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IATA Expects Big Savings for Airlines That Tag Trolleys

The airline trade group will soon start a trial using RFID to track the wheeled carts airlines employ to carry food and duty-free items on board aircraft.
By Rhea Wessel
"We're interested in the efficiency of airline operations, reducing costs and improving customer service," Price says. "We think we can do that with RFID." Once it decided on the technology, IATA began testing RFID tags and readers to see how it could get around the fact that trolleys are made of metal—which interferes with tag reads—and used in the metallic aircraft environment.

The task force tested passive tags from QinetiQ, Avery Dennison, Intermec and Texas Instruments, Price notes, but has not yet decided on a particular vendor. He adds that IATA identified several tags able to function despite the presence of metal, such as tags encapsulated in plastic or embedded in adhesive paper labels.

As part of the tests, IATA attached passive tags to the trolleys and tested read distances, orientation and rates as they moved at different speeds and with various antenna configurations. The airline and caterer trial will involve the installation of readers at the entrances and exits of catering facilities, as well as using handheld readers at a number of other locations.

"Whenever you do an RFID project, people get hung up on tags and readers, and they don't actually look at whether it really makes sense," Price says. "We had to look at the technology first to find out what it costs. Now that we've done that, we're into the business process."

IATA plans to publish the results of its technical tests at the end of this month, and is currently working out a recommendation for airlines regarding where to place the tags on equipment. All official IATA recommendations have to be approved by member airlines, and the approvals process will continue until 2008. Price says the organization is likely to recommend UHF tags conforming to the ISO 18000-6c standard.

Although EPCglobal standards are incorporated into the ISO standard, Price says IATA did not choose the EPC standard because it has a "fundamental" problem with EPCglobal because of that organization's policy of charging for membership.

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