New Airport System Outsources Security Checks to Computers

The Israel Airports Authority initiated a new system yesterday that enables passengers to carry out required security checks without human interaction when leaving from Ben-Gurion International Airport.

"This is the first stage in the development of a system that will allow, in its final form, the passengers to carry out the entire pre-flight process, starting with security checks, checking in for the flight, passport controls and boarding independently, in a quick, efficient and comfortable way," said Kobi Mor, director general of the Airports Authority.

During the trial stage of the system, which is known as UniPass, only passengers flying El Al who are members of the company's frequent flyer program, known as King David, will be able to participate.

The Airports Authority says UniPass is the first system of its kind in the world. It was developed by the Information and Computing Section of the Security Department at Airports Authority, in cooperation with Bendertech.

The cost of development is expected to reach $15 million.

Signing up for UniPass will be free and over the next two years membership will expand to include the majority of passengers flying out of Ben-Gurion International Airport.

"We have put in place the first stage of an overall system that has computerized the process of passenger departure from Ben-Gurion International Airport," said Zohar Gefen, head of the security checks section at the Airports Authority.

"In the first stage - security checks - instead of a security officer dealing with a passenger one on one, we enable the passengers to register and leave a 'biometric signature' on the computer system [of the airport]. He is issued a 'smart cart' which remembers his characteristics, and the minute the system registers his signature he can move through the 'electronic kiosk' which constitutes the center of the security check as far as the passenger is concerned. The system is able to identify him biometrically and assign him a relevant security level, just like the human security officer does, only better," Gefen explained.

Gefen said the new system will assist the security officer in "carrying out the process faster since the system will remember, for example, the details of the passport [of the individual] passenger every time he departs abroad, and will not need to show his passport to the security officer every time."

In order to join the testing phase, three registration booths will be set up in Area D of the departures hall of Terminal 3, near the EL AL counters. At the time of registration the passenger will be asked to present his passport.

A security official will be at the booth and the passport will be scanned, and he will ensure that the document is not stolen or forged, and that the photograph of the passenger matches up.

A biometric scan of the face and the fingers of the passengers will be made, and then the passenger will be issued a "smart card."

The passenger will then move to a "security stand" - another machine, which will be part of the line where passengers wait for security checks.

First the passenger will be identified by his passport and the "smart card." If there is any problem, for example if the system does not identify the passenger, a security officer will be standing by to identify the passenger.

When the passenger is identified by the system, he will have to respond to a series of questions on the screen. The questions are similar to the ones asked by the security officers - "Who packed your bags? Are you armed?" etc.

As the passenger answers the questions, a camera will identify his facial expressions. Assuming the passenger passes that examination, he moves on to the baggage check stage.

At the El Al check-in, the "smart card" will have already identified him as a passenger that has successfully passed the security checks, and whose luggage has undergone security checks.

During the next stage, where the passengers undergo physical checks, the "smart card" will once again relay the message that the passenger had passed through the security checks. This means that the security officer will not have to search for the clearance sticker currently placed on passports.

Mor told Haaretz that "this is one of many new projects in security that we are beginning to implement at an overall cost of NIS 3 billion. This is in line with the decisions of the board of directors of the Airports Authority," and includes upgrades to various other systems including radar, runways, and area security.