UK airlines have given a thumbs up to plans for industry wide electronic tickets - provided security concerns are addressed.
A project announced by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and IBM aims to create a single system to exchange electronic tickets around the world.
Electronic tickets are issued by kiosks on presentation of credit card or booking details. According to consultants KPMG, etickets offer airlines considerable savings, costing four times less than printing a paper ticket.
North America is well ahead of Europe in eticketing. In May, United Airlines became the first carrier to issue most of its passengers with etickets.
In the UK, British Airways tested its eticket offering in 1996 and has expanded the scheme to include 90 per cent of domestic journeys and some international routes.
However, etickets still account for only 30 per cent of BA tickets on eligible flights.
Because each airline's system is proprietary, it is very difficult to issue electronic tickets if more than one airline is involved. The IATA project aims to link existing systems in a central database, accessible to all participating carriers. IBM said the system will be available by the middle of next year.
Rival Virgin Atlantic aims to have its system in place around the same time.
A spokesman for European carrier British Midland said: "This will certainly be well received by airlines, depending on security."
Shared IT systems are a source of tension between airlines. In 1995, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways settled out of court over accusations that BA had poached Virgin's customers by accessing data.
IBM insisted that data from one airline will not be accessible by another without authorisation, but could give no details.
"When we have the system working, then the more detailed technical questions will be answered," said Richard Whitaker, IBM's travel and transportation marketing manager.
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