Mobile phones promise paperless air travel

Airline industry IT provider Sita says phones could be used to hold digital boarding passes, baggage-tracking info and payment data within the next five years
Written by Natasha Lomas, Contributor

Mobile phones could prove a godsend for the airline industry, saving time and, therefore, money.

Mobile phones could be used to hold digital boarding passes, baggage-tracking information and payment data within the next five years — making travel truly paperless — according to research by air-transport industry IT provider Sita.

GPS-enabled handsets could also be used to track passengers in airports, with the potential to save airlines $600m (£305m) by cutting flight delays, with messages sent to wayward passengers to move them to gates more efficiently, Sita explained.

Mobiles could eventually be used to hold visa and biometric information.

Phones are currently used by 90 percent of airline passengers, opening up revenue-generating opportunities, such as mobile vouchers that can be redeemed in airports, according to Sita.

Francesco Violante, chief executive of Sita, said in a statement: "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."

Online sales and increased use of Web 2.0 technologies can also deliver savings to the industry, said Sita chairman and British Airways chief information officer, Paul Coby. "Selling online has already massively helped to drive down distribution costs, saving airlines in the region of $2bn," he said in a statement.

Sita believes digital travellers will benefit too, gaining access to a range of mobile-enabled services, such as real-time flight updates; self-service booking, check-in and boarding; and mobile payments.

Jim Peters, chief technology officer of Sita, said some such services are already available to airline passengers, such as paperless travel on some routes in Germany, Japan and Norway.

He added in a statement: "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 percent of airlines plan to offer mobile check-in. By then, 82 percent of airlines also plan to offer notification services on mobiles."

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