Contact Us


Airport Cooperative Research Program
500 Fifth Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20001

Phone: 202-334-2000

Close

Blockchain

ACRP Periodic Report on Transformative Technologies at Airports
- May 7, 2021

Technology Description

As consumers are becoming more aware of the digital security threats they face every day, secure digital transaction technology has become increasingly important. As they request more control over their data and organizations look at easier ways to confirm it, blockchain technology may provide a vehicle that allows both parties to conduct secure transactions online. Blockchain helps to provide an added layer of security to digital transactions and limits some of the concerns of data privacy. Blockchain was developed to decentralize the confirmation of data and facilitate a digital transaction.

Blockchain made its debut following a 2008 white paper developed by Satoshi Nakamoto, in which he referenced the now infamous Bitcoin cryptocurrency. Blockchain is an open, decentralized ledger that records transactions between two parties in a permanent way without needing third-party authentication, such as financial transactions or identity verification processes.[1] Although made popular through the rapid rise of Bitcoin, developers have begun to identify new potential use cases for the technology. The ability to facilitate transactions between two parties has shown itself useful to numerous applications, including finance, secure data, and identity verification. New use cases are continuing to materialize as more research is conducted on the technology.

Airports are highly transactional places. From identity verification to flight and payment confirmation, passengers are required to present multiple types of information at different stages of their journey. Airport operators who are looking to secure data transactions may incorporate blockchain technology to safely facilitate these transactions.

This Publication places blockchain in the Basic Transformation Tier due to blockchain having limited impacts on physical infrastructure and most airport processes. In addition, blockchain’s potential to not gain popularity in the market impacted its tier ranking. Blockchain’s impact on airport organizations relies heavily on its approval by governmental or financial institutions and user adoption. Due to a lack of clarity on blockchain’s future, there is still a possibility that blockchain may have no notable impact on the aviation industry. However, blockchain’s security benefits will keep airport operators interested in blockchain technology as airport organizations look to maintain data security.

Impacts

Until real-world deployments begin, airport operators will likely not understand the full impact that blockchain will have on their airport environment. This article outlines many of the high-profile impacts that airport operators may expect from blockchain technology as its usage increases. Following the impact list, two notable impacts are detailed further.

Impacts

Management/Operations

  • Added development costs for interfacing with blockchain systems

Technical/Infrastructure Readiness

  • Development of necessary data integrations to accept third-party-provided identity information
  • Development of airport systems to incorporate blockchain technology

Process/Skill Set Changes

  • Reduction in human-driven identity verification needs
  • Incorporation of passenger-owned data into other processing steps

Passenger Experience/Passenger Process

  • Improve experiences around the single-token passenger process for seamless travel
  • Passengers will own and provide only necessary data at each step of the process
  • Increases self-service options for passengers, powered by the biometric single token
  • Facilitates payment while adhering to PCI (payment card industry) regulations and common-use operating requirements

Security/Safety

  • Cybersecurity improvements for data transfers
  • Updating the security process to incorporate blockchain identity verification
  • Improvements of biometric identity verifications over a human-based process

Airport Design/Construction

  • Airports can incorporate a design around an increasingly streamlined and self-service–focused approach

Legal/Risk

  • Legal regulation and data privacy concerns must be considered when sharing financial or identification data
  • New data ownership regulation as blockchain users directly control the use of their data

Featured Impacts

Increases self-service options for passengers: Blockchain can provide a token for passengers to digitally hold, which provides their identification data at processing locations throughout their journey. A universally trusted identity framework supported by blockchain technology would alleviate some of the verification requirements placed on an airport organization.

Cybersecurity improvements for data transfers: The distributed nature of blockchain provides multiple verification points that a potential hacker would need to overcome to alter data undetected. Airports can leverage this characteristic of blockchain technology to secure data transmission of financial transactions or passenger identity information.[2]

Attributes

To better understand blockchain technology, airport operators should gain a better understanding of its specific attributes. This article explores the operating factors of blockchain and some of its usage characteristics. Understanding these attributes will help airport operators determine applicable use cases for blockchain and how their organization can support it.

Level of Airport Control

Blockchain has both private and public characteristics. Public blockchains require agreements from various governmental and business organizations to set standards on how to provide and verify data. Private blockchains can be deployed internally by an organization to secure data transmissions internally. Airport organizations can incorporate aspects of public and private blockchains into their operations; public blockchains can be used to verify identification and financial transactions, while private blockchains can be used for internal data security.[3]

Customer Culture Change/Cultural Impacts

Blockchain has the potential to change the way passengers provide their data across the passenger journey. Passengers expecting improved levels of data protection and increased opportunities for self-service may drive blockchain’s adoption in the airport process. This may alter how they interact with the airport and the types of services an airport must provide.

Learning Curve

Blockchain is a technology that would replace identity and transaction verification processes that have been in place for decades. Organizations will need to review how the inclusion of blockchain solutions will alter approaches to current processes. In doing this, organizations should maintain an understanding of potential blockchain use cases and the requirements to implement and leverage blockchain within their organization.

Use Cases/Business Effect

With every new or emerging technology, there are two basic questions an airport operator asks: “How can my airport use this?” and “How does this affect my business, even if my airport doesn’t wish to use it for our own benefit?” This article provides answers to both of these questions, addressing the airport uses cases and business effect of blockchain technology.

Use Cases

As blockchain technologies advance to a point of being cost-effective with widespread adoption, potential use cases become available for airport operators to incorporate into their organizations.

Identity Verification

Airport and governmental organizations can leverage blockchain’s secure nature to verify passenger information. Passengers can provide only the data needed—including ID and flight locations—at various processing points in the airport and can keep the rest of their data secure. Passengers can hold their own data in a single token, and blockchain provides the layer of trust needed to verify that the information is legitimate. This could help alleviate fears around data privacy while providing a secure and compatible way of providing relevant passenger data.

Financial Transactions

Blockchain can provide a mechanism to help airport organizations with PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards) issues and facilitate a common-use payment platform. This can help to secure transactions while providing new ways of offering purchases to passengers.

Data Security

Deployment of a private blockchain network can improve security around data transmission. As airport organizations and businesses as a whole face increased threats from cybercrime, using blockchain where appropriate may help limit exposure.

Business Effect

Whether or not an airport chooses to employ blockchain for its own benefit, blockchain use and/or deployments near or on the airport property that are not directly initiated/driven by the airport organization may have an effect on aspects of the airport’s operations.

Provide Technical Support for External Parties

As the use of blockchain picks up, there may be an increasing number of passengers or airlines championing the use of blockchain. Airport operators must understand the technology in order to provide proper technology support or remove the processes that are no longer being used.

Regulation of Blockchain’s Use in Airport Processes

The airport organization may need to track how the token is being used within the airport and set requirements as more vendors, airlines, and passengers begin to adopt the technology. Requirements will maintain a compatible environment for users and allow them to use the technology.

Tiered Approach

Airport operators interested in new or emerging technologies, such as blockchain, will differ in their levels of risk tolerance. Some organizations are comfortable at the forefront of technology and have the resources to support innovation. Other organizations are interested in simply exploring how they can use blockchain within their limited resources.

This article takes a tiered approach to blockchain technology, providing use cases that are separated by the following innovation tiers: Reactive, Strategic, and Innovative.

Reactive

Defining Third-Party Use of Blockchain

Airport organizations not looking to actively deploy blockchain technology on the airport premises might still have to support the technology if it becomes popular with third-party organizations. Airport operators must understand how blockchain will function in airport processes and design solutions to support or rules to regulate the use of the technology. Airport organizations may limit the types of blockchain solutions used on the airport or institute an approval process to verify that the implementation of the technology will not impact current airport operations.

Strategic

Financial Transaction Processing and Smart Contracts

Blockchain’s distributed ledger functionality allows for the secure and verifiable transmission of data, including those linked to financial transactions. Airport organizations can provide secure and trusted payments to vendors through blockchain-supported platforms. Blockchain-supported contracts and transactions can reduce processing time and cost through the elimination of existing barriers, such as security confirmation and contract review.

Innovative

Blockchain for Verification of Passenger-Owned Data

Airport processes can integrate with a universally verified, passenger-owned token that verifies only the necessary aspects of a passenger’s information. A growing request for more ownership of data combined with a desire for more self-service options offers a market for a blockchain-supported token. Airport organizations can work with governmental organizations, vendors, and airport operators to design an integrated solution to process passengers across their whole journey.

Industry Status

Exploring blockchain technology deployments in both aviation and non-aviation industries can provide airport operators with a better understanding of the technology as a whole. This article outlines the current state of blockchain technology from both perspectives.

Aviation Industry

Ticket Issuance

Airlines are beginning to issue tickets through the blockchain for passengers. Hahn Air is the first airline to provide blockchain-enhanced ticketing, which reduces costs and improves security.[4]

Identity Management

Since digital security is a constant issue, initiatives are being formed around the use of blockchain to facilitate passenger identity information. Passengers would hold their data until the correct time to provide it. The blockchain acts as a layer of trust to third parties able to vet this information.[5]

Non-aviation Industry

Cryptocurrency

Cryptocurrency provides secure and untraceable digital financial transactions. These decentralized currencies use the distributed ledger functionality of blockchain to confirm transactions without the need to have a third party directly confirm the legitimacy.[6]

Supply Chain Management

Large corporations are beginning to invest in blockchain to assist with the management aspects of their supply chain. For example, Walmart is using the technology to address issues in invoice disputes with real-time data access.[7],[8]

Secure Voting and Digital Security

Using the security features of blockchain, governments are looking into using the technology to facilitate secure digital voting platforms. Verizon is beginning to allow customers to store their information in a secure, digital environment.[9]

Technology Interaction

Technology solutions may enable or be supported by other types of technologies. In some cases, the advancement of one technology may be vital to the effective use of another. This article highlights the high-level way that blockchain technologies may leverage the functionality of another technology or be used to enhance the functionality of another technology. As solution development continues, integrations with other technologies may become more evident.

Internet of Things

Internet of things devices inherently offer multiple new entrance points to a network and can pose a security threat. Blockchain can provide a new way to secure these data transmissions, which can, in some cases, include private passenger and organization data.

Technology Barriers

As with other technologies noted in this Publication, there are market forces or obstacles in development that present barriers to the deployment or widespread adoption of blockchain technology. Keeping abreast of these barriers can help airport operators know when to expect to see wider use of this technology in the public and when they should look to reassess it for their own use. This article outlines the current state of blockchain technology barriers.

System and Process Compatibility

There is still a need for system compatibility to support the use of blockchain. Applicable devices must have access to the data integrations necessary to support a blockchain solution.

Industry Standardization and Interface Design

Since blockchain will need to interact across businesses and industries, these stakeholders will need to work together to standardize what specific data are used and how those data will be validated.

Legal Regulation and Governmental Coordination

Many industries and users will not be comfortable adopting blockchain until regulatory authorities give effective insight. Governmental organizations have been taking a harder stance on consumer data privacy, most notably the European Union’s passing of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in 2018.

Lack of Public Understanding

The current public understanding of blockchain is still very limited, and many still only associate blockchain with Bitcoin. The potential use cases and benefits for blockchain must be clearly explained, and efforts must be made to distance the association with Bitcoin.