is working with American Airlines [AAL], United Airlines [UAL], Air France KLM and Scandinavian Airlines to use the biometric check as the boarding pass as well.
As part of Sept. 6 presentations, representatives from United, Air France KLM, and Scandinavian Airlines also spoke briefly in support of MWAA’s and CBP’s efforts with biometric technology at Dulles, calling it a model of collaboration and a pathway to increased efficiency and customer satisfaction.
In addition to Dulles and Reagan, Orlando International Airport in Florida and Norm Mineta San Jose International Airport in California this year have also begun the deployment of facial recognition technology to meet the biometric exit mandate. Orlando and San Jose are using system integrators for their deployments.
McAleenan said there are currently seven letter commitments from the top 25 airports in terms of international flights that are signed up to move forward with biometric exit. He also said discussions are underway with nine of the top 10 airports.
“It’s a rapidly developing adoption of this approach,” McAleenan said.
CBP is vendor neutral toward the camera technology and related needs, McAleenan said. CBP sets the technical standards and if these are met, the agency can take care of the matching, he said.
John Wagner, deputy executive Assistant Commissioner for CBP’s Office of Field Operations, said that images of U.S. citizens that are obtained at the boarding gates are erased and deleted within 12 hours. New photos of foreign nationals are sent to the Department of Homeland Security’s authoritative biometric database, called IDENT, he said.
McAleenan noted that CBP is working with the Transportation Security Administration to evaluate facial recognition technology at airport security checkpoints. Scott Jonson, the TSA’s Federal Security Director at Dulles, attended the CBP and MWAA presentation and told HSR afterward that he would like to evaluate veriScan at a checkpoint at his airport.