SINGAPORE - Travellers flying out of Changi Airport will no longer have to present their passports or boarding passes when clearing immigration, after an initiative to use biometrics for verification is rolled out later this year.
Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean on Tuesday (May 17) said: "We are working on an initiative where departing passengers at Changi need only present their biometrics for verification at the various departure touchpoints, without having to present any physical identity or travel documents."
This will not only enhance user experience but also contribute to the new precautions needed for safe and healthy flying post-pandemic, he said during a closed-door dialogue at the Changi Aviation Summit.
The Straits Times understands that the initiative will be rolled out progressively this year.
A transcript of Mr Teo's speech was published on the Prime Minister's Office's website on Wednesday.
The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) had previously said that in future, Singapore residents leaving or arriving at Changi will be able to clear immigration without needing to present their passports.
Instead, their identities will be verified using iris and facial biometrics as they walk through clearance gates.
Earlier this month, ICA also said foreign travellers who have enrolled their facial and iris biometrics on their first visit to Singapore will be able to get automated immigration clearance on subsequent trips here, starting from the second half of this year. This is in line with the agency's goals to make automated clearance a norm for all travellers from 2023.
Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security, on Tuesday said the aviation sector should take the chance to improve its service levels and transform the customer experience.
Technology and digitalisation are key to this, he added.
At the same time, cyber security must be strengthened to protect customer data and ensure aviation systems are resilient, especially since these are often interlinked, he said.
Securing passenger reservation and air traffic control systems, for example, has to be a collective responsibility, the minister added. "Any system is only as secure as the weakest link."
Another priority is aviation safety, as the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have introduced risks, both old and new, notably in the upkeep of aircraft and maintaining the competencies of air traffic controllers and pilots, Mr Teo said.
On its part, Singapore released its first National Aviation Safety Plan last month, which sets out 50 actions that Singapore's aviation industry will take over the next three years. Other countries such as India, France and Australia have released similar plans.
Mr Teo also reiterated the sector's important role in combating climate change and reducing carbon emissions.
"The data we have, reinforced by the images we see, and the actual experiences we encounter as we fly around the world, tell us that we need to deal with this issue of climate change urgently and decisively," he said.
The aviation sector should be looking for ambitious, long-term, aspirational goals, he added. This means looking at the entire aviation chain — from more efficient aircraft, flight and ground operations to green fuels and green financing.
Airlines should be encouraged to prioritise buying the most fuel-efficient fleets, Mr Teo said. Flight routes should also be optimised by improving air traffic management to significantly reduce fuel burn, emissions and costs.
Singapore has already started to develop the next generation of air navigation service systems, which will be operational around the end of the 2020s, he noted.
The systems will incorporate satellite-based navigation and communication technologies to increase the precision of flight paths and allow more optimal route placements and flight levels, he said.
They will also enable new, cutting-edge concepts to be implemented to improve flight predictability and efficiency while reducing congestion.
Coordination between air traffic management providers must also improve, Mr Teo added. "If you improve air traffic management, improve air traffic rules, reduce flight times and reduce waiting times, everybody benefits."
On green fuels, he said the aviation sector will need to work closely with the energy sector to develop and scale the most viable technologies. It should also tap new green financing models to pursue various decarbonisation solutions.
The twin challenges of Covid-19 and climate change present opportunities to reimagine aviation, he said.
"We can transform the industry for a more resilient and sustainable future. Our customers, our shareholders and financial institutions will demand this, whether we like it or not."
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.