Mobiles could save airlines US$600 million

New mobile phone technology could give cash-strapped airlines a hundres of millions over the next five years. The world’s 3.2 billion mobile phones could be transformed into indispensable air travel tools, and if used as passenger tracking devices they could save cash-strapped airlines millions up to US$600 million on reducing flight delays, according to research by SITA, the specialist IT provider to the air transport industry.As personal travel folders, mobile phones have the potential to hold boarding passes, baggage tracking information and payment data making travel truly paperless and location independent. There is also the future possibility that they can be used to store visa and biometric information.

The report distributed at SITA’s Air Transport IT Summit in Brussels, includes research from Cambridge University which demonstrates 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.

Jim Peters, Chief Technology Officer, SITA said: “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.

“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.

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The report also demonstrates other areas where the air transport industry can gain from adopting these technologies. Using mobiles as tracking devices, airports can not only move passengers more efficiently but also market revenue-earning services. During a trial at Manchester Airport in the UK, redemption of vouchers sent to passengers’ mobile phones resulted in 45% higher spending than among other shoppers.
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