Next destination: passport-free flying

Increase in international travelers

Travel is a major pillar of world economies, and its popularity is increasing. Thanks to increasing numbers of people having the time, money and motivation to travel internationally, it is predicted that the number of people taking flights will rise to a massive 1.8 billion by 2030. That's a 50% increase compared to the number of air travellers in 2016. It sounds like great news for the airlines - but they will only benefit if they can cope with the large increase in demand. With current border security systems, it's hard to see how that would be feasible without building a lot of new runways and hiring a lot more staff. However, if border security systems can be modernized - and optimized - it's possible that the millions of additional travellers can be accommodated. And at the same time, air travel could become a more seamless and enjoyable experience for everyone.

Designing a new solution to streamline cross-border security is a huge challenge. For a new system to be effective, it needs to be trusted, accepted and implemented on an international scale. As different countries set their own security requirements and work with a wide array of legacy systems, any new solution needs to focus on solving common issues and creating widespread support – not only from countries, but also from organizations such as Interpol.

Could paperless travel be the solution? With the advent of new technologies, there are countless new possibilities for verifying travellers’ identities and travel permissions. But can a new paperless system really be made secure and reliable? A pilot project of passport-free flights between Canada and the Netherlands was unveiled by the World Economic Forum on 26 June 2019 to explore the feasibility of this ground-breaking new idea.

Is Known Traveller Digital Identity a solution?

To explore the challenges of cross-border security and identify possible solutions, the Known Traveller Digital Identity report was produced by WEF in collaboration with Accenture. The report finds that emerging technologies such as biometrics, cryptography, and distributed ledger technology (blockchain) can speed up the flow of travel and reduce the risk of cross-border identity fraud.

With the KTDI concept that has been developed, travelers have greater control over personal information and can decide when and how data is shared with airport and authorities. The technology also benefits the travel industry, such as enabling consortium partners to assess travelers’ credibility, optimize passenger processing and reduce risk.  

Of course, cross-border security needs to be proven as reliable and fit-for-purpose well in advance of any implementation planning. So, during the 2018 World Economic Forum, Accenture demonstrated the KTDI prototype, which featured full enrolment and identity verification on both sides of the border – from a person boarding an aeroplane, to entering their hotel upon arrival.

The KTDI concept was received positively, and a pilot project has been initiated between the Netherlands and Canada. This involves close collaborations between border security, airports, airlines, as well as Accenture, which continues to provide technological support for the project.


What was working on the project like from an insider perspective? We asked Jaroslav Saxa who is the Technical Architect at Accenture to tell us about his experience.

How did your team approach the project?

I’m a part of the UDISP Bratislava team. We were responsible for the Systems Integration (SI) delivery. We were a driving force in developing the ‘Technical Story’, which we achieved by holding circular design thinking sessions with all the global team members involved. Additionally, it was important to document everything and keep an organized backlog of information so that everyone was on the same page.

When I say it like that, it sounds pretty simple, but behind the scenes, we had to run a tight ship to meet our objectives. Our workflow was broken down into four highly effective, dedicated streams, which each giving specific focus to DLT, Platform Microservices, Mobile and Web Frontends, and DevOps.

It wasn’t always easy, and sometimes it was stressful – but (as always) we kept smiling. That made a big difference in keeping everyone motivated.

  • The full project team!

What was the biggest challenge you encountered working on the project?

There were two major issues we had to deal with. Firstly, it was really tricky to find workable solutions for self-sovereign digital identities. ‘Self-sovereign’ means that information can be verified without having to access and use the information directly. In the end, we found that Zero Knowledge Proof concepts were the best way forward – but it took us some time to get there.

Secondly, it was a huge challenge to integrate multiple parties in the project. For instance, we needed to involve State Border Protection services, governments, airlines and airports. Communicating effectively to all these groups and keeping everything unified as we moved forward was difficult, but absolutely crucial.

I’d say having the right technology is 20% of success – the other 80% is communication!

How do you see the solution working in practice? What’s the vision behind it?

Well, the current systems we use for border security are annoying for everyone involved. From the business/national security perspective, it’s a lot of work, and there isn’t really room for error. But also from the customer’s perspective, they end up carrying around all these bits of paper (passport, tickets, directions to the right gate, etc.), and they spend a lot of time waiting in queues. It’s really not an ideal situation, and it often leads to frustration.

But then imagine the alternative… the customer’s personal details and itinerary can be pre-enrolled into seamless flow gates, which are then processed in advance by the appropriate integrated partners. Things like biometric facial recognition mean that travellers can be tracked and authorized without any need for interaction. Which means that the customer can make their way to their boarding gate, passing every journey milestone hassle-free, without ever having to stop and interact with a member of staff.

Pretty soon, taking a flight might be a lot more fun, a lot more experiential! For me, the beauty in this project is the fact that it gives everyone more time to focus on what matters – and for the customer, that’s spending time with loved ones and enjoying their trip. Eventually, I think it would be great if the whole travel experience could be integrated in this way, with no need to check into a hotel or call them if your flight is delayed.

Results and looking forward

Passport-free travel is still in its pilot phase, but the results so far are promising. The first entirely paperless journey is expected to take place in early 2020, following rigorous internal testing during 2019. Amsterdam Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands, and YUL Montreal-Trudeau International Airport and Toronto Pearson International Airport in Canada, will be the first to trial KTDI, with the support of Air Canada and Royal KLM Dutch Airlines and the governments of both countries.

For more information about the project and to keep up with the latest news about it, visit the official website.

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