Australia's airport smartgate upgrade stalls

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Australia's airport smartgate upgrade stalls
Source: Australian Border Force

Only operational trial paused.

The rollout of new facial biometrics ready smartgates in the arrival halls of Australia’s international airports has stalled after the Department of Home Affairs opted to pause the only operational trial.  

The next generation smartgates, which will eventually allow travellers to pass through without producing a passport, are central to the department’s plan to process 90 percent of international travellers through automated means by the end of 2020.

They are being rolled out as part of a new $22.5 million biometric border control solution from border technology vendor Vision-Box - which already provides newer smartgate technology at departure gates - to replace ageing Mopho (now Idemia) arrivals smartgates.

The new tech is one of a three-pronged suite of programs under the department’s $94 million seamless traveller initiative, which will also replace the paper-based incoming passenger card and exit marshalling process with automated technology.

Canberra Airport became the first international airport in the country to receive the new smartgates in early 2018, and had been operating them in so-called contactless mode meaning travellers would still need to insert their passport in order to be processed.

However a trial of the facial recognition technology, dubbed ‘face on the move’, at the airport last year correctly matched 94 percent of the 2200 travellers that took part.

This was followed by Perth Airport in late 2018, though this rollout was limited to Qantas’ new international wing at Terminal 3, with Brisbane Airport the next in scope.

But iTnews can reveal that the Canberra Airport trial has been paused and the Perth Airport smartgates are yet to begin operating more than six months after they were installed.

A spokesperson confirmed that its trial of “eight next generation gates” at Canberra Airport had been paused while it “reviews the outcomes of that trial and the next steps including operation at Perth Airport”.

“Smartgate series one gates and Smartgate departures remain in operation and continue to provide a world class traveller experience for travellers entering and departing Australia,” the spokesperson said.

The review is likely to delay the rollout of the next generation smartgates at remaining international airports, which has already been pushed out to the end of June 2020.

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton had previously said the 105 new smartgates would be deployed across the country’s international airports during 2018-19.

Asked when the rollout would be complete and how many smartgates had now been rolled out, the spokesperson declined to answer.

The spokesperson similarly would not say if trials to replace the incoming passenger card and automate the exit marshalling process, which were initially planned for mid-2018, had begun.

Last year the department paused several major IT projects, including the department's $100 million visa risk assessment intelligence capability, health systems project and API gateway capability project, in a bid to claw back savings.

In the process it was forced to cut loose hundreds of contractors working its IT division and implement a hiring freeze on engaging new “non-project contractors and consultants”.

Know more? Contact jhendry@nextmedia.com.au

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