The potential of electronic identification under eIDAS in the aviation sector
Every day, airlines collect identity information on thousands of passengers to guarantee the safety of air travel, and to do so they collaborate with border control and law enforcement authorities. In many cases, identity information still relies on manual data entry by passengers and visual verification by airline staff at the airport. Airlines are in the process of fully digitalising the passengers’ flight experience from the booking stage to the boarding. Electronic identification solutions (eIDs) based on higher level of assurance could improve the quality of the data collected, decrease the risk of errors and fraud, and provide a smoother travel journey for users.
The European Union (EU) is a key promoter of initiatives for digitalising the identity verification process of individuals and companies in their relationships with public and private services. The eIDAS Regulation (EU) 910/2014, on electronic identification, authentication and trust services, aims at making national eID schemes interoperable across Europe in order to facilitate access to online services. eIDAS is primarily designed to tackle identification challenges experienced by digital public services. However, Member States are also encouraged to support the voluntary reuse of eIDAS-based eIDs by the private sector.
The European Commission has therefore decided to explore how the aviation sector can leverage eIDAS-based eIDs in a short paper. The following section shows the strengths and the weaknesses of eIDAS-based eID schemes for tackling the identity verification challenges experienced in the aviation sector.
Main challenges linked to identity in the aviation sector
When passengers leave the Schengen area, airlines are requested to collect passengers’ identity (Advance Passenger Information - API) and transmit the information to law enforcement authorities in order to ensure the security of European external borders and facilitate the screening procedure at the destination country.
Airlines may encounter the following challenges linked to the traditional identity verification means:
Inaccuracies of the data provided, which are caused, for instance, by mistakes in data entry by users or technical failures. Airlines face substantial expenses (up to 750 USD million annually - approx. € 658.2 million) derived from fines, repatriation costs and maintenance costs.
How could eIDAS help? By relying on eIDAS-based eID, passengers would automatically transfer personal data endorsed by the government, increasing the correctness of the data transmitted. However, there are two limitations: eID schemes only collect a subset of the information necessary to airlines (those concerning the travel document are missing), and currently only a minority of the EU population holds an electronic identity means.
Lack of interoperability between datasets and regulatory frameworks due to the complex landscape of legal requirements and technical solutions developed by stakeholders to comply with them.
How could eIDAS help? eIDAS would fix many interoperability issues by allowing airlines to rely on a common protocol for identity attribute exchange and authentication process.
Poor user experience as travellers may have to enter their personal information manually at each booking and present their paper-based ID document at the boarding gate repeatedly. As a result, airlines may experience drops in market shares.
How could eIDAS help? At the moment, eIDAS could only bring a limited added value. This is because not all eID schemes offer the same user-friendliness, third parties might not be allowed to use the eID of the people on whose behalf they want to book a flight and biometric identification functions of eIDs (e.g. facial recognition of passenger) is overall not supported by the current implementation of the eIDAS network (exchange of attributes is limited to biographical data. No biometric information is exchanged with the service provider).
To facilitate the uptake of eIDAS-based eID in the aviation sector, the report recommends the following:
- The European Commission should keep encouraging MS to clarify the conditions under which Member States allow reuse of eIDAS-based eID; keep playing a leading role in aviation-specific eID initiatives (e.g. IATA’s One ID); and encourage the dialogue on specific data attributes for aviation to be included in the eIDAS minimum datasets.
- Member States should encourage the reuse of their eIDAS-based eID schemes by the private sector and set out clear conditions and guidelines in that regard; they should also consider introducing aviation-specific data attributes.
- Airlines should consider the feasibility of reusing eIDAS-based eID for validation and data accuracy purposes (also by reference to the experience in other business sectors); in turn, they should run customer surveys to check their willingness to use eID for air travel purposes.
If you want to read more about the potential of eID for the aviation sector and access the full report, please consult our aviation community:
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