SITA Lab and its communications service partner Orange Business Services have unveiled a new check-in concept that uses near-field communication (NFC) chip inside smartphones to help improve boarding procedures.

The SIM-based proof-of-concept will make journeys through the airport smoother through the use of an NFC-enabled phone that will allow passengers to simply ‘tap and check-in’ or ‘tap and board’ their flight.

SITA chief technology officer Jim Peters said that mobile NFC is still a maturing technology with multiple implementation models.

"SITA has chosen to implement a solution that takes full advantage of the secure element on the SIM card and over-the-air deployment from a Trusted Service Manager to the device," he said. "The project was a success and we now have a dedicated NFC demo room at our offices in Geneva, where airlines and airports can experience this new type of passenger journey and discuss the technology [that] makes it happen."

NFC facilitates the smartphones and similar devices to communicate with each other through the use of radio frequencies by either tapping or bringing them within a range of a few centimetres. The new NFC-enabled phone can be used by passengers to open security, airline lounge and boarding gates automatically to enable faster boarding proceedings at the airport.

The new technology, with a short range and encryption supporting features, also allows smartphone users to hold secure information; for example, credit card data or passenger data such as boarding passes and identities. It will allow simple and suitable contactless transactions such as payment or airline boarding.

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Airport equipment providers DESKO and Kaba have supported SITA and Orange in developing the pilot by providing advanced scanners, readers and security access gates.

The key benefits of using NFC technology includes it is extremely secure in nature, works even when the device is powered off, it does not require the use of an app or any imagery, and it is not affected by reading problems caused by dirty screens.

IATA and GSMA have examined six uses of NFC that include passenger check-in, baggage check-in, security check-point, lounge access, boarding and post-flight, and have listed the advantages of mobile NFC for air travel.