Transtasman travel has become a lot easier with the introduction of the SmartGate system at Auckland Airport.

Prime Minister John Key became the first person to sign in with the new technology yesterday.

Customs NZ deputy controller John Secker said the opening of Auckland's SmartGate was the single biggest development in border processing in 20 years.

Passengers with Australian or New Zealand electronic passports can now fast-track into the country by using a new automated system.

Travellers scan their passports at a kiosk, answer a few questions using a touch screen and are issued with a ticket.

At the gate, a camera scans the passenger's face using biometric facial recognition technology.

If there is a match with the image stored in the passport, the gate opens.

It is hoped the new system will make arriving at Auckland Airport a more pleasant and rapid experience and improve security.

"We are trying to improve the sense of welcome to New Zealand."

Auckland Airport chief executive Simon Moutter said the SmartGate gave travellers more choice andcontrol.

"Making international travel easier will help grow international tourism and trade which will help in New Zealand's economic recovery."

Mr Key said the system was now only for New Zealand and Australian passport holders, but it would eventually be available for all all passengers.

There were also plans to introduce the technology to other airports.

"In my view tourism is going to be the largest export earner New Zealand has," he said. "In the years ahead we are going to see more people travelling to New Zealand."