Ian Sheppard/LONDON

Computer Sciences (CSC) is close to launching a trial with a major European airport operator, based on a prototype "contactless" smartcard for airline passengers, which, for the first time, will act as a re-usable boarding pass, electronic-ticket and multiple-airline loyalty-scheme card.

Paul Seaton of the company's UK consulting and systems integration unit, says that CSC is close to a deal to run a trial later this year of its "smart-airport" concept, starting with "fast-check" for hand-baggage-only passengers.

Passengers are detected as they enter the airport so seats can be allocated in advance, and before the check-in staff can see their "customer profile". This is the only time the passenger needs to present the card, to allow boarding information to be "printed" on a novel screen on the face of the card. The card also allows passengers to be tracked as they progress through the airport.

CSC believes that only through airports taking the initiative and offering the technology to airlines as part of their information infrastructure can radio-frequency smartcards be cost-effective.

"The key for airlines is to replace loyalty cards - many don't believe it's possible, but now it is," says Seaton. Another benefit to airlines, he says, is that bags could be held back until "intent to travel" is clear, or be off-loaded well before departure if passengers are running unacceptably late.

The screen on the card consists of electromagnetic platelets cheap enough to supersede the conventional boarding pass, says Seaton. At the same time, chip provider Philips Semiconductors is poised to reduce drastically the cost of the smartcard, which now stands at around $3, by increasing frequency to 13.56MHz from the 125KHz now used by Philips.

The new specification will reduce from 6,800 to six the number of embedded copper coils required for the card's antenna. CSC will adopt this late this year, while the other major limiting factor, the range at which the cards are fully effective, is rapidly increasing from the current 1m (3ft), says Seaton.

Philips is also involved with British Airways, testing a card allowing the airline to track passengers as they move from check-in to the departure gate. The scheme is being tested with passengers checking in at BA's central London terminal at Victoria for certain flights from Gatwick airport.

The card records whether the passenger has passed into the departure lounge. The scheme is aimed at reducing the number of flights delayed by the non-arrival of passengers at the gate.

Source: Flight International