First e-gates land in Brussels

  • Travelers from the EU arriving from a country not part of the Schengen Agreement will be subject to a scan at Brussels Airport.
  • In the event of doubt regarding their identity, they will need to wait inside a security portal.

By the summer of 2014, Brussels Airport will be equipped with an extra identity management system for passengers arriving at Zaventem. By installing six “e-gates”, the airport will become the first in Belgium to bring in Automated Border Control technology which has already been introduced in other countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal. What is it all about? In the future all passengers bearing an EU passport and arriving from a country outside the Schengen Area, whose final destination is Belgium or (in certain cases where there is a connection involved) another location within the Schengen Area, will be expected to enter a security portal equipped with a biometric recognition system. “This would apply to, for example, a Spaniard flying from London to Brussels,” explains Peter De Waele, spokesman for the Federal Police, which is overseeing the project.

Features rather than fingerprints

Once the traveler is inside, the recognition system will ensure via a passport scan that his photo corresponds entirely to his physical characteristics. If the result of the comparison is not a 100 % match, the security portal doors remain closed. At this point the police will become involved. “It’s a way of perfecting our checks. On one hand it will save time and on the other hand and most importantly, it will remove any doubt in the event of resemblance,” says De Waele. “Though agents carry out a manual comparison at the moment, they have a huge number of travelers to check every day, and with two parents, or two sisters, for example, it’s not always that easy to tell the difference.”

The biometric system does not include fingerprint or iris recognition functions. Technically, it is not impossible, since the e-gate could feasibly be set up accordingly. “But the law does not allow us to systematically take citizens’ fingerprints,” adds De Waele. “Besides, we do not have a Belgian or foreign database that would allow us to carry out the comparison. Therefore, I’d say that it’s not out of the question that these recognition methods be introduced in the future, but it will depend on how the government sees things.” A request for proposals for the project jointly financed by the Federal Police, Brussels Airport and European funds, was launched in September. The cost of each scanner comes to €120,000.

“We can only encourage the implementation of this system, which has already proved to be highly effective in other airports. It’s a step forward in terms of the security and quality of services offered by the airport,” proclaims Florence Muls, head of external communications at Brussels Airport.

The airport, which welcomes 19 million passengers every year, is readying itself for another big transformation: the “Connector”, which should be operational at the beginning of 2015. The construction will connect the terminal building to Pier A above ground. Passengers will be able to walk straight from the check-in desk to their gate and get on their flight from either Pier A or Pier B. The check will take place at the entrance to the building, which will give direct access to two new shopping areas. 



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