Phoenix Sky Harbor Pioneers Field Assessment of TSA Mobile ID

Phoenix Sky Harbor Pioneers Field Assessment of TSA Mobile ID
Scott Berman
Published in: 

In the current digital landscape, new technologies and applications that potentially apply to airports change rapidly. But despite the pace and complexity of such changes, the need for convenience and security remains the same.

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) is balancing these challenging factors by implementing Mobile ID, a program that allows Arizona residents with TSA Pre- PreCheck® status to load their state-issued identification information onto their mobile phone or through Apple Wallet for use at TSA checkpoints. It’s all part of a TSA field assessment pilot program, and PHX led the way when it became the first U.S. airport to adopt Mobile ID in March 2022.

“Mobile ID eases the process of sharing necessary documentation, making the travel experience easier, all while enhancing security and privacy,” explains Chad Makovsky, director of Aviation Services at PHX. “Instead of taking out their driver’s license and showing it to the TSA officer, customers can now securely share and authenticate their digital Arizona identification on their Apple phone or watch using Apple Wallet.”


Project: Mobile ID Assessment Pilot

Location: Phoenix Sky Harbor Int’l Airport

2021 Passenger Volume: 38.8 million

Terminals: 2

Gates: 117

Airline Tenants: 20

Pilot Began: March 2022

Key Stakeholders: Airport; TSA; Apple; AZ Dept. of Transportation

Credential Authentication Technology Readers: IDEMIA

Key Benefit: Increased convenience for passengers with TSA Pre-Check status and Apple phones and/or watches

Eliminating a physical point of contact is another major benefit for COVID-conscious passengers and TSA officers.

Personnel at PHX are working with TSA, Apple and Arizona’s Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Division on the pilot, which is drawing interest from passengers and other airports. No timetable yet for a final program or for what form and procedures may ultimately be established, but the pilot is a significant step.

Nine other airports are also evaluating the advantages and possible disadvantages of Mobile ID during TSA’s field assessment pilot. (See box on opposite page for list of participants.) In addition, Apple is reportedly working with 13 states on Apple Wallet Mobile ID initiatives, possibly paving the way toward more airports offering the feature to passengers.

Makovsky notes that personnel at PHX find it gratifying to be early adopters of the technology. “We are pleased that Phoenix Sky Harbor was the first airport in the country to offer this innovation to travelers,” he remarks.

There is no cost for PHX to participate in the assessment program, and the airport didn’t hire outside consultants to assist with the initiative. It is, however, requiring a “strong and trusted partnership” between all the stakeholders, notes Heather Shelbrack, the airport’s Communications and Outreach administrator. “While the TSA led program development, the airport served in a supporting role to ensure necessary procedures were in place to support the initiative,” she explains. 

It all comes together for passengers inside the airport’s two terminals, where touchscreens on IDEMIA credential authentication technology (CAT) now include a digital tap or scan option in addition to the usual prompts about inserting passports and traditional identification cards.

Privacy and PR

The Mobile ID initiative at PHX and elsewhere builds on the existing technology of CAT readers, which are in place at 120 airports nationwide. Hence IDEMIA’s name for the program: CAT 2.

Jessie Hillenbrand, IDEMIA’s senior director of federal marketing, describes the enhancement this way: “CAT 2 performs a 1:1 face match, which confirms that a live photo of the traveler matches the printed or electronic photo from their supplied credential and a digital identification.”

The face match feature makes the identity verification and validation process touchless and more secure, adds Hillenbrand. 

There’s also the important matter of protecting users’ privacy—a point TSA, PHX, Apple and IDEMIA all emphasize. Privacy and security “are cornerstones of an effective digital identity plan,” says Hillenbrand. “It’s important that the Mobile ID holder not be asked to relinquish their mobile devices as part of the normal travel-related processes.”

Further, CAT does not retain passenger information, she adds. And passengers uncomfortable with the new technology can still use traditional identification cards.

Given all that, Hillenbrand encourages stakeholders to clearly communicate how the new option ensures privacy and is a benefit. PHX has specifically worked to be proactive about communicating to the public and airport employees about Mobile ID. For example, the airport, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and TSA held a news conference in March 2022 to launch and demonstrate the new technology. “All local media outlets covered the launch, and we received local and national coverage,” reports Shelbrack. 

Additionally, PHX posted information about the new program on its website and on social media channels to encourage passengers to use the feature. Marketing personnel also penned pieces for local publications and conducted internal communication pushes to educate employees.

Ongoing Work

Kevin Schutzenhofer, the TSA stakeholder manager at PHX, is optimistic about how the assessment program is progressing. “While we are not yet prepared to comment specifically on any findings, preliminary results from the evaluation period are positive,” he says.

Technicians are compiling and analyzing performance data, including the number of passengers who are adopting the new feature. Development continues along several parameters, including efforts with stakeholders to ensure that the technology and passenger enrollments “align with leading standards and processes for identity assurance,” Schutzenhofer explains.

For PHX and TSA alike, it largely boils down to the passengers. “TSA is laying the groundwork with the Department of Homeland Security, industry partners and other stakeholders to ensure that digital identity plays a role in, and facilitates, an improved passenger experience,” says Schutzenhofer. “These partnerships will be critical in helping us develop scalable and mature solutions for wider use.”

Although there is no specific timeframe, TSA plans to release information about additional airports, states and partners working to authenticate other compliant digital IDs.

Mobile ID Field
Assessment Sites

  • Baltimore/Washington Int’l*
  • Dallas Fort Worth Int’l*
  • Gulfport Biloxi Int’l
  • Harry Reid Int’l
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Int’l
  • Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers Int’l
  • Miami Int’l
  • Norman Y. Mineta San Jose Int’l
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor Int’l
  • Ronald Reagan Washington National

* using an app created by American Airlines 


The more convenient, seamless and secure a new technology is, the sooner large numbers of passengers will use it. Participants in the PHX program recommend several things to help make that happen. “TSA encourages stakeholders in the aviation industry to make the necessary investments and coordinate with TSA as appropriate in order to streamline air travel while enhancing security effectiveness,” says Schutzenhofer.

In a broader sense, mobile ID technology could be a key step toward creating a completely digital airport experience, or at least something close to it. But making the most of the concept requires a range of stakeholders. “The full use and acceptance eases friction for the traveler,” says Hillenbrand. “If a traveler has to shift about from purse, pocket, wallet and phone to get to the next step, these points of friction can slow down the exciting journey features that are possible from mobile ID, and potentially create a lag in adoption.” 

Hillenbrand advises airports and authorities interested in Mobile ID to work collaboratively and periodically check with and update their partners. “Consider how your teams, your partners and the public use their identity across the travel journey,” she says, noting that the journey can transform into a reservation-to-destination experience that also includes hotels, rental car operations, airside deliveries and more. “As the technology becomes more ubiquitous, all parts will want to embrace the ease a mobile ID provides and how it reduces friction and speeds the entire journey.”

From the airport’s perspective, Makovsky sees the new technology as one more way to improve the passenger experience. “We are always looking for ways to provide a more efficient, empowered and seamless experience for our travelers,” he says. With Mobile ID, officials at PHX are testing a new way to do just that.


2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement

Giving back to the community is central to what Charlotte Douglas International Airport and its operator, the City of Charlotte Aviation Department, is about, and last year was no different. 

Throughout 2022, while recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, we continued our efforts to have a positive impact on the Charlotte community. Of particular note, we spent the year sharing stories of how Connections Don't Just Happen at the Terminal - from creating homeownership and employment opportunities to supporting economic growth through small-business development and offering outreach programs to help residents understand the Airport better.

This whitepaper highlights the construction projects, initiatives, programs and events that validate Charlotte Douglas as a premier airport.

Download the whitepaper: 2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement.



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