Recognition Technology Trial Underway at Heathrow Airport

A groundbreaking new trial to expedite airline passengers through passport control at London Heathrow Airport using JetStream iris recognition-based travel processing is underway.
The trial, run in conjunction with Virgin Atlantic, EyeTicket, the UK Immigration Service, BAA and British Airways, is designed to allow up to 2,000 invited passengers who travel frequently as visitors to the UK with Virgin Atlantic and British Airways through passport control in the blink of an eye. The trial uses EyeTicket?fs JetStream Travel Manager and this will be the first time that iris recognition technology is tested at a UK airport.

Passengers taking part in the trial, which aims to expedite the arrivals process and maximise space in the immigration hall, will be approved in advance by the UK Immigration Service. At busy times passengers can face queues before clearing passport control, but trial participants should gain clearance in a matter of seconds. Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of Virgin Atlantic said, ?gWe are delighted to be involved with the project. Virgin Atlantic is renown for taking a lead in technological advances and we are always looking at ways of improving the passenger experience, so we will await the results of the trial with interest.?h

Stewart Mann, Chief Executive Officer of EyeTicket Corporation, the US-based company supplying JetStream said, ?gBoth of our countries have a strong reputation for innovation, and building the best products from the best technologies. EyeTicket is proud to provide the UK with the first opportunity to use JetStreamTM for passenger processing.

Heathrow?fs Managing Director, Mick Temple said, ?gHeathrow is always looking at new and innovative ways of improving passenger journeys through the airport. With this trial we hope to establish that iris recognition technology can prove to be a safe, effective and highly accurate means of ensuring passengers on arrival are legitimate entrants to the UK. Although, this particular trial is about simplifying a passengers progress through the airport, we will also consider whether in the longer term this sort of technology could have wider security benefits.?h

Home Office Minister Lord Rooker said, ?gThese are unprecedented steps. Biometric technology offers many new possibilities. This is an excellent example of the Home Office working in partnership with other stakeholders to make the most of science and explore secure and improved passenger clearance at Immigration control.?h


The trial was set up through IATA?fs (International Air Transport Association) Simplifying Passenger Travel Interest Group which includes airports, airlines, immigration authorities and technological suppliers worldwide. The automated JetStreamTM stations have been placed in the immigration halls of Terminals 3 and 4 at Heathrow from where Virgin and BA operate their north Atlantic routes.

Passengers will undergo an initial enrolment process, including identity checks by an immigration officer, before being able to use the equipment. JetStreamTM enrolment stations are at Heathrow and planned at New York?fs JFK and Washington?fs Dulles airports. Enrolled passengers will still need to carry their passports on each trip to the United Kingdom.

JetStreamTM is an iris recognition-based passenger processing service that positively identifies travellers and simplifies and expedites transactions at many steps in the travel process. To enrol, the passenger looks into a video camera that takes a close-up image of the iris. Around 512 bytes of digital pattern data is extracted from the image, digitally encoded, sorted and later compared with a new real-time image. The system relies on the fact that every person has a unique iris pattern. Once enrolled, passengers can simply glance into a camera about 10 inches away and have their identity verified in seconds. The iris pattern is compared with the stored digital code and if the details match, a ticket is printed and a barrier opens, allowing them to enter the UK. The whole procedure takes only a few seconds and is as safe as being video taped. It is considered the highest accuracy, single-factor identification method in the world. There is no contact with the body, and no laser or other potentially harmful light source is involved. The data is also separated from all other passenger information held by immigration or airlines and is maintained in a secure database.

The strategy, technology and legality behind the creation of these global security programmes will be a significant part of the Digital Security for the Airline Industry Conference being held this June 12-13 in Washington DC.