Heathrow may miss ABC Olympic target

UK facial recognition eGates
UK facial recognition eGates

Heathrow airport may now not get facial recognition technology at all five of its terminals in time for the Olympics as planned, according to a story in the Financial Times.

Plans for BAA to install ‘e-gates’ facial recognition technology at the airport to allow registered non-EU nationals to use electronic self-service immigration controls were given the go-ahead last July, following an 18-month trial with the UK Border Agency.

However, BAA has said that the roll out is being delayed while the UK Border Agency (UKBA) completes an investigation into last year’s border checks fiasco, during which fingerprint-matching checks on visa nationals from outside Europe were regularly suspended at Heathrow.

BAA, Heathrow’s owner, has spent £8m installing infrastructure at all five terminals that would allow registered non-European Union nationals to pass electronic immigration controls. But the so-called “e-gates” plan cannot proceed until the border agency has taken final steps to get the system working, including having a database of travellers who are signed up to it.

e-gates is an alternative to UKBA’s IRIS programme, which uses eye-scanning technology. It is designed to allow registered non-EU passengers to enter the UK more quickly than the conventional border process, allowing people to pass through automated barriers at certain airports.

The e-gates system uses facial recognition technology to compare a person’s face to the photograph recorded on the chip in their passport. Once the checks are made, the gates open and allow people to pass through. BAA had planned to introduce the technology ahead of the influx of passengers expected during the Olympics, with passenger numbers expected to be 45% higher during the games.