Handsets Key to Paperless Air Travel

Some 90% of airline passengers use mobile phones, so airlines are exploring wireless money-saving options including digital boarding passes

Mobile phones could be a godsend to the airline industry—saving time and therefore money.

Mobile phones could be used to hold digital boarding passes, baggage tracking info 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 by cutting flight delays, with messages sent to wayward passengers to move them to gates more efficiently, Sita explained.

Mobiles could eventually even be used to hold visa and biometric info.

Phones are currently used by 90 per cent of airline passengers, which opens up possibilities for revenue-generating opportunities—such as mobile vouchers that can be redeemed in airports, according to Sita.

Francesco Violante, CEO 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 CIO, 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 reckons 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, CTO 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: "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 per cent of airlines plan to offer mobile check-in. By then 82 per cent of airlines also plan to offer notification services on mobiles."