Airlines move closer to NFC tech for passengers

The air transport industry has moved closer to introducing smartphone near field communications (NFC) for passengers.

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The air transport industry has moved closer to introducing smartphone near field communications (NFC) for passengers.

NFC allows a smartphone to be used to "tap and check-in" or "tap and board" their flight, said air transport IT supplier SITA. SITA, which is owned by the major airlines and other players, is promoting a SIM-based proof-of-concept NFC system in partnership with technology partner Orange Business Services.

The system shows an NFC-enabled phone being used as a boarding pass to open security, airline lounge and boarding gates automatically. Leading airport equipment providers DESKO and Kaba have joined SITA and Orange in the development of the pilot, providing advanced scanners, readers and security access gates.

SITA said a passenger using an NFC-enabled device can be processed faster than any other current boarding processes available today. Advantages of NFC, said SITA, included the technology working even when the device is powered off, not having to use an app or imagery, and not being affected by reading problems caused by dirty screens.

Jim Peters, SITA chief technology officer, said: "Mobile NFC is still a maturing technology with multiple implementation models. We chose to implement a solution that takes full advantage of the secure element on the SIM card and over-the-air deployment from a trusted service manager (TSM) to the device."

A TSM is an intermediary service, certified by mobile operators, to send applications and data securely to SIM cards. SITA says it is now working with the airlines and airports to develop a standard system to roll out NFC for passengers.

Half of the world's top airlines said they spent more in 2011 on IT and telecoms, according to the annual SITA/Airline Business Airline IT Trends Survey. The extra cash was spent on areas such as mobile transaction systems, support for commercial social networking efforts, virtualisation technology and cloud computing. The total airline IT and telecoms spend predicted for 2011 was $20 billion (£12.5 billion).