Jim Peters, CTO at SITA, told delegates at this year's Air Transport IT Summit in Brussels that they need to be prepared for the proliferation of near field communications (NFC) technology, which he predicts will become widespread before the end of the year.
NFC is a short range communications standard to securely transmit information to a contactless payment terminal.
SITA is currently running a project, which launched this week, at Toulouse airport, where it is using SIM-based NFC to allow passengers access into the car park and business lounges. It partnered with Orange and Blackberry to run the project.
"Boarding passes are going to be the next step with this technology. We didn't do it on this project because we didn't have an airline partner," said Peters.
"NFC has had some tough times, because of problems similar to data sharing. This issue is around transaction sharing, where the network operators, Google and Blackberry are all arguing about who is going to get the money from all the NFC transactions. They aren't thinking about the user."
He added: "Who is thinking of the user? Apple. They don't argue about it with anybody. They came out with Passbook last week, which is an electronic wallet that they are going to start putting stuff on."
Passbook was announced as part of Apple's iOS 6 update and provides users with a virtual wallet that uses time and location-based services, so that they can pay for coffee, store movie tickets and have boarding passes on their mobile phones.
"Opinion is that Apple is going to incorporate NFC into Passbook. Apple just thinks about how they can make it really easy for the user, and then they figure out how to monetise it. They don't think about how to monetise it and then tell the user what they can have. It doesn't work like that," said Peters.
"There aren't any transactions in it yet, but I think that's how Apple is going to sneak up on the industry. They are going to get people used to using it and then all of a sudden they will allow credit cards to be used in there, on the next iPhone, which will include NFC."
He added: "There is a lot of debate that NFC will never take off because of all the arguments. But you need to get ready, this is coming. This is going to happen. By the end of the year the majority of smartphones that you go and buy will have NFC on them. If in October the next iPhone comes out and it has NFC on it, it's game over."