VChain's CEO on the challenges of realising IATA's ONE ID concept

Irra Ariella Khi, CEO of VChain, shares her viewpoint on the value of ONE ID and what it means for the realm of aviation
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The solution here is the blockchain, which is designed to overcome the challenges of trustless ecosystems such as this. Through the blockchain, data can be shared between parties as a token, which means that no data is exposed in transit, says Khi.
The solution here is the blockchain, which is designed to overcome the challenges of trustless ecosystems such as this. Through the blockchain, data can be shared between parties as a token, which means that no data is exposed in transit, says Khi.

One of the most exciting initiatives in the modern aviation industry is IATA’s concept of ONE ID for airlines - an “end-to-end passenger experience that is secure, seamless and efficient”. The thinking behind the idea is as intuitive as it is ambitious: to provide passengers with a frictionless airport experience that allows them to get from the entrance to the gate without “breaking their stride”.

Many of the benefits of ONE ID are self-evident. Passenger numbers are increasing year-on-year, which is putting a strain on airport infrastructure. This, in turn, is creating pressure on airlines to increase efficiency to accommodate higher volumes of passengers going through security, border checks, and catching flights every day. At the same time, customer expectations for convenience are also rising. According to research from IATA, a queuing time above 10 minutes is now considered unacceptable by the majority of passengers. Therefore, ONE ID is a necessity to future proof against increasing volumes of passengers, while maintaining an acceptable passenger experience.

The other major benefit of ONE ID comes from the impetus to improve data accuracy and, in turn, aviation and airport security. Currently, carriers are unable to share data about passengers and rely on one-off document checks. This challenge is exacerbated by the fact that, on average, travellers are only 50% accurate when filling out the API information required to fly. This means that airlines not only waste time and resource checking each passenger identification multiple times in the airport, but they also spend time and money correcting data. Government fines mean that failing to check this data diligently also results in costs for airlines and there are increasing demands from governments for airlines to provide more accurate passenger data.

The solution proposed through ONE ID would improve passenger experience while allowing airlines to meet the requirements of national authorities. IATA has proposed the introduction of digital proof of identity through a token, which will include both the passenger’s travel document and boarding pass. This token would be generated by the passenger before travel and could be used and re-used to identify the passenger as they move through the airport. The passenger’s identity would be biometrically verified without the passenger ever being stopped or having to identify themselves.

However, any ambitious initiative has its challenges, and there are some hurdles to be overcome before this becomes a reality.

Firstly, this means the widespread adoption and standardisation of biometric verification solutions, which are critical for facilitating the seamless identification of passengers in the airport. While many international airports have deployed forms of biometric verification, these proof of concept solutions is still emerging beyond the pilot stage to become widespread and consistently deployed. Like biographic data, biometric data needs to be standardised by a regulator so there are high-quality, structured data sets that can be fed into ONE ID that the industry has agreed on.

Secondly, ONE ID is reliant on the ability to securely share and verify passenger information between airlines and computer systems with no data exposure, which is currently not possible. Without a trusted system for sharing data, airlines have resorted to keeping it siloed in their own systems, necessitating the same passenger’s ID to be checked multiple times.

The solution here is the blockchain, which is designed to overcome the challenges of trustless ecosystems such as this. Through the blockchain, data can be shared between parties as a token, which means that no data is exposed in transit. Data is also decentralised on the blockchain, which means there is no central store that can be hacked or breached, a major issue that is currently facing airlines. Blockchain solutions, therefore uphold what is known in the security industry as “privacy by design” - where data security and obscurity are built into the system, rather than added in retrospect. According to independent security testers, it would take millions of years to break into just one passenger ID held in the blockchain.

This security is critical, as it allows ONE ID to increase the accuracy and efficiency of identification while maintaining the privacy of personal data. Increasing data markers through biometrics will aid verification, however, passengers and regulators are increasingly sensitive to the protection and control over personal data. In Europe, for example, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has put far tighter controls on the handling of personally identifiable information (PII). For ONE ID to be internationally adopted, the highest standards of data privacy will have to be upheld.

The ability to safely share tokens that contain passenger ID quickly between airlines, the airport, and government regulators via a trusted system where the quality of data is guaranteed, will allow the full realisation of ONE ID. As biometric and blockchain solutions move past the pilot phase and reach maturity, ONE ID will move from a “vision” to reality.

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