16 October 2006

Australia to speed up immigration at Sydney airport

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Government agencies at Sydney Airport plan to speed up immigration processing using facial-recognition technology and quarantine X-rays, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

This week the Federal Government introduced legislation to clear the way for technology with which travellers would pass through immigration by swiping their passport.

The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service is also testing a system to reduce queues in which luggage is X-rayed for banned imports before it is delivered to passengers.

Up to 14 long-haul aircraft land within an hour of the curfew lifting at 6am, sending thousands of bleary-eyed travellers into the terminal and causing long queues.

When the Herald arrived at Sydney Airport last week it took 1½ hours to get from the aircraft to a taxi. First-time visitors complained bitterly. One passenger who arrived on Tuesday called the customs hall a disaster.

"[There were] about 1000 baggage-laden passengers from three jumbos in an angry scrum."

Tourism groups such as the Tourism Transport Forum have long been concerned about the bad first impressions travellers arriving here get. The problem is aggravated by agencies' failure to work together, they say. Customs has benchmarks for passenger processing, but the quarantine and inspection service does not.

The Government this week introduced legislation to allow those with electronic passports to be processed with facial-recognition technology at the immigration checkpoint. The technology takes a live image of the face and matches it with the digitised picture on the passport. It has been tested and will be phased in at major Australian airports from February.

The X-ray trial, jointly funded by Sydney Airport, Customs and the quarantine and inspection service, began this month.

The managing director of the Tourism and Transport Forum, Christopher Brown, said it was vital Australia provided a good first impression for arriving travellers.

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