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Pangiam Bets on Facial Recognition to Speed Travelers Through Airports Post-Covid

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Imagine passing through an airport from the curb to one’s flight without ever having to show a boarding pass or ID to either security personnel or a gate agent during the entire process.

That’s the seamless airport journey envisioned by security and travel services technology provider Pangiam. The Virginia-based company has purchased the biometric facial recognition system VeriScan — think Apple’s Face ID but for airports and airlines — from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) for an undisclosed amount. While currently used to board select flights, the firm has big plans for the platform that it believes could help reshape how people travel in a post-Covid world.

The deal will be announced late Friday morning.

“That’s our vision — to integrate that entire pathway,” Pangiam co-founder and Chairman Kevin McAleenan told Skift during a demonstration of VeriScan at Washington Dulles International Airport this week.

The company’s ambitions could not come at a better time. Vaccines are allowing travelers to gradually break free from their Covid-19 bubbles with many airlines anticipate a robust number of leisure flyers this summer. However, until the U.S. and other countries reach herd immunity, fears of the virus remain with many people wary of high-touch surfaces like those at airports.

Airlines and airports have addressed concerns in a myriad of ways. These have ranged from the low-tech enhanced cleaning procedures to expanded capabilities in airline apps and, using American Airlines as an example, a trial of biometric facial identification at its Admirals Clubs in Dallas/Fort Worth.

“We see … promise in certain biometric technologies, including facial recognition, that can not only decrease touch points and contact between guests and employees, but also increase efficiencies in our operation,” Alaska Airlines vice-president of information technology services Vikram Baskaran said in letter encouraging the Port of Seattle to move forward with biometrics in December. The port operates Alaska’s home base Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

A Scalable, Adaptable Solution

There are a range of biometric systems on the market. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry system is one example of a widely used platform that combines facial recognition with finger prints. Elsewhere in the world, both airlines and border authorities have installed electronic gates that scan travelers faces as well as their tickets or passports.

VeriScan is one of the simpler systems out there. It uses off-the-shelf components, including the camera from an iPad, to be keep costs and complexity low. There are no bulky machines or physical gates, in fact the physical device appears as simply a tablet connected by an arm to a gate podium.

During the demonstration at Dulles, VeriScan scanned and processed each traveler boarding an Emirates flight to Dubai within seconds. A green screen pops up when the process is complete signifying that a passenger is cleared to board.

VeriScan shows a green screen when a passenger is cleared to board. (Edward Russell/Skift)

Behind the scenes, the platform uses the cloud to match a passenger’s face with existing government records — CBP takes a photo of all arriving international travelers, for example — and airline systems, said MWAA chief information officer Goutam Kundu. No personal data is transferred in the process, he added.

“We didn’t want to make these multi-million dollar investments, especially the way things were emerging,” he said on why an airport operator opted to develop its own biometric identification system. MWAA, which operates Washington Dulles and Reagan National airports, wanted a low-cost, scalable solution that was also easily adaptable to changing standards and technology.

MWAA staff built the first VeriScan prototype in a matter of weeks, tested and tweaked it for several months before debuting it in September 2018. Today, 41 airlines use the system at both D.C.-area airports, as well as in Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston. The system has been used on roughly 10,300 flights and processed more than 1.3 million travelers to date, said Kundu.

From Boarding to Seamless

Pangiam has big plans for VeriScan. The company, which was acquired and combined with software company Linkware by private equity firm AE Industrial Partners in November, aims to use the tech to realize the “seamless” airport experience vision espoused by McAleenan.

The company wants to integrate VeriScan with its other technologies that could be used everywhere from the check-in counter to the airline lounge, boarding and even border control. McAleenan, who was previously acting Secretary of Homeland Security from April to October 2019 and CBP commissioner before that, appears well placed to realize these aims.

“The time is now to enable these types of check-ins wherever you need to confirm identity throughout the airport process in a seamless and contactless fashion,” he said on the pandemic’s role in the deal.

Kevin McAleenan of Pangiam (left) and Goutam Kundu of MWAA (right) at a demo of VeriScan at Dulles airport. (Edward Russell/Skift)

Asked about the rapid emergence of digital health passports, McAleenan said the same verifications behind the apps could be included in the VeriScan process. For example, the same data verifying a travelers’ health status that apps like CommonPass and Travel Pass show in a QR code could be included in that green-screen sign off that the system already shows when a traveler is clear to board.

And with airports putting off many big physical infrastructure investments that were not already underway, an investment biometrics could make better use of existing facilities. For example, VeriScan can be used to board a wide-body flight in under 20 minutes, according to Kundu. This could mean improved passenger throughput and less congestion in gates when travelers return.

Streamlining the airport experience is a long-sought goal of the airline industry. In 2018, the director general of trade group International Air Transport Association (IATA) Alexandre de Juniac spoke of using biometric technology to remove “some of the hassle from air travel.”

Of course, no matter how much technology an airport or airline invests in, it will always be hampered by the human side of travel. Even though VeriScan could clear the lightly-loaded Emirates flight in seemingly record time, several travelers hung back in the gate area and took their time to board the Boeing 777 — maybe to stretch their legs one last time before the 13-hour haul to Dubai.

Photo Credit: Emirates is one of 41 airlines who use VeriScan to board flights at Washington Dulles airport. Edward Russell / Skift

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Source: https://skift.com/2021/03/19/pangiam-bets-on-facial-recognition-to-speed-travelers-through-airports-post-covid/

Aviation

Wow: Virgin Australia Sells 71,000 Domestic Tickets In 24 Hours

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Virgin Australia experienced one of its busiest days of domestic ticket sales in 20 years just after the Australian government’s A$1.2 billion (US$920 million) stimulus package went into effect. The enthusiasm was sparked by half-price flights offered on subsidized routes, which included flights to the Gold Coast from the cities of Melbourne and Sydney, among others.

Like other Australian carriers, Virgin Australia’s flight operations have been severely limited over the past year. Photo: Getty Images

71,000 tickets sold in 24 hours

Within the span of a full day, Virgin Australia sold enough tickets to completely fill over 400 of its Boeing 737-800s (which have 176 seats each). The hottest tickets were for subsidized routes, for which the airline halved its standard prices.

Swept up in the momentum and also experiencing large jumps in ticket purchases were other ‘full-price’ routes, which included Melbourne-Perth, Perth-Sydney, and Melbourne-Sydney.

“The overwhelming response from Australians demonstrates loud and clear that they are ready to get back in the air and travel and are a positive sign for the aviation and tourism sectors as they look to recover from the impacts of COVID-19,” -Virgin Australia statement via 7News.com.au

While Virgin Australia had the record-breaking day, The Islander reports that the country’s other airlines saw spikes in web searches during the same period. Searches for “Qantas”, “Jetstar,” and “Virgin” sharply increased from around midnight Thursday and spiking again at 06:00 Australian Eastern Daylight Time.

Both Qantas and Virgin Australia will benefit from the Australian government’s stimulus package. Photo: Simon_sees via Flickr 

The Australian government’s stimulus package

Announced in early March, the government support package includes A$200 million (US$152.6 million) for Qantas and Virgin Australia. Reuters notes that this funding will support the airlines from April to October, with the intent to help maintain mothballed aircraft as well as bring planes out of storage and support wages for international flying staff.

Another major part of the scheme, and the main reason for this story, is the government subsidization of 13 routes. Subsidization has meant that eligible airlines can offer half-price tickets. The impetus for the deal was to support airlines while encouraging domestic tourism at a time when international tourism has been hard hit. According to The Guardian, the routes are as follows:

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  • Sydney: flights to the Gold Coast, Cairns, Proserpine, Hamilton Island, Maroochydore, Uluru, Alice Springs, Launceston, Broome, and Avalon.
  • Melbourne: flights to the Gold Coast, Cairns, Maroochydore, Alice Springs, Uluru, Launceston, Devonport, Burnie, Broome, and Merimbula.
  • Adelaide: flights to the Gold Coast, Maroochydore, Alice Springs, and Kangaroo Island.
  • Brisbane: flights to Alice Springs, Uluru, and Launceston.
  • Darwin: flights to Cairns and Broome.
  • Perth: flights to Alice Springs.
  • Avalon: flights to the Gold Coast

The half-price fares were made available on April 1st and will continue to be offered until the end of July.

Having recently divested itself of its widebody Boeing 777s and Airbus A330s, Virgin Australia’s fleet is now completely comprised of Boeing 737s. Photo: Aero_Icarus via Flickr 

Hope for the best, plan for the worst

One key concern when it comes to domestic flight bookings is the ever-present risk of interstate border closures in the event of an outbreak during this global health crisis. While it’s hard to resist a good deal, it’s also wise to consider the possibility of such unwelcomed restrictions. Having flight bookings with flexible re-booking and cancelation policies will help greatly if such restrictions arise.

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Were you a lucky Australian resident who managed to secure a half-priced flight? Or did you try and miss out? Share your experience with us in the comments.

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Source: https://simpleflying.com/virgin-australia-domestic-tickets-boom/

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US Congressmen Call On DOT To Deny Norse Atlantic Airways Permits

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The Chair of the US House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Peter DeFazio, and Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation, Rick Larsen, have called on the US Department of Transportation (DOT) to deny permits for Norse Atlantic Airways to fly to the United States, citing concerns about the airline.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner Takes First Test Flight
Norse Atlantic wants to fly to the US with Boeing 787s, but it has ruffled some feathers. Photo: Getty Images

Members of Congress on Norse Atlantic Airways

Rep. DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon, and Rep. Larsen, a Democrat from Washington State, have called on the DOT to deny Norse Atlantic Airways Operating permits on account that it is flouting labor protections.

Drawing on earlier language indicating opposition to the airline, Reps. DeFazio and Larsen have argued that, by organizing itself in a country outside of Norway, where there are strong labor laws, the airline is seeking to flout those laws.

Norwegian selling two 787s to Neos Air
Norwegian also used subsidiaries in other countries, which is a concern highlighted in the letter. Photo: Getty Images

Drawing strong comparisons with Norwegian

The two Congressmen believe the airline is doing this because one of its executives was a former executive at Norwegian, which used Irish and UK subsidiaries to operate long-haul low-cost flights between the US and Europe.

In the letter, the Congressman stated the following:

“Their long-haul low-cost business model was predicated on the use of pilots and flight attendants employed under short-term contracts and assigned to the Norwegian subsidiaries via third-party crew sourcing firms. In short, Norwegian exploited labor while enjoying the liberalized benefits of the U.S.-E.U.-Iceland-Norway open skies agreement and competing unfairly with airlines that do not subvert fair labor standards.”

Norwegian 787
Norwegian recently announced it would be ending long-haul operations. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Using Norwegian as a warning

The letter also urged the DOT to consider that Norwegian failed in its transatlantic operations. Between 2016 and 2019, the letter states that Norwegian incurred debt of nearly $7 billion.

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Norwegian is currently under bankruptcy proceedings in Europe and has decided to shut down its long-haul routes and focus on its flights within Europe.

Norwegian made a huge splash when it started transatlantic operations in 2016 between the US and Europe. Using a fleet of mostly Boeing 787 aircraft, the airline brought large numbers of customers across the pond.

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Norse Atlantic Airways has already indicated it will operate a similar model, using Boeing 787 aircraft it has signed leases for.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner
The Dreamliner is an efficient long-haul aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

US airlines breathed a sigh of relief

When Norwegian came into the transatlantic market, it followed its initial routes with plenty of growth. That growth put pressure on US airlines.

Now, without Norwegian in the market, airlines are breathing a sigh of relief. Without that low-cost competition in the market, airlines like United are bullish on their international exposure. Without Norwegian in the market, there is also room for plenty of existing airlines to move toward higher-yield transatlantic operations.

Norwegian 787
Norse will need to do what Norwegian could not: make long-haul operations profitable. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

The return of transatlantic demand will depend greatly on the removal of travel restrictions between the US and Europe. Most airlines are focused on cargo with low passenger loads on flights to Europe currently. Only essential travel is permitted between the two areas.

Norse Atlantic is a startup to watch. It has the opportunity to massively grow to the size of Norwegian’s long-haul operations before it shut down, but doing so may come at a high cost and low profitability. It will have to make the long-haul low-cost model work to be successful.

For now, it is a waiting game to see how the DOT will respond to Norse Atlantic. US Congressmen are coming down on the side of the US airline industry, but the DOT may end up granting Norse Atlantic operating permission.

Do you think Norse Atlantic Airways should be allowed to operate between the US and Europe? Let us know in the comments!

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Source: https://simpleflying.com/us-congressman-norse-atlantic-permits/

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Frontier Launches IPO – How Can The Airline Benefit?

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American ultra-low-cost carrier (ULCC) Frontier Airlines has officially gone public. Pricing out at the lower end of its target share price, the airline is still expecting to raise over $200 million from the endeavor. Here is a look at how that could benefit the airline.

Frontier Airbus A320
Frontier Airlines is set to benefit from its IPO. Photo: Frontier Airlines

Frontier’s initial public offering pricing

Frontier Airlines announced its initial public offering of 30 million shares at a price of $19 per share. This was toward the lower end of the initial pricing for Frontier’s shares. The share consists of 15 million shares of commons tock offered by Frontier and 15 million shares of common stock to be sold by certain of Frontier’s existing stockholders.

Less the underwriting discount, commissions, and estimated offering expenses, Frontier will net proceeds of approximately $266 million. The sale of stock by the existing stakeholders will not raise Frontier cash. Overall, the net proceeds to both Frontier and the private stakeholders is expected to be over $500 million.

Frontier IPO
Frontier is now trading on the stock market. Photo: Frontier Airlines

The airline is being traded on the Nasdaq Global Select Market under the ticker “ULCC.” Since going public, the airline’s stock price has hovered between $18 and $19 a share.

The net proceeds

The amount that Frontier expects to receive is around $266 million. This is a respectable amount similar to the funding another airline IPO, Sun Country, received.

With $266 million, the airline can do plenty of things. Frontier ended 2020 with long-term debt of over $300 million. The airline can choose to pay down some of its high-cost debt with these proceeds. Or else, the money can be used to fuel expansion. The airline sees plenty of growth opportunities and has a sizable aircraft order book which costs money, and this funding can go a long way.

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Frontier A320
There is a lot Frontier can do with this money. Photo: Frontier Airlines

The current state at Frontier

Frontier Airlines is one of the carriers leading the way with capacity increases through the year. The airline’s top stations are Denver, Orlando, and Las Vegas. These are major leisure travel hotspots, but some of them also provide opportunities for Frontier to sell connecting flights.

Frontier serves over 300 nonstop routes touching around 110 airports. Using a low-frequency model, the airline targets mostly point-to-point leisure travelers.

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Frontier also sees plenty of room for growth. In the airline’s initial filing for an IPO, the carrier highlighted it had an opportunity to serve 518 additional domestic routes between airports within its existing network not currently served by a ULCC. This is a fascinating number, but it also raises the question of Frontier’s expansion.

Frontier AIrcraft
Frontier is a ULCC that generally operates on a low-frequency, point-to-point model. Photo: Getty Images

In the past, Frontier has not been very hesitant in terms of adding new cities and then cutting them if those flights do not provide the anticipated financial benefits. Moving forward, Frontier will face shareholders and stockholders that may temper some of those ambitions, but the carrier is still expected to add new routes. This is especially true as signs continue to point toward a summer surge, and the CDC outlines guidelines for vaccinated Americans to travel.

The airline is already making moves to become a more modern, fuel-efficient carrier with an eye on costs. The aging and comparatively expensive Airbus A319s will exit the fleet this year as the airline welcomes newer Airbus A320neo family aircraft. Those new jets will also feature lighter-weight seats that will save on fuel, which in turn saves on Frontier’s costs.

Frontier A320neo
Frontier has started taking delivery of aircraft with new seats inside. Photo: Frontier Airlines

Ultimately, Frontier has set itself up to do well in the future. The net proceeds from this IPO will go a long way in getting Frontier the cash influx it needs to survive the next few months and prepare to handle the increase in passengers expected over the summer. As the US airline industry starts to turn the page on the crisis, Frontier is expected to be one carrier that benefits early on from its mostly domestic and short-haul international leisure-oriented model.

Do you think Frontier made the right decision by launching an IPO? Let us know in the comments!

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Source: https://simpleflying.com/frontier-ipo-launched/

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Cheap ticket deal breaks Virgin’s all-time record, despite lockdown

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Virgin Australia 737-8FE(WL) Brisbane Airport VH-YIB
‘Trinity Beach’ arriving into Brisbane Airport as ‘VA957’ in some windy and overcast conditions. 1/10th sec pan for those who are interested.

Virgin sold more domestic tickets on the launch day of the government’s half-price ticket scheme than on any 24-hour period in its history.

The result came despite fears Brisbane’s recent snap lockdown, which ended on Thursday, would put people off interstate travel.

Domestic aviation has been pinning its recovery hopes on the federal government’s plan to supplement 800,000 half-price airfares for passengers to 15 destinations including the Gold Coast, Alice Springs and Kangaroo Island. It follows the end of JobKeeper last week.

Virgin said in a statement it sold 71,000 supplemented seats in the 24-hour period from 12:01am on 1 April. The top five routes were:

  • Melbourne to Gold Coast
  • Gold Coast to Sydney
  • Maroochydore to Melbourne
  • Cairns to Sydney
  • Adelaide to Melbourne

Destinations not in the scheme also received a “significant boost”, in particular, Melbourne to Perth, Perth to Sydney and Melbourne to Sydney.

“The overwhelming response from Australians demonstrates loud and clear that they are ready to get back in the air and travel and are a positive sign for the aviation and tourism sectors as they look to recover from the impacts of COVID-19,” said the business in a statement.

“As a sign of renewed confidence and pent-up travel demand for travel, more than 85 per cent of the new bookings have been booked for travel from May onwards.”

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Skyscanner also said direct interest in booking on Thursday were 25 per cent higher than the week prior, while web searches for “Qantas”, “Jetstar” and “Virgin” also leapt six-fold.

Greater Brisbane lifted its snap lockdown on Thursday at noon, following the state recording just one new case of community transmission.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk did though announce a slight increase in restrictions, which will require residents to wear masks indoors and a limit of indoor gatherings to 30.

The good news came shortly before NSW announced no new local infections across the state, too.

The half-price ticket scheme saw Virgin announcing fares from just $55 between Melbourne-Launceston and Jetstar offering tickets from just $32 between Adelaide and Avalon.

The updated list of destinations now includes Cairns, Townsville, Whitsunday Coast/Hamilton Island, Sunshine Coast, Darwin, Alice Springs, Hobart, Launceston, Devonport, Broome, Avalon, Merimbula, Adelaide, Kangaroo Island and the Gold Coast.

The fares are on sale until the end of July for travel until the end of September, with discounts applied automatically.

Both airline groups have also topped up the 15 locations with sales to other destinations and also extended fare flexibility in light of recent uncertainty.

The package of measures to support aviation in Australia also includes a new wage subsidy for those working in international aviation; cheap loans to small business coming off JobKeeper; and a six-month extension of the ‘RANS’ and ‘DANS’ supplemented routes initiative.

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Source: https://australianaviation.com.au/2021/04/cheap-ticket-deal-breaks-virgins-all-time-record-despite-lockdown/

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