India Could Soon Make Air Travel Paperless

India is home to one of the largest civil aviation industries in the world by volume
India is home to one of the largest civil aviation industries in the world by volume | © Sarangib / Pixabay
Arun Venkatraman

Flyers in India might soon be able to bid goodbye to paper passes and tickets, as the government this week revealed its intention to push ahead with fully biometric identification systems at airports in the near future. The effort is part of the government’s aim to completely digitise air travel and other services in India through the use of its ambitious, albeit controversial, biometric identity system known as Aadhar.

The idea was mooted at the Air Travel IT Summit in the city of Jaipur in Rajasthan, and it has been revealed that biometric air travel will soon be implemented in a number of airports with the help of communications and air transport IT service provider SITA. Speaking at the summit, SITA Vice-President for India, Maneesh Jaikrishna, said, ‘Leveraging India’s national Aadhaar biometric identity system with our Smart Path technology, SITA will deliver a seamless biometric experience across all airlines and airports – both domestic and international – in India.’

Flyers waiting for check-in at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi

The tech firm is already involved in airport operations in the country through its service ‘BagManager’, which provides flyers with real-time updates on the status of their baggage. The service is now up and running in two airports – Chennai and Kolkata – and is set to be expanded to another 15 airports in the near future.

While the idea of paperless air travel isn’t entirely new, it is a big step ahead for a country such as India where the volume of air travel is increasing at exponential levels. According to the company, paperless and fully-biometric air travel will be made possible by linking individual travellers’ biometric data from the Aadhar database to the databases of airports, airlines and other stakeholders involved in the process.

Digital future

While air travel has already largely been digitised in the country, it is hardly the first service the government is planning to link with Aadhar’s biometric database. A large number of government services including subsidies and welfare schemes in the country have already been linked to Aadhar in recent years and the identification system has already issued more than a billion accounts, despite it not being mandatory.

A government official collects an iris-scan biometric data for Aadhar

However, the path to digital and biometric identification has not been easy for UIDAI, the agency that oversees the Aadhar project, as the system has raised a number of privacy concerns among a section of the country’s citizens. Just a few months ago, a reputed daily in the country reported that its journalist was able to acquire data of several individuals enrolled in the Aadhar system through WhatsApp for a sum of just Rs. 500 ($7.6). There have been reports of several data breaches in recent years, though the UIDAI contends that none of the data was from Aadhar’s biometric database.

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