Experience Matters: Hermes Airports improves border control with biometric kiosks
14 November 2019 14:37 GMT

As air travel continues to increase exponentially in Europe and around the world, airports must continuously strive to keep pace with increased passenger traffic. As industry leaders, we know firsthand the challenges that this can present and the importance of finding an innovative solution that balances safety and security with efficiency.

Our teams at Hermes Airports and Innovative Travel Solutions by Vancouver International Airport (ITS) partnered to help address increasing passenger volumes at the immigration areas of Pafos (PFO) and Larnaka (LCA)  International Airports, which are especially busy during the summer season. To effectively handle this growth, ITS’ self-service biometric-enabled BorderXpress kiosks became the smart border control solution.

July 2019 marked the one-year anniversary of Pafos and Larnaka Airports having implemented BorderXpress technology. Since then, both airports have significantly reduced passenger processing times, from between 50 to 80 seconds down to 15 to 30 seconds, essentially eliminating queues altogether — a huge accomplishment.

We strongly believe that the challenges overcome and the improvements both Pafos and Larnaka Airports have experienced can serve as a model for success, especially as airports across Europe prepare to fulfill the security and data collection requirements outlined by the European Union with the impending Entry/Exit System (EES).

Overcoming Obstacles in Border Control

For Hermes Airports, operational excellence and improving passenger experience are key strategic objectives that serve as guiding principles for the management and operation of Pafos and Larnaka Airports. However, congested immigration areas and staffing resources were creating challenges. It was difficult to accommodate increased travel volume and as a result, both airports experienced long queues and increased wait times.

It became evident that the airports needed to re-examine the typical passenger process and evaluate how this could be modified in order to meet operational expectations. The way forward for Pafos and Larnaka Airports was to consider and embrace technological advancements – a processing solution that would achieve operational excellence and improve passenger experience.

Smart Solution 

For Hermes Airports, in collaboration with the Cyprus Police, the preferred solution was BorderXpress. Developed more than 10 years ago by ITS, the team at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) tasked with developing innovative solutions to improve passenger experiences, BorderXpress is a solution that uses self-service biometric-enabled kiosks to expedite the border control process. The kiosks were first implemented at YVR in 2009 and achieved incredible success, reducing wait times by more than 60 per cent – leading to other airports quickly becoming interested in this technology.

The kiosks are simple, efficient and highly intuitive. They can process any passenger, including families travelling as a group, and can be set up in any language required. They offer better exception handling and are fully accessible to persons with disabilities. 

The typical entry process requires travelers to select their language, scan their travel documents and answer a few simple questions.  The kiosk then captures biometrics if needed, such as an image of each passenger’s face which can be compared with and verified against the photo in their electronic passport or an enrollment or verification of their fingerprints. Next, the kiosk produces a token that is either printed off or sent electronically to the border control agency for them to make the final decision on entry. 

The kiosks are completely configurable and can be adapted to meet the specifications of any government’s immigration requirements. BorderXpress integrates state-of-the-art biometrics, industry-leading document authentication and anti-spoofing protocols — exceeding all applicable data-protection industry standards. These components are designed to improve the safety and security of the border by complementing the expertise of the border control officers who can use the results to make an informed decision on admissibility.   

Collaborative Approach 

In 2017, Pafos Airport began a pilot programme using six BorderXpress kiosks to perform exit immigration functions. The pilot was such a success that Hermes Airports, with the support of the Cyprus Police, decided not only to increase the number of kiosks, but to also expand the programme to Larnaka Airport.

A year later, in July 2018, 74 BorderXpress kiosks were installed at both Larnaka and Pafos Airports. The launch was particularly noteworthy as it represented the first implementation of permanent kiosks for Entry and Exit border control in the European Union — an exciting achievement and proud moment for all partners. 

It was this partnership between Hermes Airports and ITS that became a critical component to a successful integration process that was smooth and seamless. As an airport operator, ITS could draw on its experience at YVR and bring key insights into the relationship with Hermes Airports. The support of the Cyprus Police was also instrumental in the successful integration of the kiosks.

Success in Cyprus

Since the kiosks were introduced in Cyprus, they have significantly increased efficiencies and improved overall passenger experience, achieving Hermes Airports’ strategic objectives.

Larnaka Airport currently operates 44 kiosks and Pafos Airport currently operates 30 kiosks. In the first 12 months of operation, the kiosks processed more than five million passengers, contributing to the overall efficiency at border control areas and improving passenger queues. Positive results have also been tracked across several key customer satisfaction metrics.

In a recent report prepared by Xovis, the average exit immigration processing times at Larnaka Airport were assessed. For the week of July 1 to 7, 2019, the average wait time for passengers using a BorderXpress kiosk was one minute. For those not using a BorderXpress kiosk, the wait time increased to approximately five minutes—showcasing the considerable advantage this technology offers.

 Enhancing Security in Europe

The success experienced in Cyprus should serve as a model for success for airports across Europe with the impending Entry/Exit System (EES). Airports, seaports and onboard sites must look for smart solutions to border control, as the additional handling processes associated with biometric data collection and increased passenger volume will likely lead to long wait times, impacting the overall passenger experience.

When it comes to future-proofing airports amidst changing government regulations, experience matters. BorderXpress has been the proven solution for 43 airports, seaports and onboard sites around the world, resulting in more than 250 million passengers having cleared the border safely and securely.

It is expected that passenger processing results at Larnaka and Pafos Airports will continue to trend upwards, and plans are underway to increase the number of kiosks at both airports. And, with BorderXpress’ ability to be configured to meet the specifications of any government’s immigration requirements, Hermes Airports strongly advocates that other airports and governments consider implementing the kiosks.

Given the growth in global population, increase in air travel frequency, growing concerns over border security and changing legislation, now is the time to evolve with the airport experience of tomorrow, and to embrace innovation. Now is the time to find a smart solution for effective border control.

Miltos Miltiadous is the Chief Operating Officer at Hermes Airports. Chris Gilliland is the Director of Innovative Travel Solutions.