passengers, which reduces congestion.
Unfortunately the road to success was a little rough when it began more than three years ago. In spring 2000, EyeTicket met with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for approval of the pilot project. More specifically, the FAA needed to ensure that the technology met legal requirements.
In 2000, EyeTicket met a few times with Rear Admiral Cathal Flynn when he was the associate administrator for civil aviation security at the FAA, said Mann. "We asked him to clear the way for us to do a pilot program."
The purpose was to test the technology as it scanned the irises of airport employees, flight crews and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) personnel, among others, to determine their access permissions.
"The initial program was only scheduled to be one door and maybe 100 people," Mann said. "But as we were ramping up to do it, in April 2000, the GAO [General Accounting Office] came through the airport and found some big gaps in access control -- particularly in the identification of people."
Part of the problem the GAO discovered was "piggybacking" -- when more than one person clears a gate after only one person has permission to do so -- and as a result of the GAO's findings, the pilot was expanded.
"Ultimately we installed three doors at Charlotte/Douglas that were all anti-piggybacking portals, which included not just the cameras and software, but [also] specialized doors," Mann said.
The pilot program ran successfully for about 17 months. The system ran approximately 400,000 transactions with no security breaches or identification faults. It also gained support from Congress, with separate funding requests coming from the House of Representatives in April 2001, and the Senate in May 2001 for $2.75 million each.
"It was very well received, and we had some good champions in the legislative end," Mann said. "[We] had good requests for appropriations to at least designate some money to scale this in Charlotte."
It was at this time, as support for the technology was coming from many different directions and it seemed the system might become a fixture at the airport, that the attacks of Sept. 11 happened. The Charlotte/Douglas airport was forced to end the pilot.
"On about the 13th [of September], they asked us to deactivate the doors the pilots and flight crews used," said Mann. "Of course we agreed to do it. We objected to it, but we agreed to."
Just a few days later, the order came to remove all remaining doors, officially signaling the end of the partnership. Airport officials said they understood the usefulness of the iris-scan security technology, but their hands were tied.
"We were getting almost daily directives from FAA security people, and we just needed to get in step with the FAA," Orr said. "Every time they wanted a change in security procedure, they'd send you a notification that you needed to do place guards here or lock these doors."
Using the iris recognition technology was not explicitly forbidden by the FAA, but the airport was unwilling to continue using the technology because officials said they wanted to comply with FAA security directives.
"It was clear at the time we needed to deal with all FAA directives, and we didn't have the time and resources to deal with another level of stuff, which the iris scan was," said Orr. "So even though it provides an opportunity and it is available technology, it wasn't viewed as that by the FAA."
The Eye of the Beholder
Even though the airport and EyeTicket were forced to end the pilot, the company pursued another relationship with the airport to permanently install the iris-scanning technology.
Any permanent deal would have to be approved by the TSA