The government will be issuing an “all approved” template for “paperless and hassle free” Digi Yatra by the end of the month, reports ToI. According to the report, all it will take to board a domestic flight would be a smart phone for e-Aadhaar and biometric based authentication.

Once the template is issued, airports will be free to implement it and early adoption is expected at Bangalore and Hyderabad as soon as July. These are the two airports that have already conducted successful pilots for the paperless boarding process, the TOI quoted aviation secretary R N Choubey. The Airports Authority of India has prepared bid documents and is expected to implement the project at major airports by the end of this fiscal, with AAI airports at Kolkata Ahmedabad and Vijaywada expected to be among the first.

This is supposed to be an additional and non-mandatory feature and the existing paper-based processes will continue for those not opting to link their airline tickets with their Aadhaar.

The TOI describes the process as follows:

Under this system, only a mobile will be needed to board domestic flights to show e-boarding cards for scan at security check and boarding gate by those who link Aadhaar to air tickets at the time of booking. Their biometric authentication will confirm their identity, doing away with the need for paper I-cards.

Apart from benefits to passengers, the Aadhaar-based system will have several pluses for airlines and airport operators. The ‘smart’ airports will have some smart entry gates with biometric authentication. With air travel booking linked to Aadhaar, the authentication will do two things — check the identity of the person and also see if he or she has a valid booking. Once these two are validated, the flyer will be granted entry. After getting entry, the passenger will do biometric authentication while clearing security and then at boarding gates.

The system is said to check the menace of passengers entering airport terminals on fake tickets and track the flow of passengers through the airport in order to reveal bottlenecks or locate missing passengers. “The ID-based air travel system will see linked databases of airlines, airports and passenger IDs’ like Aadhaar or passport numbers.” says the report.

MediaNama’s take

From the report, it is unclear how Digi Yatra will facilitate the experience of passengers, though linking Aadhaar to Airlines, Airports and passenger IDs will certainly provide big data for the better profiling and targeting of passengers.

The problem of passengers entering airports on fake tickets (or possibly using fake identification – like a tampered Aadhaar printout) cannot be eliminated while this process is non-mandatory, as those passengers will continue to enter airports using existing methods. Making the linking of Aadhaar with airline tickets mandatory, even eventually, will have legal challenges with regard to privacy and potential for surveillance.

The very real and very expensive (in this case) risk of biometric authentication failing will encourage passengers to keep printed copies of their documents in any case.

Airports accept printouts of Aadhaar as legitimate identification. There is no reason why a pdf Aadhaar stored on a phone or an mAadhaar can’t be used similarly. People already obtain boarding passes ahead of time and arrive with print outs. It shouldn’t be very hard to implement scanners that scan boarding passes right off mobile phones instead of requiring them to be printed out and voila! Paperless! This can be fast, serve the purpose of analyzing passenger flows and will require minimal alterations to the airport procedures.

While adding biometric authentication to the process will allow for verification of identity, those using fake identities can evade it by simply using the old processes, so it isn’t very useful as a security measure. Only the innocent are likely to be “caught” by biometric mismatches, while those using fraudulent identity will simply avoid using biometrics.

However, biometric authentication at three points – entrance, security and boarding – will add considerable delay to the progression of passengers by adding a time consuming and often unreliable factor into the process. How exactly are personnel to respond to a business class ticket of a person whose biometrics don’t validate and who trusted the system enough to not carry any other identification on them? What happens to the queue while these issues are resolved?

This appears to be yet another way to tag data of individuals with their Aadhaar numbers with little benefit to the customer, or employees of Airports and Airlines.