Industry Perspective: Automated Passport Control Kiosks Simplify Customs Operations

At George Bush Intercontinental Airport, these kiosks collect all of a passenger's information for Customs and Border Protection with no previous registration required for use.

by Timothy M. Walsh, GCR Inc. / May 5, 2014
George Bush Intercontinental Airport GCR Inc.

In 2013, nearly 8.8 million travelers passed through the international terminal at Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), according to Houston Airport System statistics. To simplify customs operations -- and the traveler experience for Canadian and U.S. citizens -- the Houston Airport System has implemented the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Automated Passport Control (APC). 

When arriving at IAH for their international flights, these travelers can use one of the 20 self-service kiosks, which collect traveler information and transfer it to U.S. Customs and Border Protection for law enforcement and border inspection purposes. Passengers simply place their passport on the scanning pad of the kiosk, and then answer several questions. The data is sent electronically to one of the screening officers on duty, minimizing both the effort required from the passenger and the chance for erroneous information to enter the system.

The kiosks collect passengers’ passport and flight information, declaration data; and they take photos, issue receipts to the passengers and scan fingerprints. The passengers proceed with their passport and receipt to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer for final verification. No previous registration is required to use these kiosks.  

The APC kiosks are having a significant impact on shortening the length of time required to clear Customs and Border Protection at IAH.

Throughout the entire planning, design and implementation phases for these kiosks, implemented by GCR Inc., an international professional services firm, the company worked with Customs and Border Patrol representatives to ensure the final implementation met all of the agency's requirements. 

Planning and Implementation Details

In the project initiation phase, business requirements were reviewed with internal and external stakeholders -- primarily U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. Kiosk procurement and infrastructure setup and hardware requirements were also discussed.

In the project planning phase, a project schedule was developed based on the application requirements, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol timeline, and infrastructure setup and kiosk hardware procurement. At the end of this phase, GCR met with the project sponsor and staff from Customs and Border Patrol headquarters and its local office to go over the schedule. Weekly status meetings were set up to discuss progress with stakeholders (primarily Customs and Border Patrol) and the project team. During this phase, Customs and Border Patrol headquarters provided requirements for network connection. 

During the requirement gathering and design phase, the GCR team gathered requirements from Customs and Border Protection (local and HQ), as well as the Houston Airport System, and created business and functional requirements. The kiosk application design and kiosk wrap design were also developed and reviewed with the stakeholders. The kiosk infrastructure design, passenger flow and podium layout at the Federal Inspection Services facility was a collaborative effort with CBP headquarters and the local CBP staff to optimize the flow of passengers and ensure the integrity of security operation. In addition, the kiosks are designed to comply with U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act requirements through the standard kiosk button interface, audio jack and braille labeling.  

Once development was complete, the application was tested with data provided by Customs and Border Protection. The test plans were reviewed with CBP headquarters prior to and after testing to validate results.

During the installation/setup phase, the kiosks were installed in the Federal Inspection Services area and connected to the network. The kiosks went through another round of testing with the Customs and Border Patrol test environment. The soft launch with CBP headquarters on the 6th of January processed more than 2,000 passengers, and average daily volume is now approaching 5,000 per day.

The next phase of the program -- Phase 3 -- is underway to accommodate U.S. Visa Waiver country passengers, which allows citizens of certain countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. To further improve the experience for arriving passengers at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, GCR is also working with the Houston Airport System to develop an APC mobile application.