Airlines embrace mobile platforms

Cannes, France, 02 Jul 2009

Airlines increasingly see mobile phones as a tool that can help them communicate with passengers and transmit important travel updates.

A new airline industry survey says 78% of airlines, therefore, intend to adapt their Web sites to work on mobile phones by 2012.

The SITA 2009 Airline IT Trends Survey adds that 38% of respondent airlines do not yet provide any mobile services as they see no clear business case and only 20% currently offer mobile phone check-in facilities.

The specialist airline ICT company's CEO Willy Walsh says: “Well over 80% of passengers polled did not want voice in flight. They were, however, keen on data, including Internet, e-mail and SMS.”

SITA says embracing mobile technology will open a new vista of convenience and self-service for passengers and industry.

Taking charge

The airline-owned company also announced the creation of a Mobile Workforce Innovation Focus Group. The initiative would define industry requirements for a common-use context-aware platform at airports, to boost the efficiency of airside operations and reduce flight delays through the improved provision of mobile solutions to airline and airport staff.

The move comes just after the European Union pushed mobile device manufacturers to standardise chargers in order to eliminate duplication and cut waste.

In support of industry demand for mobile phone applications, SITA yesterday demonstrated a mobile Web application it is trialling with Malaysia Airlines. The application could deliver mobile phone check-in and other functionality to the Web-enabled smartphones that are now becoming the standard offering of the major providers, including Nokia, Windows Mobile, the iPhone, Google's Android phone and the BlackBerry.

The demo application, shown at SITA's annual Air Transport IT Summit, held in Cannes, France, this week, is supported by a rendering engine, which provides consistent formatting for the different screen formats of these phones.

Jim Peters, SITA CTO, said the “research development, combined with the arrival of 100% bar-coded boarding passes next year, could create the necessary impetus to make mobile phones an essential travel tool for flight booking, check-in and boarding”.

Peters says the survey further shows “that only 15% of airlines have optimised their Web sites for mobile phones”.

“Our approach in SITA Labs is to develop a common platform to maximise the use of mobile phones as a travel tool. Our prototype interface works via the mobile device's Web browser, and we 'mobilise' rather than simply miniaturise the airline Web site for the convenience of the passenger eliminating unnecessary content.”

When it comes to airline workforce mobility, the survey shows that 51% of respondents plan to deploy data-centric mobile solutions at key hubs, and 37% are waiting to do so pending the availability of sufficient wireless access coverage at airports.

Providing context

Announcing the creation of the Mobile Workforce Focus Group, SITA's VP for innovation, technology and research, Greg Ouillon, said the “biggest drawback of existing mobile solutions today is the difficulty of adapting them to meet the real-time needs of workers in the airport environment and the cost of deployment”.

“The key to success is contextual information, adapting information delivery dynamically to completely transform airport business processes, especially for key on-the-ground staff, such as turnaround dispatch teams and maintenance engineers,” he added.

SITA and its technology partners are deploying a common-use context-aware platform at airports to support multiple mobile application scenarios (including passenger management, baggage processing, aircraft turnaround and airport operations).

Working with Appear, a provider of context-aware software infrastructure, SITA has deployed a live pilot of a mobile workforce solution for line maintenance with the Portuguese airline TAP. Other pilots are also scheduled.

Ouillon said managing “unexpected events, which are the main cause of aircraft delays, is a significant challenge for airlines as it impacts both customer satisfaction and their bottom line”.

“Providing the common-use platform to the industry to deploy context-aware mobile workforce solutions will enable a significant shift in operations at airports with real-time reporting, proactive decision-making, cost savings and enhanced customer service.”