Transmission of Advance Passenger Information (API) and Passenger Name Record (PNR) data: Connectivity options with the transport industry

Advance Passenger Information (API) data is the set of data consisting of the details of the flight by the aircraft operators and the biographic data of a passenger or crew member available on his or her travel document collected by air carriers during check-in and, complemented with travel route information, transmitted by these carriers to the border control authorities of the country of destination. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), over 90 countries now require airlines to send API before the flight’s arrival (IATA, Passenger Facilitation, 2022). More countries are planning to introduce similar requirements soon. The provision of API data allows law enforcement to screen passengers’ data prior to arrival and helps to improve border controls and combat illegal immigration through the transmission of data by airlines to a Single Window.

Passenger Name Record (PNR) data – is a generic name given to records created by aircraft operators or their authorized agents for each journey booked by or on behalf of any passenger. PNR data are used by operators for their own commercial and operational purposes in providing air transportation services. More clearly, PNR relates to travellers’ reservation and itinerary data in the carrier’s departure and control reservation systems.

The analysis of PNR data helps law enforcement agencies to detect suspicious travel patterns and identify criminals and terrorists, particularly unknown ones. The core objective of using PNR data by law enforcement is about to prevent and fight against terrorism, serious crimes, and drug and human trafficking.

The technology used by participating countries to support the transmission of crew and passenger information by a commercial air carrier and/or commercial service provider is called the Data Acquisition Solution (OSCE). Normally, there are two options for commercial air carriers to push the passenger data to the Single Window. This could be possible via commercial service providers and/or commercial air carriers transmitting the data directly to the Single Window of the respective law enforcement agency.

However, the studies show that countries implementing API and PNR systems sometimes struggle to choose the right scenarios. Thus, not knowing the proper regulation of the data transfer procedure results in both resource and time loss. Mostly, the root of the problem lies in the fact that the lack of knowledge and skills as well as human resources. Thus, countries with limited technical ability or capacity accept free connection proposals to their system offered by commercial providers and this sometimes results in poor data transmission and invisible financial losses.

It is obvious that not all countries have the same level of resources and capacity in implementing API/PNR systems and countries significantly differ from each other in this regard. The classification of countries is measured by their income and other factors such as the availability of human resources and technological advancements.

This article mainly focuses on the transmission methods of API and PNR data and potential connectivity options for governments. Although, it will provide cost and benefit analysis in implementing and operating passenger data systems. However, the document does not cover technical information related to the data standards.

Data Transmission Methods
Effective implementation of API and PNR systems necessitates focusing on the following work streams:

  • Legislative framework;
  • Institutional set-up and operational capacity;
  • Connectivity options and cooperation with stakeholders;
  • Technological readiness.

As it is seen, the third important component is the arrangement and transmission of high-quality data between the air carriers and the government. The close cooperation with the airlines to ensure collaboration and technical connectivity is quite significant in obtaining the data appropriately and on time. The essential part of this process is to manage effectively the connection between the air transport industry and the Single Window.

From this standpoint, the development of API and PNR systems, especially the rules applied in data transmission, is highly dependent on the availability of resources. The issues of data transmission and connection with airlines are the most important stages of the API/PNR implementation process, and the countries’ readiness plays a crucial role in obtaining high-quality data in line with international standards.

The practical challenges and statistics depict that governments connecting with airlines are faced with technical and financial issues, including a lack of manpower in transmitting passenger data. Namely, governments and airlines need to mutually adapt their messaging systems and the private sector cannot always use its resources to fulfil these needs.

There are a number of options for governments in collecting data. The most important for governments in the data exchange process is to receive API and PNR data in an agreed format and standards without paying a lot of money. However, this is not that simple. Obviously, if governments are not able to create their own gateways, they need to work with commercial companies to finalize their passenger data project. In the case of the one-to-one relationship between the airlines and the government, they need to contact and consult individually and sign separate contracts regarding data transmission. The whole aspects of the data exchange process, including format, frequency, time, commitments, responsibilities and so on, are reflected in the content of the contract and this is an effective way to avoid any misunderstanding or confusion between the parties during the transmission process.

Additionally, the success of this scenario is that a responsible government agency is not obliged to pay any annual service fee to any third parties for the transmission and automatically eliminates its future dependency as well. However, in order to pursue the first scenario and for it to be successful, high technological capacity and high-calibre manpower resources are necessary for governments.

The second scenario in data transmission is about using commercial service providers or data brokers. In practice, most airline companies have not been happy to work directly with governments. The main reason is that airlines need to use their resources for many administrative issues related to technical connections and legal adjustments. Therefore, service providers play a crucial role in connecting airlines to governments. The advantage of this scenario is that the service providers transmit the required information in an approved format in a short time. In addition to that, the responsible government agency gains significant time by avoiding consultation and some other redundant stages to ensure data transmission. It is because the data transmission process is quite long, exhausting and time-consuming. There are several technical and administrative issues that need to be agreed upon and integrated between the parties, and it can take several months or even years for the whole process to be completed.

There are many commercial organizations that offer these solutions for connecting governments with air carriers around the world. Passenger data gateways are different due to the potential and product portfolio of each provider. However, most companies are trying to ensure an end-to-end solution for governments in obtaining, collecting, transmitting and storing Advance Passenger Information (API) and Passenger Name Records (PNR) data. Normally, the main services offered by commercial organizations are:

  • submission of data in a standard format;
  • direct connectivity with airlines to collect passenger data;
  • provision of data in line with WCO/IATA/ICAO rules;
  • transmission of data to Single Window or other relevant government agencies based on national legislation;
  • connectivity options with other transport modalities;

SITA, WCC, IDEMIA, IBM and others are offering collection, transmission, processing and profiling of passenger data as commercial service providers. According to SITA (SITA, 2023), there are over 600 airline carriers connected to their gateway, enabling fast implementation and certification.

WCC’s HERMES Passenger Data Gateway is an end-to-end solution for governments who prefer to have full control over obtaining, managing, and forwarding Advance Passenger Information (API) and Passenger Name Records (PNR) passenger data.

Alternative commercial service providers offer gateway services that act as a “black box”. The main differentiator of WCC’s PDG is that the government has full control over the data and the associated data connections (WCC, 2023).

Another great model is goTravel, the United Nations-owned software solution. Despite goTravel not being a commercial product, it offers complete and comprehensive end-to-end solutions to governments. These include data ingestion, interactive API, analytics, integration with respective databases, artificial intelligence, machine learning and other options.

It is clear that integration and data transmission processes through the service providers are not free. In actual fact, some service providers may offer free connections to the airlines by placing some conditions on the contract. These conditions can be as follows:

The broad-used version is that the service provider ensures free transmission of data from one Center to the Single Window in a unique format and charges governments some fees in return for this service. Normally countries allocate a significant amount to the implementation of API and PNR systems and service fees of a commercial service provider are constituting part of general expenditures.

Another offered option by the service providers to the governments is to cover expenses from the ticket sales and charges the costs from the budget of passengers. In most cases, this option covers the entire implementation process including hardware, targeting system, carrier engagement, and legal and technical support. Additional proposals could be the integration of whole systems to electronic visas. Taking into account the large volume of this approach, this is quite expensive and charged per passenger. Namely, all costs included extra to the airline tickets.

At first glance, this proposed version may seem convenient, attractive and profitable for governments. However, when we look at the issue deeply from the aspects of the national legislation, passengers’ rights and the position of governments, this scenario may not be considered so appropriate and effective. Additionally, this policy is against the financial strategy of airlines. These additional charges are used to solve the issues related to the national security of the countries, not aviation security.

The arrangement and transmission of high-quality data between air carriers and Single Window are quite costly and in most cases, commercial providers adopted different payment methods, such as per-passenger charging. Certainly, prestigious professional services firms are following ICAO guidelines and IATA policy, and their systems are priced traditionally. In addition to that, per passenger fee mechanism is not stable and fluctuation in the number of passengers disrupts assurance and permanency.

Therefore, governments carefully consider and understand all scenarios before starting API and PNR implementation. Particularly, commercial offerings require a deep analysis not only from the financial and technical aspects, but also from the legal, data privacy, passengers’ rights, and national security aspects.

The passenger data systems must be secured and designed with robust measures to protect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of data collected. The legal and technical framework must be in place for accuracy and completeness. All these include establishing protocols for data entry, validation, verification, access control, data encryption and obtrusion detection.

To sum up, if the technical and financial capacity of the country allows arranging direct connections between commercial air carriers and Single Window through a secure channel under the framework of a one-to-one relationship, that potentially eliminates the need to engage with a commercial service provider as well as future dependency. However, commercial service providers are an effective solution in case of a lack of resources.

By Rovshan Namazov
Advisor: Prof. Nobuhide OTOMO
Kanazawa University, Japan