SITA, the air transport IT and communications specialists, is set to roll out mobile phone friendly beacons at 10 global airports, including the Middle East ones, over the next 12 months that will streamline passenger airport experiences.
SITA is in talks with “major hubs in Europe, United States, Asia and the Middle East,” said Kevin O’Sullivan, Lead Engineer at SITA Lab, an innovation division.
O’Sullivan was speaking at a press conference on the sidelines of the SITA Air Transport IT Summit in Brussels on Wednesday.
The beacons use Bluetooth low energy technology (BlE) that transmit signals that can be received by iPhone IOS 7 and later software and newer Android models.
Passengers will be able to download airline specific mobile applications that connect with the beacons. The application will provide passengers with directions, walk times to gates, lounge access and boarding alerts by using the beacon signals to locate where the passenger is in the airport.
The beacons can transmit signals to mobile devices that are up to a kilometre away.
SITA also announced on Wednesday it is launching the Common-use Beacon Registry that will set an industry standard by defining data sets and beacon types to be positioned at airports.
American Airlines is spearheading the rollout of the technology with a 180-day trial in conjunction with SITA at Dallas Forth Worth International where beacons have been placed throughout Terminal D.
American and SITA have been testing beacons for the past nine months and is using a brand called StickNFind that is slightly larger than a Dh1 coin. SITA and American Airlines did not disclose the costs of the trial. However, Phil Easter, American Airlines Director of Mobile Apps, said that each device, with a battery lifespan of up to five years, costs $10.
American is confident the beacons will improve passenger experiences and lower costs and will roll it out to the general public in the next quarter through an integrated application, Easter said.
He added, that 65 per cent of American Airlines’ passengers arrive at the gate early because they are “scared” of missing their flight. He also said that many complaints from passengers are because they did not hear that the boarding gate had changed.
Airlines have to unload passenger baggage if the passenger misses the flight, which can cause roll on delays that disrupt the networking and ultimately increase costs.
The beacon passenger location technology raises concerns over passenger privacy. The beacons do not transmit data, just a signal to the passengers mobile device, however, airlines will be able to collect data through the application.
It is unlikely there will be an airline beacon app, rather the feature will be tied into a passengers existing airline application that they use to track membership points, flight details and to make bookings.
However, Easter dismissed concerns and said that American will not be tracking passenger movement. He added that it is “opt-in” technology that passengers elect to use. The feature will not work unless the passenger has downloaded the application.