SmartGate – The Quiet Aviation Revolution



SmartGate is an Automated Border Control (ABC) system that uses facial recognition technology to verify identity. 

The initial prototype was designed in 2002 by the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS) in conjunction with its technology partners.  Following significant testing, the first units were installed in Brisbane Airport in 2007. Since then SmartGate has been rolled out to all other major Australian International Airports.

SmartGate is a two-step process.  Firstly, a traveller inserts an ePassport into a kiosk and makes some simple declarations.  A ticket is produced, collected by the traveller who then proceeds to a gate where they insert the ticket into the gate.  The system then compares the passenger’s face with their ePassport photo (using biometric algorithms) and if there is a match they can pass through to the baggage hall. 

The benefits of SmartGate are significant and since their introduction, they have been widely embraced by airport operators across the country.  The major benefits include:

Reduced passenger congestion

Figures from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s annual Airport Monitoring Report for 2011-12 showed growth in passenger numbers across all major airports, with Adelaide as the only exception.

Tourism Research Australia forecasts show that by 2020 international traveller numbers are expected to grow to over 8 million, up from circa 6 million in 2012/13.  With more A380 aircraft coming on stream every day, processing the increasing number of people who will be arriving and departing will be crucial to providing a quality service and creating value for all stakeholders involved.

The major airports have significant development and expansion plans in place to try and meet the expected growth and these programs will be crucial to meeting the capacity challenge.  The strategic use of SmartGate is another part of the puzzle and represents a cost-effective tool to streamline throughput and effectively manage passenger flows to reduce congestion.

Improved border security

With an increasingly global economy and the ever-present threat of terrorism, enhanced border protection is crucial.  The SmartGate ABC system maintains the existing high standard of border protection, whilst freeing up personnel to focus on high-risk travellers and enhance border protection. 

Identity fraud is a growing trend and to combat it countries around the world are increasingly moving towards ePassports with microchips.  Using ePassports, SmartGate improves identity verification and therefore represents a significant deterrent to using forged or stolen passports.

Optimised commercial revenues

The more people who pass through an airport, the greater the opportunity for commercial partners.  Innovative airports are progressively embracing the use of SmartGate to optimise commercial revenues for their partners by maximising traveller time in retail areas and smoothing transition times.

 The future of SmartGate

Thinc has been working with the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS) to install SmartGates across Australia’s airports since 2007.  We have seen the transition from trials in quiet corners of the Immigration Customs Hall to their strategic development as an integral component of airport operations. 

From our unique experience, we recommend that airport operators:

1) Look at the medium to long term horizon – the better integrated SmartGate precincts are with your master plan, the more effective they will be as a value-adding capability.

2) Work in partnership with ACBPS to create the optimum solution for your customers and commercial partners – this may include providing additional functional areas or joint funding arrangements to maximise development outputs.

3) Think strategically about the positioning of SmartGate precincts – although the units are extremely high-tech, they don’t require high-tech supporting systems – the technology is self-contained and require only the footprint, data and power on installation.

4) Consider the benefits from a marketing and branding perspective – generation Y increasingly expect technology to improve their customer experience and look favourably where it does.

A massive impact

When compared with typical aviation projects, the installation of SmartGate requires minimal investment, but can have a massive impact, improving outcomes for all stakeholders.

Airlines strongly support SmartGate as they help speed up the passenger process and therefore reduce turn-around times; retailers strongly support SmartGate as they maximise traveller time in lounges; airport operators strongly support SmartGate as they improve the passenger experience, and provide benefits to other stakeholders; and ACBPS support SmartGate as they offer a secure, efficient and fast way to pass through border control. 

Above all, they ensure travellers spend less time queuing and therefore help improve the perception of service quality – a key area for improvement, as highlighted in the Airport Monitoring Report.  SmartGate is starting a quiet revolution across our airports and operators should use them strategically to create sustainable value for all stakeholders.