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Hong Kong aviation

Face scans will get you through security and onto your flight from Hong Kong from next year

Passports and boarding cards to take back seat to new technology at one of the world’s busiest airports

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 October, 2017, 7:48pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 October, 2017, 11:39pm

A quick face scan will soon be enough to get you through security, past immigration and onto your plane from Hong Kong, bosses at the city’s airport have announced.

By next year, biometric technology will be used instead of boarding passes and passports, in a plan that promises a seamless exit from the city.

Hong Kong International Airport is one of the world’s busiest airports, passed through by 70 million people in 2016. And it will be one of the first major adopters of facial recognition technology, which it plans to roll out for the second quarter of 2018.

Fred Lam Tin-fuk, chief executive of the Hong Kong Airport Authority, said the innovative overhaul was meant “to enhance the passenger’s experience and digitise all the facilities and make the airport operation smarter”.

The authority said travellers, under the plan, would show their passport at their first check-in, and give a face scan. After that, they would use the face scans to get through security and immigration and for boarding.

Earlier this month, the Immigration Department previewed how it would adopt facial technology for border clearance. The airport will take that technology across the whole site.

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A number of airports are adopting similarly advanced technology.

In mainland China, tech giant Baidu has been testing facial recognition for staff at Beijing Capital International Airport, with a view to an eventual full roll-out like Hong Kong’s. Airlines in the United States are testing out similar equipment.

Benefiting from building their facilities from scratch, bosses at Singapore’s Changi Airport have built their soon-to-open fourth terminal with the advanced technology installed. Hong Kong travellers will benefit from the new experience when Cathay Pacific Airways moves into the new terminal at the end of the month.

Explaining how facial recognition would work in Hong Kong, Chris Au Young, general manager of the authority’s hi-tech initiatives, said: “By the middle of next year, we are going to allow passengers to enrol their face at check-in, to get past the security checkpoint, and show their face and board the plane.

“We think this will give the passenger another level of seamless experience compared with the tradition of showing your boarding pass and passport to multiple people at multiple points. This will give passengers a totally new experience in fast travel and an easier and simplified travel experience.”

More details are expected to be released when the changes come in.

Lam said the investment in digital technology was ongoing, and that meant the authority could not say exactly how much it was spending on the initiatives.

In other technological changes behind the scenes, the airport will use self-driving baggage containers to shuttle luggage around the airfield, and conduct automated runway inspections, replacing humans driving up and down in cars.