The Entry/Exit System
The past years have seen several delays to the entry into operation of the European Union’s Entry/Exit System (EES). Aiming to improve the current process for Third Country Nationals (TCNs) entering and leaving the EU by air, land or sea, and to strengthen border security across the Union, the EES will replace the manual stamping of passports with the collection of passengers’ information, including biometric data in a central database. The new system will fill a significant gap in the EU’s security, migration and borders architecture by recording entry and exit of TCNs in the Schengen area. In addition to strengthening checks, the EES should also ultimately facilitate the required verification of travel credentials by industry operators to ensure that passengers travelling to the EU are in possession of the necessary documentation.
As the entry into operation of the EES faces the likelihood of another delay beyond 2023, there are three key considerations for industry and Member States alike as they deploy EES: First, that despite the delays, EES will be deployed; Second, that operators will be heavily impacted by EES; and third, technological innovations could alleviate some of the pressure.
1 – The EES is definitely happening
Whilst the EES is due for implementation by the end of 2023, growing evidence shows that it will be likely pushed back (again) until 2024-2025. France, for instance, has already requested to push back implementation until after the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. Political will, combined with issues on the manufacturing and service delivery side of the EES system that will be hosted by the EU, mean that a delay until 2025 is an increasingly likely possibility. Whilst constant implementation delays can encourage authorities to lose focus, it is important to remember that EES will happen, and industry should take advantage of foreseeable delays to further prepare.
2 – Airports and airlines will be heavily impacted by EES
Requesting more controls or implementing changes to current controls is always a complicated process. EES will impose a burden of additional checks and processes at airports, which will inevitably lead to a rise in border crossing time, with estimates showing that they are likely to be between two or three times longer per passenger. At first entry, passengers will need to expect lines; industry efforts are geared toward minimizing what could be hours of waiting time before crossing the border. Anticipation is therefore the key, including in how to address additional staffing issues for Member States and airports. Further impacts to be considered include the implications for transfer passengers within the EU and industry minimum connecting times; dedicated processes need to be put in place to avoid disruptions. Finally, the EES will also lengthen checks when exiting the EU, potentially increasing waiting times at departure, and creating bottlenecks on airports’ landside (with the security risks and unruly behaviors that might come with them). This may have a potential impact on the EU’s overall competitiveness and attractiveness as a destination.
3 – Technological advances will allow us to alleviate some of the pressure
Whilst these repercussions on European aviation can seem daunting, industry and authorities have the possibility to rely on already existing technologies and practices which will alleviate part of the foreseen pressure. The collective experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic have proven that the use of mobile or web-based applications for pre-departure checks can work. In the case of EES, a minimum advance would be to allow for passengers to complete the first-time entry questionnaire prior to departure, similar to applications which required appropriate COVID-19 documentation pre-departure. Furthermore, the use of already deployed Automatic Boarder Control Gates and eGates, which can already be used by specific TCNs such as British, American, Swiss, or Japanese citizens, could be encouraged. Should the EES Regulation allow it, these gates be part of the solution by reducing waiting times at the border and expected strains at regular booths.
In conclusion, whilst the entry into operation of the EES may seem daunting, operators and Member States alike should see the forest and for the trees, and the medium to long term benefits it will generate for travelers and for the deployment of innovative solutions at the EU’s external borders.
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