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Simplifying the Business - Scanning the Horizon

Following the successful completion of the bar-coded boarding pass project, we look at the next steps on the path towards e-travel

The IATA Board of Governors’ target of 95% coverage for bar coded boarding passes (BCBP) by the end of 2010 was accomplished early. By 31 December coverage was actually in excess of 99%, with only a few remote outposts left to adopt the new IATA two dimensional (2D) standard. The successful completion of the project will save the industry $1.5 billion a year.

“The job of transforming the industry has been done,” says Eric Leopold, IATA Global Head Passenger. “There are no significant roadblocks left. It is a simple matter of allocating the necessary resources to allow everybody who wants to join the global standard to do so.”

Leopold says that BCBP was a project like no other. Unlike e-ticketing (ET), there was no off-switch for BCBP. ET had a definite sting in the tail. Those airlines that hadn’t completed the project by the June 2008 deadline could no longer issue paper tickets in IATA’s Billing and Settlement Plan.

BCBP, however, had no cut-off point. And the required changes mostly involved airports and ground handlers—not IATA’s member airlines. “All Simplifying the Business (StB) projects are based on solid cases with well-defined benefits for the investments made,” says Leopold. “In the case of BCBP, that approach ensured economic sense and rallied all of our partners to a successful conclusion.”

The perfect date

Knowing that the project was worthwhile was only half the battle. IATA had to work with all stakeholders to facilitate the implementation of projects on a global scale.

“Our Matchmaker service allowed effective airline, airport and ground handler communication,” explains Leopold. “This is a secure portal designed to coordinate project requests. It already has more than 1,000 users. An airline could go on it to see how advanced in BCBP the airports in its network were, and perhaps encourage some coordination in project completion. This goes beyond offering global standards. This is practical, everyday assistance to more than 10,000 local implementations.”

Air Canada tracked the progress of the BCBP roll-out across its airport network via the Matchmaker. For example, the Matchmaker provided detailed technical information and useful contacts at Cuban airports and their system providers, saving time and money for Air Canada.

Matchmaker’s success means it will now be extended to other StB projects, such as e-services, the Baggage Improvement Program, and Fast Travel. It will form a fundamental part of StB in future.

Wireless communication

The next step for BCBP is to go mobile, which will bring enormous advantages to IATA’s entire e-services suite.

Given that travelers are by definition mobile, it will be an essential service. Accordingly, experts are looking at ways to use Near Field Communication (NFC)—anticipated to be vital for a full mobile experience—on a widespread basis. NFC is a wireless, high-speed, secure data link. It involves touching a mobile device to a sensor, much like the systems in use at many big city subways.

Once implemented, NFC will allow airlines to provide a range of services via a mobile device, including the sale of ancillary products and services. The technology will be good enough to permit products such as an upgrade or lounge access to be offered and paid for through a mobile phone.

NFC is not far away from being an airline reality. Already, Air France, Amadeus, and IER have piloted an NFC-based boarding pass project at Nice Côte d’Azur Airport. Yannick Beunardeau, Amadeus’ Director of Airport Solutions, says the technology clearly works, adding that he anticipates further benefits. NFC‑based payment systems are only one advantage. The technology could even provide airports with real-time information on passenger flow, easing congestion problems.

Implementation, however, is not the only concern for the next step of the BCBP project. Increasing mobile penetration will largely be a battle with the regulators. “We have to get authorities across the world to accept mobile BCBP,” says Leopold. “In certain countries, having your boarding pass on a mobile phone isn’t acceptable when trying to enter the airport, or passing through immigration or security. They want a piece of paper—and sometimes they even need to stamp it.”

Another crucial component in the roll-out of mobile services will be educating the public. Travelers need to know that their mobile phone will be an essential item for e-travel processes.

“What if the battery runs out?” asks Leopold. “We have to look at all the consequences of using mobile devices. The aim is to make travel easy, smooth, and convenient for passengers while at the same time satisfying regulatory requirements and reducing costs for operators. It is a lot to ask for, but it is achievable if the industry works together.”

The enabler

BCBP also has ramifications beyond the confines of the project itself. The technology is an enabler. So, aside from its own advantages, work on BCBP means further progress can be made in other areas of IATA’s e-services and Fast Travel initiatives. Two examples already out there in the market are self-boarding and self-service check-in. With the industry centering on agreed standards, airports and ground handlers are finding it ever easier to implement new processes.

Cathay Pacific is among the many airlines now offering apps for smartphones and devices such as the Apple iPad. Mobile BCBP will be a significant addition to these services.

“The initial BCBP project has finished on schedule and met its targets,” concludes Leopold. “But ET and BCBP are only the first steps. We are scanning the horizon for further opportunities. Our vision is a seamless global travel experience for all passengers. Simplifying the Business will get us there.”

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The Passenger Journey

What will the next stage of BCBP mean for a traveler? Once a flight is booked, an airline customer should benefit from a more seamless service.

The mobile bar code will mean no more printing boarding passes or ensuring booking references are on hand. All the information will be sent direct to a mobile device, which will in turn feed it to the appropriate readers/sensors as the passenger progresses through the airport.

If, on the way to the airport, a customer decides she is early and wants to use a lounge, that too will be easily accommodated. The service can be confirmed via the mobile phone, and the same device can be used to gain access and pay for the service on arrival—again simply by touching it to a reader. Aside from the obvious convenience in normal travel processes, using mobile devices when flights are disrupted will bring enormous advances in passenger services. ”


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