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Testing NFC opens some possibilities, but any system that requires participants to buy new hardware, as opposed to using their existing device, faces adoption hurdles.

Select Air France Passengers who own smartphones equipped with Near Field Communications (NFC) technology, will participate in a trial of an NFC-Based Boarding system on flights between Toulouse-Blagnac and Paris-Orly, using the airline’s Touch&Pass app, over the next six months.

Passengers will receive an NFC boarding pass directly on their smartphones, allowing them to tap their mobile phone on dedicated readers at Toulouse-Blagnac airport to move through the security control, lounge access and boarding. The primary advantage: NFC boarding passes work even if the phone is locked or the battery is dead.

The lack of universal adoption of NFC systems on smartphones has limited confidence in the long-term success of these applications world-wide, but NFC-equipped smartphones are increasingly popular in Europe.

This trial is a joint effort of Air France with the French telecommunications and technology leader Orange, aviation IT and transport communications experts SITA, Toulouse-Blagnac Airport and RESA Airport Data Systems.

Thierry Millet, Vice President of Mobile Payments and Contactless Program at Orange, says of the trial of NFC Technology: “It’s simpler and faster. The new solution relies on two industry standards: an IATA standard from the air transport industry and an NFC standard from GSMA for the mobile industry. This opens the door to a large-scale industrial roll-out.”

At the recent SITA IT Summit in Brussels, the limitations of NFC were discussed, principally the open question of whether NFC will win against the similar applications using Apple’s iBeacon technology and beacon technologies in the works for Android devices. The powered-off functionality of NFC, however, is an advantage over iBeacon, Passbook, or airline-app based boarding pass applications. This is not a BETAMAX versus VHS situation, we have been told by some IT experts, but others have said that it is, at least, similar.

SITA feels that the application of this technology for passenger experience enhancement still deserves some evaluation. NFC continues to be an attractive selling point for cutting-edge smartphones in the International market, where Apple does not have a major foothold.

Jim Peters, Chief Technology Officer, SITA, says: “This trial with Air France and Orange marks the first NFC boarding pass that provides a truly interoperable and scalable solution for the industry.”

A few hundred Air France Gold and Platinum Flying Blue members will receive invitations from Air France and Orange to participate. There are some interesting incentives for participants. Orange will provide the SIM cards for the trial, and because the systems will be controlled on dedicated check-in, fast-lane security and e-Gates boarding, participants will be able to stream right through their journeys.

Jean-Christophe Gaudeau, Ground Product Innovation Manager at Air France KLM, asserts: “Air France’s participation in the testing of NFC technology at boarding illustrates its desire to be a pioneer in the field of innovation for the benefit of our passengers.”

Air France-KLM has been willing to go the extra mile to trial technologies for passenger experience enhancement, including the creation of an electronic bag-tag GSM, GPS, Bluetooth tracking system, in collaboration with Samsonite, and with input from their SkyTeam partner Delta — which is still in the works.

But other airlines and airports have already deployed successful programs for baggage tracking using print-at-home bags and electronic boarding passes with some success. The ultimate question is how much technology is too much technology, whether the simple will win over the sublime. The answer to that question can only be found through trial and error.

This particular trial will end on December 31, 2014, when the partners cooperating in the project will review the results and decide whether the program functions well enough to fly farther and further.

Marisa Garcia has worked in aviation since 1994, spending 16 years on the design and manufacturing of cabin interiors and cabin safety equipment. She shares insights gained from this experience onFlight Chic and Tweets as @designerjet.

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Tags: air france, nfc

Photo credit: Passenger using NFC boarding in Toulouse, France. Philippe Garcia / Aéroport Toulouse-Blagnac

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