Air travel to become more high-tech

Almost half the world’s airlines plan to offer some form of in-flight communications for passengers by the end of 2007, with most favoring Internet access, e-mail and SMS (short messaging service), according to the recently released Airline IT Trends Survey, published annually by SITA, a provider of IT services to the air transport industry.

Perhaps surprisingly, more than a third of airlines surveyed also said they expect to let passengers use mobile phones on planes by that time, “Mobile telephony – which is the least mature and probably the most controversial option – will be embraced by 36 percent of airlines by 2007, which is quite remarkable considering the product is not yet available,” said SITA president, Peter Buecking.

The findings are based on responses from senior IT executives at the world’s top 200 airlines, as well as big players in cargo and other markets. The airlines that responded account for two-thirds of the world’s airline revenue, SITA said.

The communications services are designed to snag new customers and build loyalty at a time when many airlines are struggling to turn a profit. Airlines are also turning increasingly to self-service systems, such as online ticket sales and check-in kiosks, to cut costs and move customers through airports more quickly, the survey found.

Seventy percent of the world’s airlines now sell tickets through the Internet, and 30 percent of all tickets issued are electronic, up from 19 percent a year ago, SITA said. Sixty percent of the airlines questioned reported using self-service kiosks. Most of those are tied to a particular airline today, but many will be general-purpose kiosks by 2007, where passengers can check in with any airline.

More passengers may also be able to print boarding passes before leaving for the airport, a measure that could reduce crowding at airline counters. That’s because almost two-thirds of airlines said they plan to introduce bar codes on tickets, rather than magnetic strips, by the end of 2007.

The bar codes could also allow passengers to present their boarding passes at the gate on a mobile phone or PDA (personal digital assistant), rather than using a paper copy.

Paul Coby, SITA’s chairman and CIO at British Airways PLC, said airlines will be “the world’s first fully Web-enabled industry.”

Related links:

Qualcomm, Connexion test in-flight wireless service

China Airlines signs for Boeing in-flight Internet

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