Airport eyes scanner security

ERIC ANDERSON / Timesunion | October 6 2005

COLONIE -- Eye scans and fingerprint readers could be part of a new effort to shorten the wait at security checkpoints for travelers at Albany International Airport and dozens of other terminals nationwide.

Albany International is one of more than 50 airports seeking to establish a registered traveler program with compatible equipment, procedures and a networked computer database. They've joined the Registered Traveler Interoperability Consortium of the American Association of Airport Executives, which is seeking a coordinated security screening approach for frequent travelers.

The Transportation Security Administration, established to improve airport screening after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, has been operating a pilot program involving five airports. The program recently concluded, but it was extended through January at Orlando International Airport in Florida.

TSA spokeswoman Tara Uselding said response to the program had been positive.

Airports would create a dedicated line for travelers who registered and paid a fee to help cover the program's costs. While anyone could participate, planners expect the program would be most attractive to frequent fliers. Participants would undergo a background check and be provided with an identity card that might include biometric information.

Travelers would still go through a metal detector and be subject to additional searches if they triggered it. Absent that, however, they wouldn't be subject to a secondary security check, as some now are.

A traveler registered in Albany could go through the line at any other participating airport.

"We want the person also to be able to go through the registered traveler line at the returning airport," said Paul Varville, federal security director for the TSA at Albany International Airport.

Varville estimates the program wouldn't be launched for at least six months, and it would be phased in over time. It's not clear how much the effort might cost.

Airports in the registered traveler network include Boston's Logan, Dallas Fort Worth, Denver, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Smaller airports, including Bangor in Maine and Tupelo Regional in Mississippi, also are part of the network. And while the nation's two busiest airports, Atlanta Hartsfield and Chicago O'Hare, aren't yet members, a spokeswoman said she expects they will participate.

"We had a meeting this past weekend, and there were representatives from Atlanta at that meeting who spoke very strongly of a national program," said Colleen Chamberlain, director of transportation security policy for the American Association of Airport Executives.

Albany International already has equipment in place that scans the irises of employees' eyes for positive identification. Under a $189,000 pilot program funded by the federal government, it installed three scanners, at the terminal's security checkpoint, the airport operations center and in the baggage claim area, where workers move out to the airport apron.

Airport officials say the iris scan is more accurate than fingerprints and can be used in inclement weather when airport employees are wearing gloves.

Employees swipe their ID card in a reader, then look into the iris scanner, which matches the iris image to one in its database, a process that takes 2 to 3 seconds.

One traveler who flies between 50,000 and 100,000 miles a year said he's all for the program if it's consistent across airports and truly saves him time.

"I like the idea," said Steve Cosgrove, vice president of technical sales and support at Acusim Software Inc. in Glenville. "Would I pay $100? Maybe. $50? Definitely, if this will allow me to squeeze more minutes out of my day."
YVR already uses the eye scan for frequent travellers.

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