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Special Report - History Lessons

Changes in technology have transformed all areas of airline operations. Websites have become major conduits for business, revenue management systems have been refined and check-in completely revamped

The upsurge in technology can be seen in IATA website traffic. In 2000, it was visited by about 40,000 users a week. Figures today show that hosts some 4.4 million visitors a year, more than twice the traffic despite an exponential increase in websites.

Steve Jarvis, Alaska Airlines’ Vice President of Customer Innovation and, agrees that information technology has become the big enabler. “Alaska is always leveraging technology to improve the experience for our customers, employees and shareholders by reducing cost, removing waste, and increasing efficiency and productivity while providing award-winning customer service,” he says. “As an airline with a legacy of customer innovations, we’re always looking to be an early adopter of new technology that improves the customer experience.”

But the real story is not the rapid acceleration in technology development. Nor does it lie in the reasons for IT adoption. Technology has always served a variety of purposes, delivering cost savings, improved efficiency and superior passenger services. For airlines, the crux of the matter lies in the move away from idiosyncratic innovation into industry standards. Harmonization on a global scale is taking hold, and the one-airline product is becoming confined to the history books.

Electronic ticketing (ET) is a case in point. Only select airlines offered it a decade ago. But even then, the trend towards an industry standard was taking hold. In 2000, IATA announced collaboration with SITA on an interline e-ticketing service. The aim was to stimulate widespread adoption of ET, lower distribution costs and allow airlines to better exploit the online environment.

The move to 100% ET in 2008 is actually saving the industry $3 billion annually, and there is another $13.8 billion ready to be taken out through further Simplifying the Business (StB) initiatives.

Common-Use Self Service (CUSS) is another StB project that perfectly illustrates the trend towards harmonization. Bespoke kiosks have gradually given way to a common platform. The project was completed at the end of 2008 with implementation at 135 airports, saving airlines $1 billion.

Some industry standards are still waiting to happen. In 2000, pilot projects were announced for Simplifying Passenger Travel (SPT). This is now absorbed into the Passenger Experience Management Group (PEMG), part of Fast Travel. SPT was built on the notion of a one-stop check of a passenger’s identity and documentation. Modified government policies have ensured the idea remains relevant. Focus on this area will be crucial in the years ahead.

“It is impossible to say what technology will be in use a decade from now,” says Aleks Popovich, IATA Senior Vice President for Industry Distribution and Financial Services. “But the key point is not what the technology is, but what purpose it serves. Any development must continue to be based on satisfying a customer requirement and/or improving efficiency. That is a constant.

“The trend towards standardization must also continue,” he adds. “Having technologies that can communicate with each other and across partners will be vital to future efficiencies in the industry. Green technologies will be especially important in building a sustainable future.”



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