Aviation Industry Applauds Delay of EU Biometric Border Checks

 - January 20, 2023, 1:10 PM
Travelers await clearance by passport control at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. (Photo: Flickr: Creative Commons (BY-SA) by bobbsled)

The International Air Transport Association and Europe’s main air transport trade groups Airlines for Europe, the European Regions Airline Association, and Airports Council International welcomed the decision on Friday to delay the implementation of the EU’s Entry-Exit System (EES)—the smart border system for non-EU nationals entering the bloc. In a joint statement, the trade bodies called the EES a “game changer” for how the EU’s borders get managed, though they maintain that “several issues” need resolution to ensure a smooth rollout and operation of the system so that air passengers do not face disruptions.

The issues include concerns about whether the EU allocated enough trained staff and resources to the introduction of EES at the bloc’s external borders and to support the implementation of new procedures by airports and airlines. They urge efficient and better-coordinated communication with the industry, with international partners such as the U.S., and with EU-Lisa—the agency responsible for managing the system. The trade associations also have called for a clear public information campaign to alert third-country nationals to the new requirements.

“Postponing implementation until after the busy 2023 summer period will give airlines, airports, and EU and national authorities the opportunity to resolve these issues and ensure the system is fully tested,” the trade groups said in a joint statement.

It does not look likely that the EES will go into effect in the coming months. Initial schedules called for the system's introduction by the end of 2022, but EU-Lisa postponed implementation to May this year and again due to delays from the contractors, according to the agency. It has not announced a date for the planned entry into operation. 

EES will serve as an automated IT system for registering travelers from non-EU countries, including the UK, each time they cross a border into or out of the EU. Travelers will need to scan their passports or other travel documents at an automated self-service kiosk and on mobile apps in some countries prior to crossing the border. The system will register the traveler’s name, biometric data, and the date and place of entry and exit. Authorities will retain facial scans and fingerprint data for three years after each trip.

The system will go into effect within the whole Schengen area—23 EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, which have abolished all passports and other types of border control at their mutual borders.

The ESS is separate but connected to the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS), which will obligate non-EU citizens who do not require an EU visa to gain travel authorization to enter the bloc. After initial delays, authorities now expect ETIAS to become operational in November 2023. Some 1.4 billion people from more than 60 different countries who travel to the Schengen area without a need for a short-stay visa will have to apply for online travel authorization.