SITA Introduces iBeacon Tech at Airports

AIN Air Transport Perspective » July 7, 2014
Sita expects the use of new technologies such as Apple’s iBeacon to enhance passengers’ experience at airports. (Photo: Sita/Ernst Tobisch)
June 30, 2014, 11:53 AM

IT provider Sita has begun using new technologies such as Apple’s iBeacon to provide real-time information on mobile devices to help passengers move seamlessly across airports to board flights on time. American Airlines has become the first carrier to try the Sita common-use beacon registry, launched at the recent Sita Air Transport IT summit in Brussels. A six-month pilot program at Dallas/Fort Worth will use 100 iBeacons - the largest ever deployment and a precursor to a permanent implementation in eight hubs.

Sita installs the Apple-supported iBeacons on airport walls; they measure about one inch in diameter and carry a range of 2 meters to 100 meters. The iBeacons use Bluetooth low energy and geofencing to trigger the display of location-relevant information on passengers’ devices.

Following the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Sita has started six-month trials with several airlines, simultaneously, for using technology already installed in the aircraft to provide advanced tracking capabilities. The airline operations center system (Aircom) server flight tracker merges the server with its Future Air Navigation System (Fans) ground application, already installed in many aircraft. “So the solution does not call for extensive additional cost or investment by the airlines,” Sita vice president of aircraft solutions Philip Clinch told AIN. Sita has presented the system to IATA.

Sita recognized the need for an integrated industry approach while working at several international airports. Its common-use beacon registry defines standard data sets and beacon types to be positioned at gates, retail areas or checkpoints. It gives the industry a single point of contact for common-use beacons deployed at any airport around the world. “With it, airports can share the metadata with airlines and other partners and allow passengers to receive accurate and relevant information,” said SITA chief technology officer Jim Peters.

Already, American Airlines has begun talks with One World partners British Airways and Japan Airlines for sharing the beacon registry, American Airlines director of mobile apps and wearables Phillip Easter told AIN.

Sita has also completed trials using Google Glass and smart watch for Virgin Atlantic staff attending to premium customers at airports. “I am hoping, with the development of bendable displays, wraparound ‘mini-tablets’ that actually fit right on the sleeve of an agent or cabin staff could be developed,” said Peters. However, Shashank Nigam, founder of SimpliFlying, cautions that too many applications could become challenging for airlines. “We should be careful not to overstep,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sita, which completed the complex integration of Air India and Indian Airlines two years ago, has been instrumental in integrating Air India’s Sabre system into the Amadeus platform of Star Alliance. The carrier joins Star on July 11.

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