Virgin Atlantic has spoken out in a call to the UK government to take action to reduce immigration waiting lines, asking that its passengers receive the ‘welcome visitors deserve.’ The US airline spoke out following reports that waiting times for passenger processing through immigration had reached up to two and a half hours.
The airline say they have been ‘doing their bit,’ providing additional staffing and refreshments for queueing passengers, but they understand that their passengers are left ‘frustrated before they’ve even started their trip’ and are calling the wait times ‘unacceptable’.
Virgin Atlantic has experienced significant increases of up to 20% in traveller numbers to the UK, possibly due to increased opportunities to benefit from Sterling exchange rates, and events such as the Royal Wedding, but it operates 23 flights per day into London Heathrow and its meet and greet service is doing little to help ease and improve passenger experience.
The latest figures show that Heathrow’s UK Border Force sometimes falls far short of its commitment under its Service Level Agreement (SLA) to pass 95% of its non-EEA passengers within 45 minutes. There was just one day during July 2018 when this SLA was met.
With airports in other countries performing to a greater extent, there is a growing concern that this news about ‘unacceptable’ immigration processing times across the UK are poorly timed, particularly with uncertainty already surrounding the first half of 2019 as the UK prepares to leave the EU.
Although all aviation industry participants understand the importance of security and immigration in today’s current climate, questions are being raised and pressure placed on the UK government to streamline immigration processes as quickly as possible.
As the UK prepares to leave the European Union, uncertainty is still very much the biggest challenge for those speculating about the impacts of the decision.
The Brexit campaign centred on border control, and the promise that the UK would regain control of her borders, yet as the debates continue, the only certainty that remains is that the impact on border control will be determined by the UK’s position within the European Economic Area, and any decisions made on free movement of people and goods.
With little more than a year to go, the challenges that may be faced need to be addressed now, if major delays or flight cancellations are to be avoided.
Although a ‘business as usual’ approach is being discussed, it is impossible to judge the true impact until firm decisions have been made. Speculation states that the following additional measures and challenges may appear:
- Additional clearance approval – this is likely to occur for UK citizens travelling throughout the EU
- Visa completion – a likely addition for citizens on both sides of the border
- Ground delays – these will be likely, as additional border control clearance processes are carried out
- Longer queues – these are inevitable, at least during the early stages, as pressure increases on border control personnel
- Increased security checks on cargo and goods – the removal of tariff-free trade agreements will inevitably increase the time spent on checks. Currently, paperwork checks are seamless and minimal under the EU guidelines
- Longer waiting times for cargo trucks – an inevitable by-product of additional security and paperwork checks. Current infrastructure could struggle with additional pressure
- Rising costs – again, inevitably, additional resources, time and regulatory approval will drive up the cost of moving goods and passengers around the UK and the EU
Although these challenges could pose major problems for the countries on either side of the UK border, the introduction of advanced technology and solutions could help to minimise the impact of additional security measures. The latest advancements and applications are designed to maintain maximum efficiency, while ensuring compliance at regulatory level.
There is little doubt that the aviation industry, travellers and manufacturers will feel the initial effects of Brexit, taking a hit to infrastructural demand. It remains to be seen whether decisions can be made quickly to enable operators to put the solutions in place in time.
As the world remembers the 15th anniversary of the tragedy that was 9/11, the latest border scheme to come out of the UK has been branded a ‘gimmick’ by staff unions, who called for increased staffing instead.
The UK Home Office has said that under the new scheme, travellers could choose to pay between £5 and £17.50 for a ‘fast-track’ passage through its borders. The proposed scheme will not be available at all airports, and will be trialled at Gatwick airport, leaving skeptics in some doubt that current staffing levels will be sufficient to cope with the different lanes. Concerns have also been raised for passengers who will not be willing to pay being left facing longer delays than they were before.
Branding the proposal as ‘ridiculous’, a spokesperson for the Public and Commercial Services union said, ‘This is a ridiculous idea that exposes just how understaffed our borders are. What happens if everyone opts to pay £5? We’re back to square one. Instead of gimmicks like this, the Government needs to properly invest in staff to work at ports and airports because the shortages are there for all to see.’
Nick Trend, consumer expert for Telegraph Travel said, ‘This confirms a growing trend of airports charging for services which should be efficient and free,’ following news that some UK airports already charge for a fast-track service. Continuing, he said, ‘The risk from the consumer point of view is that airports deliberately allow the queues to build up so that frustrated passengers feel the only way to have a decent experience of the airport is to pay more for the privilege.’
Technology is in place to streamline passenger facilitation and processing in an increasing number of airports around the world. Strengthening border control is of paramount importance in a world that has seen dramatic improvements since 9/11. Border technology providers, such as Rockwell Collins’ ARINC airports, aim to improve passenger flow with Common Use Identity Management – using integrated systems to increase airport resource management, security and passenger experience.
Canada’s Border Services Agency is working towards a U.S.-style Electronic Advance Passenger Information System (eAPIS) to protect its borders and is hoping for complete implementation by spring 2016.
A survey has been created by the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) to assess how the new requirements will impact Canadian and U.S. pilots crossing the borders in a bid to make the transition as seamless as possible.
“This survey will provide statistical feedback to Canadian and US officials to find a solution that both addresses their goals and minimizes duplication,” said COPA Vice President of Operations Patrick Gilligan. “COPA is heavily involved in finding creative solutions to minimize the detrimental consequences that any additional requirements will have on our sector of aviation.”
The survey, which can be completed anonymously if required, will aim to assess the general ‘feeling’ of pilots conducting cross-border leisure and personal flights – whether they think that the implementation of a system will impact flight operations in a detrimental way.
The survey will also attempt to gain a general consensus about the introduction of a single portal for the transmission of pilot and passenger data to the Canadian Border Services Agency.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) are working with COPA to ensure that the implementation of an eAPIS mandate remains seamless.
“We’re really working to find a way to make this as transparent as possible,” said Tom Zecha, AOPA manager of aviation security. “We encourage AOPA members who cross the border—or even those who don’t but think they might someday—to complete the survey to convey the impact a duplicate system would have on cross-border operations.”
Indian airports will soon step up its efforts to control smuggling and track ‘persons of interest’ through its launch of Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) this month.
The APIS system has been developed by the National Informatics Centre with assistance from the Directorate General of Systems under the Finance Ministry and is set for launch at Indira Ghandi International Airport.
The system will operate in much the same way as the US and European APIS systems with the provision of an electronic database of all passengers and flight crew, with the addition of a manifest of all personnel entering and exiting the airport terminals.
APIS is designed to enable government and border agencies access to Advance Passenger Information which can then be screened to identify potential threats to national and international security. The system is mandatory in the US and is proving to be a great asset to agencies in the tracking of terrorist movements. APIS requirements are spreading around the globe as more and more countries take a stand in the threat of terrorism.
APIS providers have a responsibility to ensure that Advance Passenger Information is collected, stored and distributed securely, swiftly and reliably to be of the greatest use to agencies all over the world.
It has been announced that a four-year agreement has been signed by the Danish Government for the implementation of biometric-based border control solutions, encompassing enrolment and automated border control.
The contract has been awarded to the consortium of Biometric Solutions and Vision-Box, who will deliver the equipment and related services to the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs with an aim to improve processes related to the electronic identity of citizens.
Using biographic and biometric enrolment, via advanced Identity Management solutions, the information collected will consist of facial recognition and fingerprint biometric data in addition to digital signatures. This will provide enhanced security checks for citizens and foreign visitors and can be used for visa applications, resident permits and passport applications.
“We look forward to working with the Danish Government, and our partner Biometric Solutions, to provide the best citizen experience ever. For that, we are committed to providing state-of-the-art technology, designed to offer more efficient and convenient services related to electronic Identity,” says Jean-François Lennon, director of Global Business Development, Sales & Marketing at Vision-Box.
Alex Ramskov Johannsen, CEO of Biometric Solutions says: “We are very happy that our collaboration with Vision-Box will help government institutions raise their service level for citizens around the world, while at the same time strengthening the security measures protecting citizens’ personal data.”
Across the globe, border control solutions are being utilised with advanced technology that ensures enhanced security in a bid to reduce immigration problems and monitor high risk individuals.
Last week we saw a call from the U.S. and the U.K. to boost security in airports across the countries as the threat of Islamic radical activities raised its ugly head once more. This week we see France following suit with a boost in passenger screening at its airports. Those most likely affected will be Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Heathrow in the U.K. receiving a combined average of 2.5 million passengers per day.
The enhanced passenger screening procedure may cause delays for travellers, but the consensus is that it is a greater priority to keep passengers, flight crew and aircraft safe from threat. Both French and British authorities have advised passengers to allow extra time to pass through the enhanced screening procedures.
It is not clear what is involved, but it is thought to be focussed upon footwear and electronic devices, such as mobile phones, tablets and computers. Earlier today, there were reports centred upon the use of mobile phones to carry complex explosive devices. Particular attention was being paid to those phones that are not fully charged, or at least able to be switched on with battery life remaining.