SITA predicts huge tech influence on air travel

SITA has predicted a revolution in how passengers in the future will use the online flight-booking engine, as the specialist in air transport communication and IT solutions marked its 60th anniversary with a look at how technology will change the face of air travel over the next five years.Jim Peters, SITA’s Chief Technology Officer, said, “The rise of social networking over the internet means that the days of the simple online flight-booking engine are numbered. Web 2.0 technologies will transform airline websites into travel planning portals that go far beyond date and location. By making it faster, easier and more cost-effective to provide real-time content from diverse sources, Web 2.0 technologies meet travellers’ demands for greater information and personalisation.

“In the near future when a customer makes a booking, the airline website could extract the passenger’s preferences from its frequent flyer programme, combine it with external content from travel websites so that hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions can be overlaid on a Google map and the traveller can then take a virtual sight-seeing tour and be linked in with friends’ travel plans.”

In a New Frontiers Paper, Ten Technology Advances That Will Change Air Travel, released on Monday, SITA forecasts that mobile devices are about to have the same impact on the passenger journey as the jet engine did 50 years ago.

“Mobile phones are fast becoming access points to online services and over 90% of passengers carry them. Digitally-equipped passengers will access all their travel needs while on the move including purchasing airline tickets and checking-in. Mobile boarding passes could save the industry $500 million as we move towards paperless travel. The launch last week of in-flight mobile phone services on Ryanair by SITA’s subsidiary, OnAir, is further proof of how important the mobile phone is becoming for today’s travellers.”

Biometric identification and the use of mobile devices will also be boosted by the adoption of Near Field Communications (NFC), a short-range high frequency wireless communication technology that enables the simple and fast exchange of data between devices over a space of about 10 cms or four inches. The technology is intelligent, secure and interactive which makes it ideal for the air transport industry.

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Peters added, “NFC makes it possible to provide electronic services to travellers in a simple way while reducing the amount of paper and plastic cards a passenger has to carry for a journey. A NFC-embedded mobile phone may be all that’s necessary for a passenger to take their flight.

“The ticket can be purchased online and sent to the mobile phone; check-in can then be made on the way to the airport. Biometric border controls verify the passenger’s identity and a simple wave of the phone across a wireless reader at the gate validates the e-boarding card enabling the passenger to walk directly onto the aircraft.”

Biometric identification is set to have a huge impact as SITA predicts its adoption will explode from 2% of airports using it today, to over 30% using it in five years, and not just for speeding passengers through border control but also through the check-in and boarding processes.

SITA also predicts that Radio-frequency identification (RFID), an automatic identification method, is about to have a major impact on travel not only through RFID chips being embedded in e-passports but also in tackling passengers’ number one frustration after flight delays, mishandled baggage.

“RFID is not a universal solution to the problem of mishandled baggage but if implemented system-wide it could save the industry $750 million annually by ensuring origin-to-destination tracking of baggage,” said Peters.

RFID is also looked at from the perspective of technologies that will improve Air Transport Industry operations alongside Service Oriented Architecture, Cloud Computing, Collaborative Decision Making and Virtualization. When data encoded on RFID tagged parts and situational data received from new generation digitally-enabled aircraft, can be intelligently combined, it will lower maintenance costs considerably for the industry, the SITA study predicts.

SITA was founded 60 years ago by 11 airlines to provide shared information and telecommunications services to the infant air transport industry. Today it is one of the world’s most international companies. Its global reach is based on local presence, with services for around 600 air transport industry members and 3,000 customers in over 220 countries and territories.
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