New EES Technologies at Bulgaria´s Aviation Hubs

SSARM is Bulgaria’s largest IT systems integrator and was awarded a major contract to equip Bulgaria’s aviation hubs with EES-compliant border control solutions following a tender by the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior last year.

In the meantime, SSARM has fully installed a turnkey solution at Sofia, Varna and Burgas airports in cooperation with its German partner secunet. Bulgaria has thus become one of the first European countries to comprehensively prepare its busiest air borders for the EU-wide Entry/Exit System, long before its expected launch in May 2022.

Nikolay Dimchev – Managing Director of SSARM – about the project, his most interesting findings and the added value for passengers, border control and airports.

What exactly did you install at the airports in Varna, Burgas and Sofia and why?

The reason for implementing new border control systems is closely related to the EU’s decision to introduce the Entry/Exit System throughout the Schengen area in 2022. By taking facial images and fingerprints, all member states will in future know better which third-country nationals are entering the EU and ensure that individual passengers do not overstay. This enhances the security for all of us.

However, the integration of these additional process steps at primary border control threatens to cause a collapse if infrastructures remain unchanged, because clearance takes an average of 40-45 seconds longer – per passenger! Therefore, process automation at all possible steps, i.e. also at stationary border control counters, is inevitable. The Ministry of the Interior therefore decided to comprehensively modernise the border control technology and commissioned us with the implementation. We installed – in collaboration with our project partner secunet – ABC gates, self-service kiosks as well as camera systems and fingerprint readers for the stationary counters at the three aviation hubs in Bulgaria. The technologies fulfil different functions and are sometimes intended for different passenger groups – but all technologies together noticeably speed up the border control process and greatly reduce the workload of the responsible officers.

Why did you decide to bring secunet on board as a partner for the EES implementation? SSARM is a well-positioned IT system integrator itself.

We have been working with secunet in the area of high-security technologies for a long time and they have consistently proven to us that the quality of their products comprehensively meets the requirements of our customers. That’s why we also contacted secunet for the EES project. Although we are in an excellent position ourselves as system integrator who is very familiar with the Bulgarian market, we don’t have our own product portfolio in this area.

The EES solutions from secunet also convinced us: they deliver EES-compliant biometric solutions, assuring the best possible quality of the biometric capture and are designed to be highly resistant to circumvention and forgery. This is extremely important, especially for unattended systems where the officer is not standing right next to them monitoring each passenger. And last but not least, all products have a very eye-catching, modern design – not to be underestimated considering today’s innovative airport architectures.
In your view, what are the benefits of modernising the border control infrastructure for passengers, airports and border controls?

The benefits are quickly summed up: passengers – wherever they come from – now have access to automation technologies at the Bulgarian airports in Sofia, Varna and Burgas. Thanks to intuitive user guidance and innovative security mechanisms, passengers can be sure that their data will be captured quickly and is processed securely and in accordance with data protection regulations. The high-quality biometric acquisition is of course especially important for the border police. The officers are also ideally supported by the technologies and not put under additional strain. Airports benefit from the fact that despite more extensive border control processes, which actually take more time, there are no significantly longer queues and missed connecting flights.

What are your most important insights from this EES project?

Actually, we were confronted with the same challenges in the EES project as in almost every IT project: When things become more concrete than a description on paper, it is not uncommon that new or changed requirements arise from the customer side that have to be implemented in the running project at short notice. This is completely normal and we can deal with it very well.

In the case of the EES installations, for example, we installed the most modern, secure products and had to realise that this alone was not enough. Border control projects are about more than installing technologies. The products should optimise passenger processes and fit perfectly into the respective environment and infrastructure, which is different at every airport and at every land border. This was an important and new insight for us. The installation of glass walls between stationary and automated border control or the construction of racks for the fingerprint scanners, which otherwise would not be perfectly positioned for the passengers, are small examples. Fortunately, together with secunet, we were able to offer all new customer requirements, integrated them into the project implementation and still delivered on time.
Another important insight yet certainly not new is: You have to react flexibly right up to the end and remain focused on details if you want perfectly fitting installations that are also visually attractive.

Are there further points you would like to particularly highlight?

The EES installation was our first border control project, our premiere, so to speak. Having secunet’s experienced people on board was of course an enormous advantage for us. In times of this pandemic, we supported each other in the best possible way, even if we were forced to do so “remotely” for most of the project. Through this perfect collaboration, we succeeded in implementing the installations on time and achieving the customer’s declared goal: Bulgaria is one of the first countries in the EU to be equipped with an EES-compliant overall solution at the three aviation hubs, long before the official launch of the Entry/Exit System. This makes us happy.