by NADEEM BADSHAH
A £50 MILLION plan for face scanners at Britain’s biggest airport has been welcomed by community leaders who believe it could tackle racial profiling and lead to shorter queues.
Heathrow airport in London is testing facial recognition technology that means passports no longer need to be scanned at check-in.
The technology is being fully introduced next year and is expected to reduce the time it takes to go from check-in to take-off by up to a third.
Passengers will go through a scanner which will enable flight details to be checked on a system and their information will be stored, so they are recognised on future trips.
In recent years, there has been a rise in complaints from Muslims with beards and turban-wearing Sikhs of being stopped and questioned by airport security or police when they travel.
Harmander Singh, spokesman for the Sikhs in England thinktank, believes the new scanners will allow records to be kept on which travellers are stopped. He told Eastern Eye: “It’s how we can safeguard against targeted discrimination. Community profiling would be easily detectible because we can have electronic records of it, rather than a traveller thinking, ‘should I report it or not?’
“Facial recognition is not perfect – Sikhs with turbans, Muslims with longer beards or Muslim females wearing a niqab are issues I would be concerned with.”
“But if there is any racial profiling, it’s easier to detect why certain people are stopped when authorities say it is random,” he added. “The facial scanners will also lead to less delays. There are more positives than negatives.”
The number of passengers travelling to Bangalore in south India from Heathrow is set to increase from next Saturday (17), with Air India offering direct flights for the first time from London to the city on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Heathrow said that by using facial recognition at check-in, bag drops, security lanes and boarding gates, there will be no need for passengers to present a passport. However, they will still have to carry their passports to present on arrival at their destination.
The new system will be trialled next summer.
Sydney airport in Australia has tested a similar scheme.
It comes after data obtained by Virgin Atlantic showed that in July, the Border Force only achieved its target of processing 95 per cent of passengers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) within 45 minutes at Heathrow once.
Passengers from countries including India and Pakistan faced queues of up to three hours at passport control last summer at the UK’s main airports.
Entrepreneur Sukhi Wahiwala, CEO of the Wahiwala Group of Companies, told Eastern Eye: “The reality is though the electronic passport service is supposed to be speeding up the process, even from Stansted Airport, which is where I regularly travel from, it now
takes 45 minutes to an hour to get through border control.
“There are people consistently running around and there are only ever two to three lanes we can go through. Even the electronic scanning lanes never have more than about four
open, so the queues just back up.
“I’ve actually been in a position where my drivers have tried to collect me from the airport and they have been waiting outside for an hour. They have had to go back out of the compound, park up somewhere and then come back to collect me.”
Jonathan Coen, Heathrow customer relations and service director, said: “As passenger numbers continue to grow, we must look for innovative ways to make it easier and quicker for them to travel through Heathrow with choice, while keeping our airport secure.
“Biometrics are key to helping us do that, and we are really excited about the biggest roll-out of this equipment at any UK airport.”