The Australian Customs is in the final stages of selecting a supplier to upgrade its fleet of electronic gates installed inside the country's international airports, with two global firms in the running for the lucrative contract.
Customs’ e-gate project lead Jeff Buckpitt revealed in senate estimates last night two companies - France's Morpho and Portugal-based Vision-Box - had both progressed to the testing stage of a two-year, $8.4 million trial of next generation electronic gate technology.
Morpho-manufactured smartgates are already operating in a number of airports across the country, allowing Australian, New Zealand and British citizens to go through immigration processing without input from a Customs official.
Customs envisioned the concept of smartgates in 2002 and awarded Morpho a contract to bring its idea to life in 2004. The partnership is worth $43 million until 2016.
Portuguese biometrics specialist Vision-Box has been given the opportunity to show off its latest wares as part of the two-year trial, which are already in use inside Qatar’s international airport, among others.
The next generation e-gate trial is part of Custom’s pursuit of a “a low-touch experience” for international travellers.
The agency predicted it will need to have at least 90 percent of travellers using electronic gates by 2020 in order to cope with increasing volumes of passenger traffic. Currently roughly 20 percent of passengers landing in Australia use the gates.
But the agency still has a way to go before it can commit to a full-scale rollout of the new technology.
The results of the trial will be compiled into a report for Customs CEO Michael Pezzullo, who will use the findings to lobby for funding from his ministers.
“There are matters that the ministers will want to consider when the data is at hand,” he said at senate estimates, listing privacy - especially when it comes to the issue of biometrics - as one of the issues the Government will inevitably have to work through.
“The human factor” will be another complex task - dealing with workforce issues raised by implementation like retraining, redeployment and reusing the space where waiting passengers currently queue before reaching Customs ‘tellers’.
“The other obstacle to full implementation is upgrading our back-end systems,” Buckpitt revealed.
He said Customs had already received money to get software up to speed with the next generation e-gates “so when there is funding available for a full-scale implementation we will be ready”.