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SITA hopes to test NFC at airports this summer

The company is in talks with a European airline and has set up a demo room

SITA has demonstrated a proof-of-concept that shows how smartphones equipped with NFC (Near Field Communications) can be used by passengers to check in and board airplanes. It now hopes to test the technology this summer, a spokesman said on Tuesday.

Mobile payments using NFC are getting a lot of attention, but NFC can be used for other applications too, including pairing headsets with phones, sharing information and ticketing.

SITA, which is based in Geneva, develops IT solutions for airlines and airports. The company's concept stores the secure element on the SIM card and shows how passengers' journeys through airports can become much smoother as they use their NFC-enabled phones to simply "tap and check-in" or "tap and board" their flights, according to SITA.

Currently, the company is talking with "a leading European airline" that hopes to trial NFC during the summer, according to a spokesman at SITA. One of the keys for general adoption will be the development of industry standards, which is something SITA is discussing with trade body International Air Transport Association (IATA), he said via email.

Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) already allows frequent flyers to check in using NFC-compatible stickers. The service is called Smart Pass, and has proven to be very popular among travelers since it was launched last year, a spokesman said.

The airline chose stickers because there where too few NFC-compatible phones for those to be an option at the time. However, it is now looking at allowing the use of smartphones with NFC as well.

In terms of security, using NFC-enabled smartphones to board planes doesn't eliminate identity checks. In time, biometric identification may be added, but for now photo identification will continue, according to SITA.

To help more airlines and airports understand how NFC works, SITA has set up a dedicated demonstration room at its offices in Geneva.

The NFC proof-of-concept was developed by SITA Lab, the technology research arm of SITA, and Orange Business Services.

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