Cellphones to curb flight delays?

Brussels, 23 Jun 2008

The mobile phone will become an indispensable air travel tool within five years, according to research conducted by an airline IT vendor. If used as a passenger tracking and messaging device, it could save cash-strapped airlines up to $600 million a year by reducing flight delays.

Airline IT Society (Sita) CTO Jim Peters says new technologies such as near field communication, and existing means such as Bluetooth also offer the possibility of further automating the airline-passenger interface. It will do so by turning the cellphone into an "e-wallet", as well as an identity management tool carrying an "e-boarding pass".

"Mobile phones have the potential to hold boarding passes, baggage tracking information and payment data, making travel truly paperless and location independent," Peters says. "There is also the future possibility that they can be used to store visa and biometric information."

A report released at the Sita's Air Transport IT Summit, in Brussels, included research from Cambridge University in the UK. It demonstrated that technology such as location sensing via mobile devices could save airlines up to $600 million by tracking passengers, sending messages and moving them to gates more efficiently; improving turnaround times and reducing delays.

At current growth rates, there will be five billion mobile customers by 2011 and functionality on mobile devices will be increasingly sophisticated. For the air transport industry, this opens the door to a new way of doing business as mobile phones are currently used by 90% of airline passengers.

"These 'digital travellers' will have on-demand access to a range of mobile-enabled services such as real-time flight updates, self-service booking, check-in and boarding, and mobile payments," Peters adds.

"Some of these services are already available to passengers. For example, in Norway, Japan and Germany, paperless travel is a reality on some routes. But what our research shows is that these mobile services will be available to all travellers worldwide over the next five years. In fact, by the end of 2010, 67% of airlines plan to offer mobile check-in. By then 82% of airlines also plan to offer notification services on mobiles."

The report also demonstrates other areas where the air transport industry can gain from adopting these technologies. Using mobiles as tracking devices will also enable airports to up their revenue. A trial at Manchester Airport in the UK found the redemption of vouchers sent to passengers' mobile phones resulted in 45% higher spending among recipients than among other shoppers.

Francesco Violante, Sita's CEO, said: "The air transport industry needs to embrace these 'disruptive technologies'. The rewards will be at the bottom line with improved turnaround time, increased levels of self-service and new revenue streams. Sita's $110 million investment in research and development this year, including the new Sita Lab, shows our commitment to innovation and new technologies, which we believe will deliver benefits to the industry as a whole."

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