Daily Israel Report

Security Upgrades at Ben Gurion International Airport

Israel has upgraded its international travel security with a new biometric screening system, starting with El Al frequent flyers.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 1/10/2010, 12:31 PM

Israel news photo

Israel has upgraded its international travel security with a new biometric screening system that was launched last week in the wake of the recent failed Northwest Airlines terror attack in Detroit. The hi-tech system is expected to significantly speed up security processing and check-ins at the airport, Israel Airports Authority officials said.

The Unipass Airport Management System scans passports through a machine at the registration desk, where fingerprints and facial imaging samples are also recorded in order to create a biometric signature. A personal “smart card” created from the one-time process is then issued to the passenger.

The information stored on the Unipass computers will be “fully secure” and will not be accessible to outsiders, according to an IAA official.

Each time a passenger travels through the airport, they will be asked to swipe their card and passport through a machine, which will then confirm the biometric match. A companion touch screen panel will present a series of questions that will confirm the passenger’s identity and security status, a process that until now was carried out by human security personnel.

Human staff members will be standing by to assist in case passengers run into difficulties with the machines – or in case they fail the test. An IAA spokesperson said that in such cases, “passengers will be taken aside by a guard for an in-depth check before being allowed to proceed.”

Passengers who pass the initial security check will proceed as usual to luggage security, where they will once again swipe their Unipass card, and send their bags through the X-ray machine.

The third layer of security to be faced by the passenger will come at the check-in counter, where once again the Unipass will be swiped in a machine. At this point, the passenger will have passed all initial security checks, hand luggage will be accepted for scanning, and travelers will swipe the Unipass for their fourth and final screening before heading for the duty-free shopping area, border control and the terminal gates.

Eventually, Unipass machines are expected to replace human passport inspectors at the border control area altogether; at present, biometric fingerprint scanners are available only for frequent flyers. IAA officials added that Unipass holders will soon be able to bypass the luggage X-ray security step and take their luggage directly to check-in. “From there, the suitcases will be passed through comprehensive security before being loaded on to the plane,” said an IAA official.

The system has been in the planning stages for some time. The fact that its launch date has come on the heels of an attempted attack by the Al-Qaeda terrorist group was purely coincidental, officials said.

The Unipass will initially be limited to El Al Matmid frequent flyer club members, and only gradually be expanded to include other travelers within the next two years, according to the IAA.