The challenge set by RFID community services

RFID (radio frequency identification devices) technology can bring substantial benefits to the Air Transport Community in the form of cost reductions, improvements in productivity, customer services and safety, but also as a means to generate new revenues. As an emerging technology there are still many barriers to community-wide adoption, one of them being the risk associated with the deployment of RFID infrastructure and development of applications. This is a risk that can be substantially reduced through the introduction of a shared infrastructure and service. But how does this relate to .aero and how can .aero leverage RFID to add extra value to partners across the air transport community?

Shared services offer one crucial advantage. By sharing infrastructure and know-how to operate business processes common to many in the Air Transport community, individual members can cut the cost of building data processing networks for common processes and instead focus on differentiation and the provision of innovative, reliable services to passengers and cargo customers. The same logic applies to adoption of RFID technology, and it is only a matter of time before community services and shared facilities for processing RFID data are introduced.

A number of RFID projects are already under way, but these are mostly one company activities – such as RFID-based baggage handling to speed up processing and accuracy at an airport (e.g. Hong Kong) or the tracking of cargo containers by one carrier or alliance (e.g. Lufthansa's joint venture with Trenstar). Some early adopters in the air transport community can demonstrate business cases for investment in RFID technology on their own, while others struggle. As a result, today's deployment of RFID technology will not help a bag stranded in a foreign airport find its way to its destination and a container will be only tracked if it moves through the premises of the airline/handling company which tagged it.

From bags to spare parts

However, the community expects that:

• every piece of baggage will be tracked eventually with the help of RFID technology, perhaps from the traveller's home or office through to its destination. While RFID offers the potential of improvement in the processing of bags at the airport (RFID readers read more reliably than bar code readers without a line of sight constraint), the greatest benefit of the technology will be its ability to be integrated with existing IT systems . Technology, coupled with community standards, will allow systems at any airport to identify immediately and automatically a mishandled piece of baggage, collect handling instructions from the airline responsible for the bag and route it to its correct destination.

• similar benefits and more are expected from handling cargo and containers such as ULDs,(unit loading devices ) or the management of other asses, used at the airport (e.g. vehicles of all kind) or within an aircraft ( e.g. catering trolleys, flight jackets, oxygen tanks etc..)

• Boeing and Airbus are promoting the RFID tagging of aircraft parts, to allow tracking and tracing, to facilitate maintenance and to ensure that no grey parts enter the market.

The benefits of the technology are clear. However, historically the deployment of community-based technologies is slow. The global supply chain is moving ahead with implementation of RFID, but this is often driven by one major player in the supply chain (such as Wal-Mart). The air transport community is different. It is much more homogenous and standards are set by consensus rather than by the mandate of an influential player. Consequently, investment in infrastructure is often shared among community members sharing a common process or processes.

Obtaining consensus and joint investment is currently putting the brakes on the deployment of RFID within the Air Transport community.

So what is SITA doing to help …

SITA is working with Air Transport community, as well as in partnership with relevant experts (such as the Cambridge UK-based Aerospace ID Technologies Programme launched by Auto ID Labs) to define the community service model – allowing flexibility and choice whilst ensuring that the community benefits from shared facilities. At the heart of this model are two sets of community services - those at shared locations such as airports and those that allow multiple business partners to securely interact with each other globally. SITA is defining the technical details and will be setting up a pilot project.

…and what about .aero?

When .aero was launched, some considered as crazy the idea that an aircraft seat or an individual item of baggage might each have its own IP address. But the idea was not as far fetched as it may seem. In fact, when Auto ID Labs designed the first version of the RFID data processing standard, they assigned a domain name to every RF identifier to allow processing of data over the world's biggest network – the Internet.

Today, the standards are going through many changes, and it may be that not every object will actually require a domain name. It has already become clear, however, that some naming structure will be required to trace these objects – and more likely than not, each will have its own IP address.

This is where .aero as a policy platform comes into play. While .aero is not itself involved in implementation of RFID technology, the .aero policy framework could be used as a robust platform, enabling the community to maintain policies relating to allocation of digital identifiers. Additionally .aero might also manage the registry service associated with these  identifiers, thereby making the RFID signal data much more useable.

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