Abu Dhabi to launch facial recognition at Midfield Terminal - from check-in to boarding

Advanced biometrics technology to eliminate need for passports and boarding passes being tested at Abu Dhabi International Airport

Ibrahim Al Mannaee, chief executive of Next50, left, and Jamal Salem Al Dhaheri, chief executive of Abu Dhabi Airports, sign an agreement to introduce facial recognition that will allow travellers at Abu Dhabi International Airport to check in, clear immigration, enter lounges and board flights using only biometric data. Photo: Next50
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Abu Dhabi Airports is to introduce facial recognition at its new Midfield Terminal Building, from check-in to boarding, to reduce airport queuing times and eliminate the need for passengers to present passports and boarding passes at every checkpoint.

The biometric technology, which uses passengers’ facial features instead of passports to clear them for travel, will be introduced gradually.

Testing is under way on Etihad Airways' flights to the US through the immigration pre-clearance facility in Abu Dhabi International Airport, the airport operator said on Wednesday.

In the coming months, the biometrics system will be expanded across the airport for all airlines to use before being rolled out at the Midfield Terminal once it opens.

Abu Dhabi Airports is financing the system and on Wednesday signed an agreement with Next50, an Abu Dhabi-based industrial AI company, to deliver the service. Next50 is a joint venture between Abu Dhabi holding company ADQ and artificial intelligence and cloud computing company G42.

“What we've done is work with Abu Dhabi Airports on enhancing the passenger journey and making it seamless so that when you arrive at the check-in counter, you're no longer required to present your passport as a form of verification. Instead, we're just using the facial ID,” Ibrahim Al Mannaee, chief executive of Next50, told The National on the sidelines of the Abu Dhabi Air Expo.

“Definitely, this will ease the queues and people waiting at the airport.”

Airline customers want more convenience throughout their trip, particularly through the use of biometrics to speed up the journey, a Global Passenger Survey by the International Air Transport Association (Iata) showed.

About 75 per cent of passengers surveyed want to use biometric data instead of passports and boarding passes. More than a third have already experienced using biometric identification in their travels, with an 88 per cent satisfaction rate. But data protection remains a concern for about half of travellers, the survey showed.

The new biometrics technology will use smart cameras to capture an image of a passenger’s face and confirm whether the person is cleared to travel.

The system will allow travellers at Abu Dhabi International Airport to check in, clear immigration, enter lounges and board flights using only biometric data, without the need to present passports or boarding passes, said Maj Gen Suhail Al Khaili, director general of the Federal Authority for Identity, Citizenship, Customs and Port Security.

Next50 has been working on the system for the past seven to eight months, collaborating with stakeholders including the airport as well as airline and government entities, Mr Al Mannaee said.

“The use of biometric technology in the aviation industry is a game-changing advancement that will, without a doubt, transform the way we travel,” Abu Dhabi Airports said.

The holistic biometric technology is the first of its kind globally, said Jamal Al Dhaheri, managing director and chief executive of Abu Dhabi Airports.

The move comes before Etihad Airways increases flights to JFK International Airport in New York to 11 a week, from four a week, starting November 15.

Updated: November 07, 2022, 9:19 AM