Pilot ID System in Beta Testing

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A security system that uses biometrics embedded in an identification smart card has begun beta testing at FlightSafety International's training academy in Vero Beach, Florida. Sponsored by the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) and dubbed the National Air Transportation Security Identification System, the system uses a "SkyGuard" card that contains a 16K computer chip that can record pertinent information about the pilot as well as a photograph and a fingerprint.

The information is recorded on the card-a simple two-minute procedure-using a personal computer running appropriate software and hardware (a digital camera and a fingerprint scanner and card printer). Once the information is loaded onto the computer chip on the card, a fingerprint reader can be used at an access point to an airport or at a dispatcher's post before releasing an airplane to confirm that the fingerprint on the card and the fingerprint of the bearer are the same. All the dispatcher has to do is swipe the card through a card reader while the person pictured places the finger on the fingerprint reader. If the fingerprint on the card and that of the pilot don't correspond, the dispatcher is presented with a message that states, "Fingerprints don't match. Access denied."

NATA expects that participating flight schools with PCs would have to acquire the add-on camera and fingerprint scanner, a cost it estimates at as little as $300. Schools would be charged $10 a year for each aircraft they operate, while pilots would pay between $6 and $9 a month for the card.

NATA would provide the software and, linked by internet to each location, provide background checks and approval for applicants before issuing the cards and forwarding them to the applicant. NATA would also referee cases where pilots, because of an injury, for example, are unable to present fingerprints, or if they feel they are wrongly denied access.