While there has been much talk and debate since IATA published their vision of a world of offers and orders, the Passenger Service System (PSS) is a critical piece of the airline ecosystem that will not simply vanish overnight. Here’s a preview of a future state in which reliance on the PSS is reduced in favor of new practices that allow airlines to sell more, across more channels, all while streamlining legacy processes.
Delivering the industry vision for personalized travel retailing will be achieved through an API-based product ecosystem.
From an offer perspective, the end-state will include intelligent retailing via a retail platform and offer management system through which all product and customer attributes will be analyzed to create personalized offers. This retail platform will use an NDC-enabled offer and order APIs to communicate the offers to all partners and channels. For orders, the traditional PSS will ultimately be replaced by a new order management system which fulfills the offer, settles payment and creates orders as new centralized records for customer and trip data throughout a journey.
The order model will reduce operational complexity by eliminating passenger name records (PNRs), electronic miscellaneous documents (EMDs) and special service requests (SSRs). Since an order will serve as the single trip record, trip changes, bundling content across different supplier types, and servicing customized offers and orders will be easier than it is today.
The offer and order model is underpinned by a new foundation for data and analytics that supplies rich customer and operational data to the offer and order management systems as needed – and includes Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) based services to further optimize customer touchpoints.
The illustration below uses a modern grocery store analogy – with a wide choice of products, bundled offers, flexible shopping and payment options – to show a view on the core building blocks of an end-state offer and order solution.
The transition to offers and orders, while gradual, will see a paradigm shift in terms of technology and operations to support content and commercial model innovation.
The industry will move from a world of static information filings, and multiple piece parts required to fulfill and service bookings, to one that is more dynamic, intelligent, and flexible. IATA set an aspirational goal for the airline industry to transition to offer and order-based retailing by 2030. As a result, travel suppliers and sellers will need to manage hybrid processes associated with ATPCO/EDIFACT content and offers and orders for some time. This reimagining of travel technology will benefit all parties, with travelers being offered a wider choice of personalized content, and travel suppliers and sellers benefitting from improved efficiency and enhanced revenue opportunities.
New to offer and order management? Explore our glossary:
Offer management – The process through which travel suppliers define their product catalog and pricing (retail) to create offers, place the offers across all points of sale (distribute), and differentiate their brand experience (personalize).
Schedule optimization – Strategic analysis and tactical management of how every route can contribute to the airline’s overall profitability
Revenue optimization – Development of the product catalog (all air and ancillary inventory, fares and third-party content) that optimizes total revenue by considering market dynamics, competitor positions, and customer data
Retailing partners – Partner connectivity will provide all background information and data needed to facilitate the sale of any third-party content via the retail platform.
Offer store – Storage of all elements of an offer selected by the traveler until such time as the offer has expired or the customer has proceeded to purchase and the offer converts into an order.
Offer definition and catalog – The inventory free of booking classes that reflects what is available for sale. This includes any conditions attached to offers, such as change and refund policies.
Dynamic pricing and bundling – Revenue optimization, the pricing engine and the offer catalog come together to construct an offer that is intelligently personalized and available for sale according to the offer rules.
Personalization – The application of data science to customer relationship management (CRM) data, trip context details and market trends to generate intelligent offers that are tailored based on customer credentials and known/inferred preferences.
Order management – The process through which an offer is converted into an order (fulfillment). This includes the management of payments/settlement, travel bookings, inventory control and order fulfillment at the airport – all while accounting for total revenue.
Order store – Storage and management of the order throughout its lifecycle, including a record of all changes made by either the traveler or travel supplier, especially in case of reaccommodation.
Payments – Integration of all acquiring banks and payment providers supporting the forms of payment accepted.
Servicing and reaccommodation – Orchestration of the changes required for each voluntary or involuntary change scenario. This business system ensures closed-loop communication with the customer and reconciliation of inventory with any external partners or suppliers.
Departure control – A simplified workflow of order processing tasks needed on the day of departure, most likely to focus on exception handling and change management in the future.
Financial accounting – A future workflow where real-time revenue value from a flight ready to depart is available. This will be achieved by moving many activities currently in Revenue Accounting into the Offer and Order workflows, including revenue integrity protections.
Supplying partners – Partner connectivity will provide all background information and data needed to facilitate interlining, codesharing and the management of third-party services.
Omni-channel management – The consistent management of content and user experience across owned and third-party sales channels, including their sales performance. NDC-enabled capabilities will expand distribution reach by enhancing the consistency of what offers can be distributed across channels, as well as how those offers will be displayed.
Connectivity and APIs – Efficient API access and modularization will allow for new and flexible commercial models between travel suppliers and sellers. It will allow partners to embrace channel differentiation and sell existing and new offers.
Tech foundations, data & analytics, AI/ML – Cloud-based data and analytics will support the retail platform and offer and order management systems. Real-time, two-way communication between the data fabric and the business systems will allow for “in the moment” personalization of the full product catalog. AI and ML-based microservices support the business systems by further optimizing recommendations in the point of sale and service.
By Sabre.To learn more about how Sabre is helping to open the door to a future that means more flexible, modern retailing visit www.sabre.com/open.
Global Airport Mobility – comprising journeys taken to and from the airport by consumers – is a $60-70 billion opportunity for the travel industry that is largely untapped, according to a recent report by CarTrawler.
The survey, which looked at the consumer behaviour of over 11,500 people in five markets, was undertaken to understand exactly how consumers get to and from the airport beyond car rental, and uncovered many insights on consumer wants and needs, how the pandemic has impacted consumer behaviour, the scope of the opportunity for the travel industry, and how to optimise for it.
While there is already comprehensive data on the existing car rental landscape, the broader airport mobility opportunity has been largely overlooked, so a global survey of this nature was essential to both understand the existing situation and provide insight into how the travel industry can optimise it now and into the future.
What is the Airport Mobility opportunity?
The ‘Broader Airport Transfer’ mobility opportunity – which includes taxi, shuttle, private transfer and ride-hailing (or ‘on-demand’)- is comparable in worth to car rental at $19-23 billion but the shape of the opportunity is very different, with broader airport transfer offering seven times higher booking volumes. Whereas on-airport car rental accounts for 65-80 million journeys, broader airport transfer accounts for 460-555 million journeys – which offsets the lower average booking values.
Differing markets have different needs
While the volume of booking journeys in North America and Europe are similar at ~1 billion in each geography, there are significant differences in the breakdown of transport methods. In North America, where a car-centric culture is more prevalent, 46% of airport journeys are made by private car, compared to 31% in Europe. The most significant difference between the two is the amount of bus and rail journeys – which comprise 20% in Europe, but only 8% in North America.
Consumer needs and behaviour – and pent-up demand
The report shows that there is significant pent-up consumer demand to book airport transfer with their flight or travel vendor, but that either the vendor doesn’t provide the offering, or they don’t make the consumer aware that it’s available.
Where flight vendors offer airport mobility, the customer journey tends to be longer than that of car rental, with more touchpoints and opportunities for the travel vendor to make the consumer aware of their offering. The customer journey to purchasing airport mobility is also omnichannel and with desktop, mobile web, mobile app and offline methods of booking all popular.
To read the full report and find out much more detail about consumer journeys and behaviour, the key blockers that prevent consumers from booking airport transfers, and how flight vendors can optimise the customer journey to seize the opportunity, read CarTrawler’s Airport Mobility Opportunity here.
Enterprises increasingly look to cloud to accelerate innovation processes, bring products to market faster, construct resilient supply chains, and connect directly with customers and partners. In a study conducted by CIO Magazine, it indicated that CIOs and CISOs believe they will be under increasing board pressure to create value for the organization. Once viewed as builders and protectors of infrastructure, CIOs and CISOs now face an added level of responsibility as the engines of innovation.
The reality is that most enterprises face serious challenges that, if not proactively managed, can greatly diminish the benefits of a multi-cloud infrastructure. It’s important for everyone driving a multi-cloud strategy—including CTOs, CIOs, CISOs, and departmental leaders making cloud app choices—to identify the causes and symptoms of common implementation failures and continuously work to keep the organization on a path to cloud success.
The benefits of multi-cloud
Optimal Environments: Giving your enterprise the flexibility of a multi-cloud approach lets you choose the best cloud hosting provider for each workload or application in your organization
Competitive Pricing: Competition in the past few years has expanded greatly. A well-designed multi-cloud strategy lets you shop for the best price.
Operational Resilience: A strong multi-cloud strategy can protect critical business applications and data with redundant backup and recovery capabilities. A multi-cloud strategy gives you room to scale your storage and shop for the best balance of speed, visibility and pricing.
Network Performance: A multi-cloud approach lets you create high-speed, low-latency infrastructures that integrate economically with your legacy systems.
No Vendor Lock-In: Creating a multi-cloud infrastructure gives you negotiating power. A strong strategy will make use of the ample competition in this market.
Four keys to a functional and effective multi-cloud implementation
Match workloads and applications to the best provider
Create and follow a blueprint
Develop cost management processes
Ensure data protection and privacy
Regardless of how you get there, a multi-cloud infrastructure is the best path forward for almost any organization—and certainly for larger enterprises. Of course, there are challenges, which are mostly related to managing sprawl and getting costs and security in order. But the benefits almost always outweigh the disadvantages.
The complexity of your migration to a multi cloud should be most in the planning stages. In fact, if you’re on a good path, planning will take longer than deployment. When developing an effective multi-cloud management plan, one of the first steps is to understand not only the complexity of the infrastructure, but also the reasons for its evolution. This is the origin of most multi-cloud infrastructures and it gives rise to a sprawling collection of computing platforms, databases, data storage systems, access control systems, digital security tools, and governance systems.
Building a diverse multi-cloud strategy
One way to address the cost and complexity issue is to insist that your various teams and departments consolidate on a single public cloud offering, thereby reducing the number of tools and systems across your infrastructure.
As an alternate strategy, you can give your various department teams the freedom to choose the cloud apps and platforms that work best for them and commit to a diverse multi-cloud. Then, manage this diverse digital ecosystem by creating an abstraction layer or agnostic platform control solution that sits atop of your infrastructure and eliminates the need to interact with all the native system interfaces.
Deploying an effective abstraction layer will also give you the ability to centrally monitor productivity and utilization for each cloud app. On a single pane of glass, you should be able to monitor usage of all the apps and storage space you’re buying. Also, if you deploy it properly, you can integrate older on-prem apps and storage and achieve a 360-degree view of your infrastructure.
Whether you buy a security tool or choose a security-as-a-service solution, you can apply the same principles of the previously mentioned abstraction layer and create a unified approach to enterprise security. For both the abstraction layer controls and the infrastructure-wide security strategy, you’ll need to deploy a data platform that supports your multi-cloud reality. The right platform will offer some key attributes and features, such as the ability to view an increasingly complex infrastructure from a single dashboard, rather than jumping from one native vendor-specific system to another.
Three strategies to avoid vendor lock-in improve cloud efficiency
How do you avoid the costly problem of vendor lock-in?
How do you keep moving fast, yet protect your enterprise and your teams from having their cloud efficiency and agility limited? Here are three strategies worth considering:
Be intentional about a multi-cloud strategy
Negotiate favorable terminations
Consider hybrid cloud options
Securing an expanding threat surface
Here are some ideas for safeguarding your evolving multi-cloud infrastructure:
In part one of our blog series, we examined how transitioning to an offer and order model would greatly enhance the traveler experience by addressing key pain points. In this piece, we turn our attention to airlines, exploring how technological advancements could help unlock significant revenue opportunities – estimated at $40bn by 2030 across the airline industry according to a 2019 study by McKinsey & Company.
Here, we demonstrate how Sabre and IATA’s shared vision for offers and orders will free airlines from the constraints imposed by today’s standards and systems. Instead, airlines will be able to sell and service a wide range of new and personalized NDC-enabled offers to drive incremental revenue while adding value for their customers. When combined with the cost savings and service level enhancements that can be realized through more efficient management of orders, the business case for change becomes unquestionable.
What are offers and orders?
Offers include the different pieces of an itinerary that come together to form a trip. Today, offers primarily consist of airfares and air ancillaries. Over time, offers will expand to include other types of content – for example, lodging, ground transportation and other ancillaries.
Once a traveler selects an offer, it becomes an order. The order model sets the stage to simplify a variety of long-standing processes related to fulfillment, settlement and reporting, which can help airlines reduce costs and save time.
Have limited visibility into individual traveler preferences
Face difficulty selling and servicing a broad range of personalized offers
Struggle to manage complex partnership agreements due to inadequate system capabilities
Enabling airlines to better meet the needs of travelers will enhance differentiation in a crowded marketplace, promote loyalty and ultimately deliver profitable, sustainable revenue growth.
In the future, airlines can…
Create, fulfill and service more personalized and higher margin content
Use real-time data flows from offers and orders to grow revenue and reduce costs
Embark on new partnerships for air and non-air products, improving choice for customers
The offer and order model opens new growth opportunities and gives the travel industry more flexibility in terms of what can be sold, merchandised and managed.
By Sabre. To learn more about how Sabre is helping to open the door to a future that means more flexible, modern retailing visit sabre.com/open.
The face masks are off, those big conferences with thousands of people are back on the calendar, and travel is now so popular that it’s causing turmoil at some airports. It may seem difficult to remember that it was just last year when countries had their borders restricted, we were getting this new vaccine, and all our meetings had to be online. This was the scenario when Air Malta decided to go forward with the idea of shifting its traditional approach to the digital experience.
Starting something innovative in your company might be scary at first. You must have a clear plan in your mind and the right team to execute it. You need to prepare a pitch to convince your CEO and stakeholders as their absolute support is crucial to determine if this idea is going anywhere. Even so, you decide to go ahead, but you can’t have any physical meeting because the world is dealing with a new virus. At this time many of us would have thought that leaving things as they were is the best option to avoid any headaches. That was not what happened with Wayne Grixti.
The CTO of Air Malta believed it was time for a major change in the way this airline was serving its customers. Wayne gathered all forces, including their digital team, to support and drive this digital transformation journey forward. Together with Branchspace, they were able to implement a modernized booking engine and a new website. The results are a constant increase in sales, and, most importantly, positive feedback from their customers.
The way this project had to be handled due to the circumstances, shows how digital is playing such a powerful role in our everyday lives. This wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago for sure, so it’s time to take advantage of what technology has to offer and use it to overcome any challenges. The demand for an innovative digital experience has changed the way we work forever and companies needed to adapt quickly. So why should the way we travel stay the same?
Thank you Wayne for taking the time to talk to us about the digital journey related to the Triplake implementation. As CTO of Air Malta, can you explain to us what was the role the technology played in this project?
I started envisioning what Air Malta could do in the digital space before I joined when I was only a passenger. I used to travel a lot, mostly on Air Malta flights, so I interacted with the digital channels quite often That’s when I started putting down notes on how I could improve this digital experience. Then I had the opportunity to be the CTO of the airline.
From day one I started pushing my vision and many people’s vision on how this digital experience would look like. Basically, having a unified user experience and an omnichannel for the user’s journey.
We started showing the RFP. This was back in July 2020 and we partnered with Branchspace, who understood our vision from day one and where we wanted to take this journey. After nearly two years, and most of it was done online without even having one physical meeting, we managed to launch a website and a modernized booking engine and we’re in the process of launching also a mobile app and a loyalty program.
Quite impressive. We were talking a bit with Antoine (Vella) as well about what it meant as everything was done virtually. The teams hadn’t actually met in person because it wasn’t possible with Covid. Yet, in spite of all of this, we managed it together and there were already the first results. By the summer, the booking platform was ready and started. What were the critical success factors from your perspective? How did you manage this side of a difficult underlying situation?
Yesterday, I was at a conference, my first after two years of Covid, and the topic was how we, as technology leaders, manage to convince our peers, our CEOs, our CFOs, and our chairmen to continue investing in the technology. Even during the restrictions, during Covid, during the impact we had because of these restrictions. So that when we’re back to normal, we will be there with a modernized, digitalized and transformed experience.
I think now we are bearing the fruit of the seed that was sown back then. If I had to summarize it, the critical success factors for me were two. The shift between the sales channels, to increase the sales from the new booking engine, and it was also in time when travel was starting to ramp up.
That was a key milestone and we managed to deliver it in the shortest period of time, but in time also when we were starting to recover and to the positive feedback which we had from our passengers and our customers.
We were used to receiving a monthly report and the first item on the feedback list was also saying: improve your website, improve your booking engine, improve this, improve that. But following the launch, those negative comments became positive comments. That for me is also another critical success factor.
Happy to hear this of course. Actually, you reminded me that in addition to all of these specific circumstances, there were also changes in the top management. The chairman, the CEO at the time the evaluation was made, left and then the chairman and CEO joined only in January when the project started, and the CCO joined even later, correct?
Yes, correct. We started issuing the RFP when there was a CEO and the board which then even the board and the chairman changed. So that was also a challenge in itself, but together we managed to convince the new board and the new CEO to continue supporting and championing the project. If we had to list it as another critical success factor, I think that would be one as well. So we have three now.
For me it was very nice to hear that there was this full support. When I joined Branchspace last year and wanted to hear the feedback, David Curmi, the chairman, said it is a critical part of the digital transformation journey and it’s only the beginning, and we see this as a long-term partnership. It was of course very nice to hear.
In this digital transformation journey that Air Malta has embarked on, you have planned quite a lot of other innovative approaches because you really want to differentiate from the competition, correct?
Yes. We had a very old loyalty program which we were also looking at. We have our technology strategy but in parallel, we also have our customer experience strategy which goes very much hand in hand with this customer 360 Experience or Customer Journey. We started with the website, the booking engine, but in the pipeline we are also looking and soon we will be launching the new loyalty program which is based on innovative technology as well. As an airline, we should be looking at innovative technology to empower the business to make our organization sustainable. I found a lot of support from senior management, from the board, from everyone
The mobile app is the next step. Hopefully, we will be able to launch it very soon and eventually other channels for businesses and companies and organizations.
Is there anything in hindsight you would do differently in the whole process?
Before we started, I was a little bit sceptical about how this will go through, when it comes to delivering from A to Z a project totally online without even one physical meeting. The area where I was a bit sceptical was not the development was not the implementation deployment but the business analysis and the requirements gathering. There you have a number of stakeholders and a number of users and you need a lot of interaction there.
Luckily we had the online tools to do it together, with you and the other stakeholders, because it’s not just Air Malta and Branchspace, there are other stakeholders that were involved in the project.
If you had to summarize the journey so far and the achievement just in one sentence, what would you say?
When there’s goodwill, when there’s a good relationship between the organization, the partner who is supplying, the application in the system and flexibility, and room for manoeuvre, I think you can take any project and deliver it with success. From day one we had a gentleman’s agreement between us that we would have retained this kind of relationship even before signing the contract and I think we managed it well and now we’re really seeing that it worked.
Probably something which many airlines forget: how important the whole partnership is because if that works you will achieve anything also in the future because the future is dynamic as well.
Is there anything Stephen from your side that you would like to add? Was there any criticism of the solution?
The feedback was very positive. Upon implementation, we immediately saw a sustainable increase in the number of bookings. The online experience of the new website was received very well. The two big projects coming up at Air Malta are customer-related. The 360-view of the customer in the sense that both the mobile app and the loyalty program focus specifically on making the customer journey and the customer experience with Air Malta. I believe this is the way forward. This is the way Air Malta would like itself to develop. So, the customer will be the central focus in the forthcoming months and years with Air Malta.
Yes, this will lead to success. Focus on the customer. Thank you so much.
The pandemic brought the airline industry to a standstill. Not only were flights and aircraft grounded and much project work came to a halt, the shutdown also affected many activities around airline commercial systems. Due to the sudden drop in revenues, airlines often had to request relief from contractual commitments with vendors, which was often granted in return for early contract renewals or agreeing contracts for additional services.
Now the pandemic seems to be over and the industry is fighting other challenges such as the effects of the war in Ukraine and an overall shortage of resources and infrastructure. At the same time, projects once stopped have been restarted again. The experience of the past two years has shown that customer service and the need for additional revenue streams are becoming essential for airlines. Thus, a flood of engagements in airline customer centricity, customer servicing and airline retailing are currently underway, shaping the commercial future of the industry. But when outlining and executing a strategy in this area, airlines often hit reality when identifying that their current Passenger Service System (PSS) represents a bottleneck. Traditional PSS are built around supporting a trip and do not focus on customer-centric servicing.
In addition, growing revenues through ancillaries is often limited to seats, additional baggage, and other flight-related offerings. Providing further third-party ancillaries (not even considering a broader retailing strategy) often appears more wishful thinking then reality. Modern Offer and Order Management Systems are being built to close these gaps, but as they are in most cases dependent on a PSS, they are also limited by them. In addition, existing PSS contracts are typically of a monolithic nature, meaning that airlines have little freedom to pick and choose solutions from a handful of providers at competitive cost.
But as the pandemic has ended, numerous PSS contracts (including those that were temporarily renewed during the crisis) are coming to market. This provides airlines with an opening to rethink and restructure their setup of commercial systems. In essence, they need to achieve two sometimes conflicting targets: continue their operations on a proven “legacy” PSS that supports existing industry processes and industry-specific connectivity (codeshare, interlining, etc.), as well using this opportunity to shift to customer-centric, retail-driven commercial systems. In essence: combining the old world with the new. But the providers, both “legacy” and more “modern” ones, try to push the airlines into their own direction: remain on a classical PSS with a promise to enhance services towards real customer centricity and airline retailing, or move into the bright new world built around customer centricity and airline retailing, but with limited integration into the legacy airline world.
The ultimate target for airlines currently thinking about renewing or changing PSS is to secure the best of both worlds: to remain on a legacy solution at least temporarily, while preparing to embark on their customer-centric retailing journey. Consequently, airlines need to shift from a “one-stop shop” to a multi-vendor approach and avoid putting all their eggs in one basket.
A number of items should be considered when contemplating this approach:
Be clear about the airline commercial model and the commercial strategy, as these are key to choosing the right commercial ecosystem. Some basic questions must be answered, such as how will the airline interact with other airlines, what kind of service will be provided to the customer and how does the airline plan to sell its services?
How will products and offerings be distributed? Through digital-direct channels? Will aggregators be used? Maybe even legacy GDS? The airline’s distribution strategy needs to be clearly defined, as this sets basic parameters for many subsequent choices.
Is the airline willing to be a trailblazer, with the ability and appetite for something new to really differentiate from competition? Or is the preference to de-risk the use of new technologies, maybe at the cost of competitive advantage?
Are the resources available to integrate technologies and services from numerous providers? Regardless of whether they are in-house or provided by system integrators, they represent a cost that must be managed.
What is the optimal split between capital expenditure and operating expenses? Using a system that is provided out of the box as Software as a Service (Saas) mainly drives operational costs, while a dedicated solution from multiple vendors carries higher capital expenditure.
Not all questions can be answered ahead of a procurement process, especially as most of these considerations are highly interdependent. Therefore, the structure of a procurement strategy should reflect the following points:
Do not focus on buying a “prefabricated house”. Identify and define modules which can be combined, even if they are provided by different providers.
As the industry is evolving, prevent long-term commitments for services that are only starting to take off. Maintain flexibility to replace modules through third-party suppliers, even during the term of the contract and have this reflected in the contracts.
Agree on pricing for the integration and utilisation of third-party solutions. Do not accept paying for services you no longer use.
Get the providers’ commitment to technically support and integrate third-party solutions based on APIs and web services.
Look for integration capabilities – a “custom-made house” needs an architect and the staff to put it together. The same applies for the procurement of unbundled commercial system components.
Do not neglect the importance of data, the ownership thereof and the airline’s access to own data in light of making this data available throughout the ecosystem.
Start the procurement exercise early, based on the airline’s commercial strategy. A complex process with numerous solutions and suppliers providing different modules may take up to a year. Migration planning and the actual migration may easily take an additional year.
The industry is changing, and the pandemic and current resource crisis have accelerated the need for change. It is more necessary than ever to bridge the gap between legacy and the new world, with a clear commitment to customer centricity and retail-driven commercial systems. Unfortunately, the airline industry is one of the slowest movers, and at least for the time being, airlines need to have a foot in the door of both worlds.
The client is an aviation group with operations worldwide comprising over 110,065 employees. The ServiceNow solution is used globally by the client and its partners for IT Service Management and Cloud Management.
The client uses ServiceNow to provide support for operational tasks related to IT Infrastructure and wanted to enhance the platform on an ongoing basis, with quicker response time leading to higher user satisfaction and improved user experience.
They were looking for a technology partner who could support and provide solutions for improved user experience in a multi provider environment, and perform new module implementations and integrations with multi-provider ITSM Platforms. The technology partner also had to support in onboarding multi providers to ServiceNow, enhance their cloud utilizations and reporting capabilities, and provide continual improvement.
Mindtree collaborated with the client to instigate a structured delivery process and governance model. They provided support services and solutions in:
ITSM upliftment, visibility in cloud management and reporting
Enhanced user experience, redesign and development of the service catalogue
Automation in user management such as the creation/modification of a cost centre via catalog item
UAT for cloud module, MFA and change management module
Quicker response time leading to higher user satisfaction
85% work performed from offshore
SLA-based delivery and reduced backlogs
Faster deployment – Structured process for release management
Productivity increase via automation of group creation and management, change of TAG between ServiceNow and MS Azure for CostCentre and business service
With the advent of modern technologies impacting every industry, the travel sector has been ahead in terms of adopting it at a fast pace, specifically to help airline operations become more efficient and flexible. In the airlines industry, the margins are thin; it is imperative to innovate constantly to keep the margins high. It is an industry that cuts across all others like retail, entertainment, manufacturing, network and telecom, hospitality, transportation, payments, maintenance, insurance, cargo and catering. It is the only industry that is so diversified, in terms of inter-dependency. It is unimaginable to think of a smooth, safe and secure end-to-end journey without the advent of technology.
Some innovations and interesting uses of technology adoption include smart speakers in hotels, virtual reality tours from travel companies, new and seamless ways to check-in, self-driving guide robots, digital twin (digital twin is a virtual representation that serves as the real-time digital counterpart of a physical object or process) for operations etc. Technology is becoming all-pervasive, and we are now also witnessing new horizons of development after 5G.
At Mindtree, we have the expertise and experience in terms of validating and testing these complex systems and have reached the pinnacle in executing and providing support during multiple releases to our clients. We have worked with leading airlines and have understood their complex systems, which has helped us gain domain cognizance and align ourselves with their vision and goal. We have brought new and innovative testing solutions, and delivery and cost models to ensure that we deliver at and above pace with the industry.
In the past, the work that we have done has led to on time delivery, reduction in manual effort and cost, faster time-to-market, and less defects in production, leading to long term relationships with our customers. A few instances include:
Set up continuous test and manage delivery model for one of the largest low-cost carriers, saving millions over the years
Tested complex big data-based critical revenue management for a large European airline
Set up common framework and advanced automation tools for a Canadian airline, saving 70-80% effort
Validated multiple commercial and operational systems for another large airline in US, bringing in multi-million dollars in savings
Brought in digital and automation transformation for a few airlines in Middle East, saving 800 man-days of effort
Verified complex scenarios for seat assignment algorithm and UI
Provided inflight testing in a simulated environment using real devices to test scenarios that actually replicate the environment 30-40,000 feet above earth, and validate the videos, images etc.
Our testing of crew management, network planning, and MRO forms just a fraction of our testing expertise
To test the migration of cloud applications, we carried out multivariate and significant cross browsers testing through tools.
We all love technology, and I would like to quote from the book, ‘Factfulness’: “When we have a fact-based world view, we see that the world is not as bad as it seems, and we can see what we have to do to keep making it better.”
This is exactly what technological and digital transformation is doing to humanity and particularly the airline industry – making it better with each step. We are moving towards approaches that enable organizations to rapidly identify, vet and automate as many processes as possible using technology, such as robotic process automation (RPA), low-code application platforms (LCAP), artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual assistants. With AI/ML-enabled automation frameworks and more futuristic technologies like quantum computing, AI, IoT, 5G, metaverse, NFT and digital avatars, testing will definitely gain more momentum. Going forward, we will look to explore more innovative ways to test multiple scenarios to ensure that we reduce time-to-test and have 0% defect delivery.
I keep hearing the same concerns about the perceived speed of the transition to airline digital retailing, whether I speak with airlines, sellers and travel tech companies who have embarked in the transition, or with other players who have chosen to wait and see.
Understanding the good and bad reasons for the lack of speed (compared to expectations) is helpful to find ways to accelerate the transition. It will be even more valuable to plan for the next transition, towards order management.
What are the expectations?
Having one airline implementing one distribution API is fast. Air Canada had a distribution API before NDC started. easyJet had an API connected with one GDS before NDC started. An airline group called Open Axis even had a standard for API distribution before NDC started. If this is all we know, NDC should be implemented globally in a couple of years, right?
On the other hand, airlines, travel agents and GDSs have been working hard for the past 50 years to build a global interconnected platform allowing any customer to find in real-time the best itinerary and best fare to get from A to B anywhere in the world. Even after 50 years of hard work, using pre-internet technologies, the platform does not support the latest innovations in dynamic pricing and ancillaries. Upgrading this entire platform, with new processes and technologies, should take at least 50 years, right?
A reasonable expectation lies probably in the middle. Implementing NDC worldwide has clearly not taken 2-3 years (this was only the time necessary to get the US DOT approval). But hopefully upgrading the distribution infrastructure of the air travel industry won’t take 50 years. For a program launched in 2011, the transition will be completed for the first players in 2025 and probably for the rest of the industry by 2030.
What are the key remaining challenges for implementation?
The initial challenges were typical of a major digital transformation program, except for contractual and business models issues, which are specific to the status of this industry. Challenges included: awareness, business case, funding, skilled resources, contractual restrictions, technical solution, innovative partners, incentives, on-boarding, and differentiated content.
Awareness: I’d be curious to see the results of an awareness survey, showing how many travel distribution professionals have heard about NDC and can define it.
Business case: While many airlines have figured out a business case, including revenue generation from ancillaries, cost reductions and enhanced customer experience, there are still many players still scratching their heads. Indeed, selling the same product, to the same customer, via the same channel, won’t create value even with a new technology.
Funding: Any project requiring investment in the current environment is a challenge. The pandemic crisis has cut the cash resources for most airlines and travel agents. Despite the crisis, some airlines and travel agents keep investing because the new distribution channels, enabled by NDC, are more profitable.
Skilled resources: The transition to digital retailing first required a mindset shift from the management. Then the training or recruitment of staff able to manage API distribution and create new offers across multiple distribution channels. Last but not least, sales teams briefed and equipped to engage the travel agencies about partnership and value creation.
Contractual restrictions: Airlines and travel agents have signed distribution contracts with GDSs, which may contain restrictions or incentives preventing the implementation of alternative channels. Although the European Commission recently closed their 2018 GDS investigation about “possible restrictions in competition in the market for airline ticket distribution services”, such restrictions may remain a challenge today.
Technical solution: With the most advanced airlines having shifted 50% of their indirect bookings on NDC, the technical questions (scalability, look-to-book, polling, caching, etc.) are identified and discussed within technical industry groups. There is still a lot of progress and improvement to be made, i.e. innovation opportunities.
Innovation partners: A key benefit of an open standard for air travel distribution is that it allows new entrants to enter the market, to innovate and partners with existing players. Today there are NDC API providers, NDC aggregators and other NDC service providers (post-booking, etc.).
Incentives: Airlines have designed various distribution strategies and travel agents have elaborated content sourcing strategies to take advantage of the new content and fares. The current transition shows a mix of incentives, ranging from carrots (commissions…) to sticks (surcharges…). After the transition, value creation should become the driver between partners.
On-boarding: Airlines who have built their “distribution platform” are on-boarding travel sellers, either directly or through aggregators. This process takes time and will accelerate over time.
Differentiated content: The purpose of NDC is to enable a new distribution channel, for airlines and travel agents, capable of supporting any kind of airline offers. This channel adds value to partners once content is differentiated, i.e. more than “airline code – origin-destination – date – fare”. Dynamic offers, where the product and the price are constructed dynamically, will leverage the channel and create even further value.
There are more challenges ahead. They reflect the ambition of the modernization of air travel distribution, the opportunities for new services and new entrants, and the reasons underpinning the time the transition takes.
Although I wish the transition moved faster, the current pace is probably right. NDC was launched as something that will and must happen, regardless of the timeline. Knowing that it would happen, the challenge was to make it happen as quickly as possible, but also as robustly as possible in case it lasts for another 50 years.
The next phase of the transition is about order management. The question is not “if” but “when”. The travel industry needs to accelerate the transition to order management if it wants to capture the full benefits of digital retailing. Or we may soon hear “Why is ONE Order taking so long?”.
During the global pandemic, Lufthansa Cargo faced many of the same challenges as other airlines: decreased passenger flights and increased freight requests. With growing demand for medical supplies, electronics, spare parts, and equipment during a supply chain crisis, Lufthansa Cargo had to pivot quickly.
Switching out passenger seats for cargo and bringing freight from the ocean into the air, the company retrofitted passenger planes into what have become known as “preighters.” Although adopting “preighters’’ was one of the most prominent adaptations Lufthansa Cargo made to accommodate market demands, the company still faced pressing issues involving freighter operations amid numerous travel restrictions, crew requirements, layovers, risk of crew quarantine, multi-leg trips, traffic rights, and more.
The company began its digital transformation journey years ago, but the pandemic accelerated the need to modernize additional processes to easily support rapidly changing global conditions. Before the pandemic, Lufthansa Cargo used several legacy applications to support its business processes. IT had to react on very short notice and adjust its systems within days while keeping operations stable and performing day-to-day.
To fuel its digital transformation and better respond to changing conditions, Lufthansa Cargo wanted to upgrade its technology to enable better responsiveness, speed time-to market, improve service support and quality, automate services, and reduce costs.
Lufthansa Cargo worked with TIBCO Partner Mindtree to integrate all its platforms into a single framework: integration, messaging, and APIs. With TIBCO’s comprehensive Connected Intelligence solutions, the Mindtree and Lufthansa Cargo teams created a model that improved Lufthansa’s current capabilities while pushing its transition journey forward.
The company had two main objectives:
First, become a digital company for digital booking, pricing, and revenue management.
Second, achieve digital fulfillment. Get rid of all the paper, automate processes, improve service quality, and provide a seamless transport journey for clients from original shipper to final consignee. Mindtree was responsible for gathering business requirements, maintaining applications, and migrating software. The TIBCO partner also developed a flexible API architecture on an on premises platform to host services and applications for end-to-end operations. The platform upgrade was key to cloud migration and cloud readiness.
With its new infrastructure, Lufthansa Cargo’s integration platform is now cloud-ready, and it has moved closer to its cloud-native goals. By moving to the cloud, the carrier can easily lower costs and accelerate service capabilities. Mindtree’s devOps support for the core cargo applications helped accelerate transformation and significantly reduce Lufthansa’s time-to-market.
The platform’s API-based programming connects to previously incompatible programs and legacy systems. Lufthansa Cargo reports successfully replacing 20-year-old legacy systems from start to finish and integrating all of its multiple CRMs. Its new integration platform brought together more than 80 applications and systems and bridged a wide data gap.
Besides installing a new API self-service platform, the company expanded its digital sales channels with dynamic spot prices that can be booked immediately. Dynamic prices are generated in real time via the company’s new Rapid Rate Response (RRR) mechanism, also enabled through the new integration platform. Lately, Mindtree has helped Lufthansa Cargo scale-up delivery capabilities according to business demand; development capacity on the central integration platform is no longer a critical resource bottleneck for the company’s digital transformation goals. Working in collaboration, TIBCO and Mindtree have empowered Lufthansa Cargo with integration solutions that bridged the company’s wide data gap and fueled transformation so it can soar to the cloud.
There is arguably no more important step in the data lifecycle process than integration. When we move to a new city, into a new home, or start a new career, we are effectively taking all our economic, social, and cultural values into an established but an also unfamiliar environment that we now call our own.
Collecting construction project information is no different. As-builts, schedules, budgets, and contracts are all fluid as the unique data associated with them. Therefore, it’s critical that as your organization or project evolves, there is a reliable system in place to fulfill all your project information needs.
What is data integrity?
Data integrity refers to the accuracy, reliability, and consistency of stored data over its entire lifecycle. With construction projects, data can be unknowingly duplicated, outdated, or outright false delaying project milestone deadlines and inflating a project’s construction budget. Adding to the complication, complex infrastructure projects such as airport terminal expansion can have tens of thousands of physical assets from taxiway centerline light cans to air handler units that all need to be inventoried and be included in close-out submittals. Plans can always change, and unexpected audits can always happen. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Why is integration important?
When integrating any data, we must understand that data is dynamic and may not necessarily be suited for an Excel spreadsheet or Access relational database that we all know and love. Data integration makes data more freely available and easier to consume and process by systems and users. If done properly, it can reduce IT costs, free-up resources, improve data quality, and foster innovation all without drastic changes to existing applications or data structures. Certain aspects of projects may involve sensitive security information (SSI) or contain proprietary information that requires limited access. In this era of information security, preventing data leaks and breaches is more important than ever. When the integrity of data is secure, the information stored in a database will remain complete, accurate, and reliable no matter how long it’s stored or how often it’s accessed. You need a system that can put your data security first.
How to integrate actionable data
Data is only useful if it is timely and actionable. Modern organizations and construction projects are drowning in data but starving for information. Data can also take the form of dates, numbers, text, and files holding that data from a variety of applications that are only accessible to certain parties. If data is cleaned, organized, and archived it not only becomes useful throughout the construction project but after closeout too. You can integrate your project data into software from the Acquisition and Planning Phase into the Bidding Phase, Construction Execution Phase to the Project Closeout and Punch List Phase and Digital Twin Turnover.
Who is going to use this data?
Stakeholders have different data needs. A specification sheet showing an airfield electrician the model numbers of all the newly installed taxiway signs is nice to have but a spreadsheet created by the contractor detailing the preventative maintenance plan for the sign panels is far more beneficial. Imagine having this data right at your fingertips without the wait or figuring out who to call. By having a robust and secure system in place to store all your project information, all team members on a project can collaborate on objectives and accomplish tasks on time. Have your data audit ready. All the time.
How can the project team benefit?
Having the project team identify their data needs is essential for the integration process of a project to succeed. This can be a subcontractor wanting to share a multi-layered plumbing blueprint with an engineer or the airport security coordinator needing product warranty information from the security camera vendor. For a project team to benefit from data integration, management must support the system that is under development and involve users in the development process. This can ultimately save the two most important things to a project: time and money.
We’re hearing the church bells ringing, the waves of the Mediterranean Sea crashing into one of Europe’s most ancient forts, the smell of pasta is in the air, and the sky has not even one cloud. In case you haven’t guessed it by now, we’re in Malta, one of the smallest countries in the world, with a history that goes back thousands of years, and where new history is being made.
Exploring the island’s roads we’re taken back in time by seeing megaliths older than pyramids or the knights of Malta. But in a country full of ancient history, something really innovative is happening.
Like so many travels in the history of the Mediterranean Sea, embarking on the digital journey can be quite a challenge for many companies, and if we add a pandemic in the process it might seem like an impossible mission. Well, that was not the case for Air Malta. The determination this team has shown to make this digital dream come true was an example of how companies should face the many challenges that come in the way.
We had the pleasure to meet two of the members of this airline, Antoine Vella, Head of Digital Commerce at Air Malta, and Stephen Gauci, Head of Corporate Communications at Air Malta. Both are ready to be part of the change coming to the travel industry.
Can you tell us what this Air Malta project in terms of digital transformation entails?
We come from a legacy background where we were extremely tight down in our technology. We decided to reinvent the way we do digital, with a new website and a new e-commerce platform. We felt we needed to really move forward with our digital and leave the traditional legacy behind. The new way we’re doing things now gives us the flexibility we want from our technology to move quickly and grow faster and reduce our costs of distribution.
What is so special and innovative about the solution you implemented?
It’s modular so we can choose exactly what we want to take, for example just the website or just the e-commerce platform, or the mobile app. Apart from that, there’s also the personalization aspect which is very important. When you have data on your customers you can focus on creating products just for them. The engine will help us to provide the right product at the right time of the customer journey. It’s flexible, so it gives the airline people to change things as they want without having to wait for the traditional release cycle. All these aspects will help Air Malta to grow quickly and since the designs were very clear, UI was very good, it helped us in terms of conversion rate.
That’s amazing. Are you saying that before the digital team from the airline couldn’t just change something as part of the booking process themselves?
It was very limited. They could change some things like text or translations, but they couldn’t change big items because the previous platform was shared among airlines so it couldn’t be customized to a specific airline as much as we wanted to. So, if we wanted to introduce a new product it could take months because we had to follow a release plan and wait to see if that product would also make sense for the other airlines attached to this platform.
What does it mean for Air Malta’s customers? What’s different for them now?
The products are now clearly displayed, the way the customer flows from one page to another page is more user-friendly, so they see their flights first then they can move to select extras. These things are not constantly showing to customers so everything is well displayed. That improves conversion because there is no opportunity for the customer to get lost in the product offer. Everything is clearer.
You said you saw the results in conversion quite fast.
Yes, after two weeks. We went live in August and each month the results were better. We have more sales, better conversion rates, and more revenue.
I assume you compared it with the pre-covid time, so it was not just the peak season.
Yes, it was not just because of the peak season. The results were visible immediately after we launched the platform.
How long did it take to launch the platform?
We started working with the technology, in January 2021, and we went live in August. We’re talking about seven or eight months to implement a new website and a new booking engine. In my opinion, that’s extremely fast.
Yes, it’s fast. Particularly, if we consider that Air Malta faces all the complexity of connecting flights or interlining.
And we’re not just selling Air Malta-operated flights. We have to consider ancillaries like bags, seats, sports equipment, fast track. All of these were incorporated in the booking engine. We have the website operating in seven different languages so it’s quite complex. Being able to do this in just eight months is quite an achievement.
There must have been some problems as well. What were the problems and did you manage to solve them?
Problems were mainly related to APIs and getting the right information based on our PSS APIs. We had some issues, but with the Brachspace team, we were able to fix them quickly. Seeing the two teams working together was really important to see the results and get things working.
Air Malta has a big team in digital, it requires people with the right know-how and experience, right?
Definitely. In terms of the number of resources in Air Malta I would say we were a small team, but everyone was super immersed in building this project, and we had good support from the developing team and of course the Branchspace team.
So, collaboration is key.
Yes, collaboration was key. There was never a team trying to take over the other one so to have a clear synergy between teams is really important. The whole project was handled like a big family project so that’s nice.
This was more like a partnership than just a supplier-vendor deal.
It was much more. It was a big team.
That’s what makes this even more amazing. I understand you started this project amid covid so the team couldn’t really meet personally.
Yes, all the preparation was done online.
And now it was the first time that the Branchspace team could come to Malta and meet everyone personally.
To think about a project of this size, you’d think we need to meet personally, but we managed to do it successfully without any physical meeting.
And there must have been a lot of trust in the process.
Trust was very important. It was a very transparent project and everyone stuck to their timelines. That’s how we managed to deliver it on time.
Is there anything you would do differently if you had to start again?
Maybe invest in more resources for Air Malta. I think that would have allowed us to do more. And maybe the physical aspect of being able to meet would also have helped.
There are innovative things still coming up, some game-changing areas, what is happening?
One of the things is our mobile app. It will be the very first mobile app for the airline so it’s important for us. This will help not just with sales, but also so customers can have all the necessary information in their hands. Another thing is the loyalty program. For the first time, customers will be able to redeem points online. This can grow to other areas outside Air Malta and build a community in the country. That’s our vision.
That’s quite unique and that’s what customers are looking for.
We want customers to earn points not just by special travel dates or classes, we want to move away from the old manual process.
So this program will be applied in a much wider area, not just flying.
Exactly. We’re talking about restaurants, hotels, coffee shops, supermarkets maybe even car rentals. The more options the customer has to spend these points the better it will be for the airline.
It’s a lot of good customer-centric initiatives.
We’re trying to become more customer-focused in our approach. And through every channel not just digitally. Our focus should be the customer because, ultimately, we’re here to serve the customer. We need to provide a good service and the technology to serve that purpose.
It can make a difference to your competition. It must be great for you Stephen to be able to communicate about the project. It is a journey so over time there are so many new things happening.
Definitely. We’re having positive news and news that benefits the customers. The website has been having a great impact on the customers which ultimately will benefit the airline with loyalty and repeat visitors.
How did the cooperation in other areas work? There are elements linked to this project like loyalty, distribution, strategy…
It was very important from day one that there was internal alignment between all departments. Everyone knew what the end result was, so all were working in the same direction. Even though it was difficult with covid, the project brought the employees together, so it wasn’t just a digital department success, it was an Air Malta success.
I’ve been in contact with the chairman, David Curmi, and he said this is the beginning of your digital transformation journey. So, it’s a very important element.
It’s one of the most important parts for the airline in terms of how it should grow and how quickly. Digital is really important.
Looking back to January 2021 and now May 2022, in one word, what comes to your mind about the project?
Exciting. It had so many new things and it was happening so fast that sometimes we don’t even have time to process it all. So, that was very exciting.
As airports adapt to new environmental requirements, technology steps up to help them keep track of their carbon footprint.
Swedavia and Veovo have partnered to introduce environmental emissions incentives for airlines. The airport operator’s flexible airport charges scheme essentially rewards airlines for operating out of Swedavia airports Stockholm Arlanda and Gothenburg Landvetter with more fuel-efficient aircraft. In all, Swedavia operates 10 Swedish airports and is a leader in adopting environmental innovations.
The recently introduced CO2 and NOx Emission Charges follow a Swedish government requirement that airport charges be differentiated for environmental purposes. Airlines are charged more when operating aircraft with higher emissions and less when operating cleaner aircraft. The overall effect on airport revenue for Swedavia is neutral.
Lena Wennberg, chief sustainable development officer at Swedavia, says:” Swedavia wants the travel of the future to be sustainable. For many years, we have actively worked towards a transition to more sustainable travel via our airports. By the end of 2020, Swedavia became completely fossil-free in our airport operations. Fossil-free renewable HVO-diesel is now being fuelled at our airports. Within the Swedish government’s initiative Fossil-free Sweden, which we work within, there are also goals for domestic flights to be completely fossil-free by 2030. For international traffic, all planes taking off from Swedavia’s airports must be fossil-free by 2045″.
Veovo’s Revenue Management software will automatically calculate airlines’ environmental impact at the airport, using industry emission data sets and Swedavia’s innovative environmental charging approach. Swedavia shares the calculations with airlines on their invoices.
” The industry’s drive towards increased sustainability and carbon neutrality requires a toolkit of innovative technologies and approaches, including charging that rewards cleaner aircraft,” said James Williamson, CEO of Veovo. “We are pleased that our aeronautical billing engine with complete charge flexibility will support Swedavia in their initiative.”
Swedavia’s climate transition work was recently honoured by the Airports Council International (ACI), awarding the operator the Eco-Innovation Airport of the Year in 2021.
Airports embrace sustainability
Readers may be interested in the perspective of Jennifer Desharnais, Manager Sustainability at ACI World, who advises the aviation industry not to consider sustainability as a mere “box-ticking exercise.”
“Airports are not new to the practice of operating as sustainably as possible. Several show true leadership, and clearly have a solid sustainability strategy that cascades down and engages all employees. These airports typically create innovative partnerships, collaborate with both in-sector and out-of-sector stakeholders, invest in technologies and training, embrace change, understand the needs of the passengers and communities they serve, and measure their impact on society and the environment. Overall, the airport sector is one that recognises the intricate interdependencies of all three pillars of sustainability, and the associated risks and opportunities.”
But there will be a lot of measures to account for, and technology companies can help make progress toward a carbon-neutral future more transparent.
The future of flexible airport charges
ACI World has suggested that flexible airport charges might also result in the more efficient use of airport infrastructure. ACI World published a policy brief on this topic at the end of last year—Airport Charges: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom—with the assistance of InterVISTAS Consulting Inc. and the support of Oman Airports Management Company, ACI Africa, ACI Latin America-Caribbean, and ACI North America.
The brief suggests:
Policies on airport charges should ensure that they serve the travelling public’s and local communities’ best interests.
Strictly cost-based airport charges do not ensure that infrastructure is used more efficiently to benefit the travelling public.
The primary focus of charges should be on market needs and signals for the efficient use of infrastructure.
The best way forward in the changing competitive landscape is through commercial agreements between airports and airlines.
Light-handed oversight formats are preferable in exceptional situations where economic regulation of charges is deemed necessary.
More flexible policy
The environmental incentive scheme introduced by Swedavia appears to be a better solution to keep Europe’s airports on target than the Fit for 55 proposals put forth by the European Commission.
Fit for 55 refers to achieving a 55% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 relative to 1990 levels and encompasses the goal to meet net-zero targets by 2050. The European Commission has proposed mandating the use of sustainable aviation fuels (in its ReFuelEU Directive), requiring the supply of electricity to stationary aircraft (in the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation, AFIR), and putting an effective price on CO2 emissions and jet fuel (through the EU Emission Trading System, ETS, implementation of CORSIA, and the European Taxation Directive, ETD).
While well-intended and in some ways aligned with aviation’s environmental commitment, ACI Europe has pointed out that Fit for 55 could have an unintended negative impact on European airports, airlines and passengers alike.
The AFIR will require airports to upgrade or change their infrastructure to ensure electricity supply is available at aircraft gates and stands.
The other proposals will increase airlines’ costs— e.g. by introducing a kerosene tax. The extent to which airlines mitigate, absorb or pass through these cost increases to passengers and how passengers respond to any fare changes will determine the effect of these proposals on carbon emissions and demand and revenue at airports.
The Fit for 55 proposals will reduce demand at European airports.
Fares on direct flights could increase by 11% in 2030 and 13% in 2050, leading to a reduction in demand of 5% in 2030 and 6% in 2050.
However, the Oxera report points out that while these policies will dampen demand, the overall trend is for future passenger demand to exceed 2019 levels. These policies will not curb flying. Aircraft will remain a preferred form of transport for many. Instead, they will only lessen the number of flights operating in Europe.
Climate change is a global issue, and the solutions should also be global.
Oxera finds Fit for 55 might encourage more airlines to program connecting flights that avoid European airports and switch routes to connect through other airports instead. Even flights originating in Europe destined for long-haul routes may choose to connect through airports elsewhere. After building the infrastructure to attract connecting flights, Europe’s airports need to remain viable.
What is more, this policy shift would not effectively accomplish its mission.
The proposals reduce carbon emissions per passenger by 54% in 2050 on flights within the EU, but only by 20% on flights that connect EU and non-EU airports.
ACI EUROPE proposes the following policies:
Further incentivise and provide financial support to increase uptake of SAF (sustainable aviation fuels).
Allocation of revenues from taxation and ETS for aviation decarbonisation
Exempt small airports from supplying electricity for stationary aircraft
Engagement with the EU’s main trading partners and other third countries to accelerate international decarbonisation goals and actions
Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI EUROPE, said: “The achievement of our climate goals is too important to proceed with anything other than the fullest body of knowledge possible. And the social and economic cohesion that comes with robust air connectivity is too valuable to our continent and communities to put at risk. Oxera’s report shows that the ‘Fit for 55’ package, whilst unquestionably valuable in its aspirations and directions, invites unwelcome and unanticipated consequences through a lack of a comprehensive and cumulative impact assessment. As we all strive to decarbonise our sector, let us go forward with our eyes wide open. The process will be costly and lengthy, and ours is by its very nature a global industry. The measures we propose today will help create a firm foundation for us to move forward whilst protecting Europe and its citizens from distortion and exclusion. We urge the European Institutions to incorporate these in their next steps”.
While the objective is to ensure a sustainable future for humanity, there are more gains to be made from flexibility.
Fresh green tech opportunities
In her article, Desharnais also raises awareness about the complexity of reporting, highlighting opportunities for the tech sector to offer solutions that will help keep aviation on track towards net-zero 2050.
“The spotlight on sustainability is resulting in a multitude of ESG ratings and rankings, sustainability reporting frameworks and guidelines, and target setting guidelines, popping up all over the sustainability landscape. Often dubbed the “ESG alphabet soup”, the topic continues to gain greater attention every day, demonstrating the pressing need for standardisation. For airports and many other businesses, it can easily become confusing. ACI’s ESG Management Best Practice aims to help airports better understand the differences between ESG and sustainability reporting, the steps they can take to start or improve reporting, and the reasons why investors are interested,” she writes.
The environmental commitments made by the aviation industry—to achieve net-zero targets by 2050—requires technological innovation not only in aircraft and fuel systems but in how we measure and keep track of operations. Governments, investors, and the travelling public will demand transparency along the path to net-zero. Ensuring accurate reporting will be essential.
After all, sustainability is nothing without accountability.
In a famous interview in 1995, Bill Gates explained the Internet to Dave Letterman, the host of a TV show. Letterman argued that he could listen to the news on the radio and wasn’t sure why would someone need the Internet. Today, we can listen to the radio on the Internet.
As the metaverse is getting a lot of attention, including in a recent article by Johnny Thorsen, many are wondering if it’s another technology looking for problems to solve, if it’s going to be more successful than Second Life (the first attempt at a virtual world) and if it may have an impact on air travel (you can’t fly virtually, can you?).
Let’s understand first what the metaverse entails then let’s have a look into the current trials and a longer look into the future.
What is the metaverse? How does it relate to Web3?
My personal understanding of the metaverse is a term that covers computer-generated virtual worlds and the tools to navigate them. As such it is more than AR/VR tools, it is really a graphical interface layer on top of the internet, pioneered by developers of video games such as Minecraft and Fortnite.
In a related space, Web3 is the blockchain-based iteration of the Web, which was built originally on the internet. If you consider blockchain as a secured and decentralized evolution of the internet, designed to handle digital assets or tokens, your navigation layer is called Web3.
If you mix the two concepts – metaverse and Web3, you can visit a virtual world and handle digital assets in this virtual world. By digital assets I mean virtual properties, virtual currencies and other virtual goodies. Following this simplistic presentation of the new concepts, where is the link to physical travel and tourism?
Current air travel initiatives with the metaverse
The most recent example of current initiative is the airline Vueling that announced testing the metaverse to support customers will trip planning and to sell (real) tickets. They partnered with NextEarth, a platform in the metaverse, and Iomob, a mobility platform helping with the integration.
Another example is Qatar Airways presenting a virtual cabin crew, inspired by the avatars in the virtual world. This initiative focuses on giving the customers a taste of the inflight experience.
More airlines are exploring the technology based on their priorities: trip planning, product review, etc. Looking at the current initiatives gives us a hint to the future: the metaverse will be a new sales channel for travel and tourism, including air travel – like the internet enabled 25 years ago online sales, and 10 years later mobile phones enable mobile sales. Get ready for “meta sales”!
Looking into the future
The future of “meta sales” is two-fold: 1) reaching customers where they are and 2) showing the product to the customers.
As hundreds of millions of customers spend time in the virtual worlds they will come across people and brands, including travel and tourism brands.
In the case of a virtual world that represents the real world – like a digital twin of our world, think Google maps or Google Earth – the navigation in this world will lead to the digital twin of a hotel or of an airport. Airlines may want to offer a visit of their aircraft.
It is difficult to predict how long it will take before we feel that it is normal to pay a virtual visit to a hotel and to an airline before making a purchase, like it is normal today to visit their website.
This exploration of the metaverse may seem to be a stretch as some airlines still need to fix the basic features of their mobile app. History shows us that new technologies don’t wait for everyone to master the old ones.
Most people and companies will probably adopt a “wait & see” attitude, while watching the pioneers who experiment and commenting from the side lines. As we’ve seen above, some players have already adopted the “test & learn” attitude. Indeed, the best way to predict the future is to build it.
One Order: The proof of the pudding is in the eating
NDC has transformed airline distribution. Well, while that particular statement can be debated for many hours, one thing that can be said is that it has changed the vocabulary of airline distribution.
The mindset of airline distribution has genuinely been transformed to think in terms of “offers” and “orders”, about APIs and dynamic bundles and so on. Indeed, many airlines are implementing these concepts in their distribution landscape.
But what has really changed, beyond some terminology? Well, for certain, airlines are thinking much more like retailers. They are thinking about the customer (purchasing) experience, products, bundles, segmentation, and they are thinking about how to get these into their distribution channels as offers – through NDC and their digital direct channels. The transformation of an offer into a sale of products is resulting in the creation of orders. However, most orders still rely on a system which also uses legacy artefacts such as PNRs, tickets and EMDs.
“Airlines become more retail-focussed, more confident in their capabilities as retailers and more well-equipped…”
As airlines become more retail-focussed, more confident in their capabilities as retailers and more well-equipped with tools to enable this, the more creative and ambitious airlines will become. More products in bundles, different products in different markets, integrations with providers of travel-related services that see the market developing as the technical obstacles of legacy artefacts are steadily removed from the equation. This gentle transformation is also driving changes elsewhere throughout airline organisations, as the knock-on effects of these begin to be noticed. Orders created within an order management system provide a vehicle for simplified settlement processes between sales channels (retailers) and the airlines as sellers. While the full complexity of airline revenue accounting, proration, BSP and other settlement flows cannot be eliminated overnight, the ONE Order accounting standards are enabling change. As the maturity of NDC distribution increases and orders become more prevalent, airline IT providers are presented with opportunities to bring further simplification, leveraging NDC and ONE Order. Providers of Order Management Systems (OMS) are now able to integrate directly with airline accounting systems in real-time, bypassing much of the legacy complexity associated with PNRs, tickets and EMDs.
However, there is more to being a successful airline retailer than creating offers, converting them into orders and feeding the fruits of these sales into the airline’s financial systems. At some point in time, there will be a customer who has expectations based on their wider retail experiences. The retail possibilities that airlines are now becoming exposed to go far beyond their own domain. While the additional bag will (hopefully) be visible at the time of check-in, and the lounge may be run by the airline, what about the pre-booked parking, fast-track security or the express train to the airport? The airline is unlikely to be the entity responsible for delivering the service in these cases, but the expectations of the customer are the same as when they present at the desk to drop off their bag – it should just work. However, interacting with all these new parties to ensure “it just works” is unchartered territory for many airlines. More and more, this involves pushing an order notification to the external service provider via the OMS to fulfil a service. Interactive two-way messaging related to order fulfilment is new. And, in the envisaged world where the PNR and ticket are superfluous, even the interactions with the check-in providers need to be brought into the era of APIs and open integration standards.
“IATA has anticipated this and has developed a set of standards within the ONE Order framework to enable the delivery of services using orders…”
In conjunction with airlines, vendors and other industry stakeholders, IATA has anticipated this and has developed a set of standards within the ONE Order framework to enable the delivery of services using orders. These messages can be used by an OMS to trigger the delivery by pushing information to the responsible party or can be used by delivery providers to pull the necessary information proactively. They can track consumption of services as well, which is key to triggering accounting and settlement processes. However, certification for ONE Order capabilities is still very light compared to NDC. While the certifications only may only be taken as a loose measure of maturity, it would appear that there may be a vast gap between what airlines can now sell and what (or rather how) they can deliver.
The reasons for this apparent mismatch are manifold and varied in their nature (technical, process-related, commercial), and some may be easier to resolve than others. What is more concerning though is the apparent lack of awareness of this mismatch among the broader industry. Great focus has been placed on promoting the need for modernisation in how airlines define and sell their products and services. However, there is still one key component that will become a challenge sooner rather than later – where the customer gets to seamlessly experience all those products and services that the airline invested so much effort in to get the customer to purchase.
The collaboration between airlines and their OMS partners is, generally speaking, mature, collaborative and based on a common understanding of business value and goals. The relationship between airlines and their ground handling partners is of a very different, operational nature and is often very cost-driven to extract the maximum value at the lowest cost. On the other hand, the relationship between OMS providers and ground handlers is non-existent in most cases.
Planning and executing the smooth delivery of products is key to being a successful retailer. Achieving this requires close alignment between all stakeholders: airlines, their OMS providers and crucially, the ground handlers and other partners, in and around the airport, in the air or wherever else they may be. So far, the focus has been on the selling aspect of retailing and increasing revenue and airline wallet share. However, if airlines are really to succeed as retailers, customer satisfaction will be determined by what, and how, they deliver. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
The air travel industry was hit hard by pandemic lockdowns and restrictions. Among the challenges for airports and airlines to overcome were red zone restrictions, vaccine passports, social distancing, and uncertainties around passenger volume. In fact, a McKinsey report found that the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in airlines haemorrhaging $168 billion in economic losses in 2020. While the leisure air travel market is now showing signs of recovery, the once-lucrative business travel sector has been slower (for now).
As restrictions have eased across the globe, the industry is working hard to build back confidence but also meet changed customer expectations around frictionless journeys. To achieve this, revive growth and ensure continued profitability, air travel operators are looking for ways to gain a competitive advantage that captures more of the available market while also minimising their costs.
Technological innovations are at the heart of improving efficiency and productivity for customer-facing airline operations. Automating processes on smart devices can enhance customer experience at every touchpoint, while actively reducing costs.
Winning the hearts of passengers
After two years of disruption, a smooth, frictionless journey is highly desirable for passengers, and offering this experience differentiates an airline. When facing unpredictable passenger volumes and changing safety requirements – which, let’s be honest, might return at any point – airlines need flexible and easy-to-implement solutions.
Using smart data capture on mobile devices has multiple benefits. Unlike fixed scanners, it enables customer service agents to perform multiple tasks anywhere in the airport. Airlines can automate processes such as check-in, security queues, lounge access, and luggage management, providing a modern, sleek impression from the first moment a passenger enters the terminal.
Compared with the old approach of using rugged devices at fixed stations, smart data capture on mobile devices delivers significant customer benefits and staff efficiencies. Airport queues have been big news recently, but with staff equipped with smart mobile devices, waiting times can be cut as they can patrol queues and scan IDs, passports and QR codes to speed passengers through check-in and deliver a more personalised experience – accessing details about a passenger’s seat preferences or dietary requirements, for example.
Customer service agents using smart mobile devices can easily manage oversized luggage presented at the gate and quickly check it into the hold. They can instantly issue vouchers to delayed or inconvenienced passengers by scanning boarding cards or codes, and provide smarter assistance when it comes to lost luggage. Giving an agent the power of mobility during check-in ensures that passengers who require assistance can be served at their seats, rather than requiring them to come to a podium.
Reducing operational costs with multifunctional devices
Managing the bottom line is critical, post-Covid. Replacing fixed hardware, like boarding gate readers, with scanning-enabled apps that work on mobile devices reduces the total cost of ownership by between 35% and 50%.
In the airport, efficiency is of the utmost importance. Freed from bulky hardware, agents can ensure faster flight boarding avoiding costly delays. Should a flight transfer from one gate to another, it’s a quick and easy task for customer service agents to pick up their mobile devices and walk to the new gate.
Using smart data capture solutions allows air travel operators to provide passengers with cost-efficient self-service options. By integrating smart scanning into a customer app or website, passengers can check in online, confirm their COVID certification or vaccination status, check in their bags and receive flight information. This helps to reduce congestion in the airport, ensuring a seamless experience and reducing costs incurred by delays or time-consuming procedures.
Employee onboarding and training is also improved when using a single smart device. The intuitive experience from a mobile app that employees are already familiar with eases acceptance and minimises the training required.
Smart scanning also provides opportunities for more upsells and cross-sells. More passenger insights are captured from the scans, and are available instantly, while the transaction can be easily completed with mobile point of sale.
Predicting the unpredictable
The global COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of future-proofing air travel operations. With customers flocking to airport gates in a post-pandemic world plus the risk of sudden changes in travel rules, having a scalable, flexible and cost-effective solution is the key to managing unpredictable passenger numbers in the coming months.
Scalability and flexibility are two significant advantages of smart data capture. Every staff member with a smart device can become a mobile agent delivering passenger services, so handling fluctuating passenger numbers and new operational demands is easy. It eliminates the need to have extra bespoke and expensive equipment to cope with peaks in demand.
With passenger experiences taken to new heights, businesses benefiting from reduced costs and increased efficiencies and employees transformed into customer service superheroes, smart data capture technology is the answer for a seamless, cost-effective travel experience.
The Changi Airport Group, which manages Singapore’s Changi Airport, has announced a phased re-opening of the refreshed and updated Terminal 2 beginning May 29. Biometric identity will help expedite passenger processing at this terminal as Changi Airport prepares for increased passenger traffic in the coming months.
Changi’s T2 closed for upgrading work in May 2020, taking advantage of a reduction in passenger numbers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The upgrades are ongoing, with a planned completion date of 2024. When work is finished, the upgraded terminal is expected to handle five million more passengers than it did before the project began. This increase would put the terminal’s capacity at 28 million passenger movements per year.
The first phase of T2’s progressive re-opening addresses the needs of peak-hour travel for airlines operating in Terminal 3. It adds capacity for critical touchpoints, including arrival immigration, baggage claim belts, and contact gates at the southern wing of the terminal. A few flights will depart from boarding gates at T2, though passengers will still check-in and clear departure immigration at T3 during this phase of the reopening.
Mr Tan Lye Teck, CAG’s Executive Vice President of Airport Management, said of the reopening, “CAG is encouraged to see the strong pickup in travel demand and has worked closely with our partners to bring forward the progressive reopening of T2 ahead of the June travel peak to meet this demand. The start of flight operations at T2 will provide more capacity to support our airline partners, who are also gearing up to serve more passengers in the months ahead. T2 will reopen in phases over the next two years to support Changi’s recovery as a regional air hub.”
Biometric automation at immigration
One of the expanded T2 features will be a larger Arrival Immigration Hall. It will rely on automated immigration lanes and wider special assistance lanes to speed up passenger processing. The automated immigration lanes will be available to Singaporeans and residents who have enrolled their iris and facial biometrics with the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA). Eligible foreign visitors who have registered their biometrics on arrival in Singapore can also access these lanes.
Singapore’s ICA has embraced biometric ID, introducing the Multi-Modal Biometrics System (MMBS), which captures iris, facial and/or fingerprints of arriving and departing travellers at ICA passenger halls. ICA also has plans to make biometric identification available to foreign travellers who may visit Singapore often and prefer the speed and convenience by allowing them to register for Biometric ID for future trips. The Straits Times reports separately that the ICA intends automated clearance to be the norm for all travellers to Singapore beginning next year, 2023. The automating of these processes also supports pandemic containment, reducing the number of interpersonal contact points throughout the journey.
73% of passengers are willing to share their biometric data to improve airport processes (up from 46% in 2019).
51% would be willing to share their biometric data with partners, including hotels and car rental companies, if it helps facilitate their onward journey.
36% have experienced using biometric data when travelling.
86% of those who have used biometric data to travel were satisfied with the experience.
And the immigration process accounts for two of the top three touchpoints where passengers welcome the ease of biometric identity:
51% Entry Immigration
47% Exit Immigration
34% Security check
Airports have been investing in IT to support greater automation of the journey, with biometrics playing an essential role in that. SITA’s IT Trends report reveals:
84% of airports will invest in self-service processes.
83% of airports will implement touchless solutions for passengers and staff.
Nearly three-quarters of airports are also investing in biometric ID management solutions for passengers (74%), with 45% of those planning significant programs and 29% conducting R&D programs.
As SITA reports, “Investment in solutions for passenger identity management have increased in 2021, with several areas seeing growing implementation.” SITA says biometric identity will support several passenger processes beyond border control.
Self-check-in remains a key aspect of identity management solutions, with over half of airports (59%) in 2021 having implemented this (up from 46% last year).
A further 23% plan to implement self-check-in by 2024. Self bag-drop also remains critical, with 46% having invested (up from 35% last year) and a further 32% planning to do so.
Airport security (up from 28% to 40%) and enrolment at the airport (up from 20% to 29%) have seen growth in the past year.
For future investment, the focus is on departure and boarding gates.
27% of airports have implemented automated border gates at departure using biometrics and travel documents, but 64% plan to have these implemented by 2024.
24% have implemented self-boarding gates using biometrics only, but 62% plan to by 2024.
Over the next three years, 38% of airports plan to implement a secure, single biometric token for all touchpoints, though this is only implemented in 3% of airports today.
Is this the dawning of the age of passport-less travel?
Big hullabaloos made over the colour of passport books may be a thing of the past sooner than we might have imagined. As biometric identity becomes the norm, these paper documents could go the way of the dodo.
While the universal deployment of biometric identification is a welcome concept in the travel space, some issues with the technology will still need to be ironed out before we leap forward. Addressing data security, privacy controls, restricted access to biometric databases, and eliminating false-positive/false-negative results are only a few of these issues. There are ethical concerns, particularly in terms of the broader application of biometric data in commercial spaces. What is the risk of our biometric identifiers being sold or traded between companies and for consumer profiling? It is far greater than zero.
Singapore’s broad adoption of biometric identity, and similar programs advancing elsewhere in the world, could mean at least some of us will get to experience a journey right out of what has been, up to now, merely speculative fiction.
From this week, face masks are not mandatory anymore on European Union flights and airports (except in Spain and Italy), more than two years since the start of the pandemic. We may all feel like the pandemic days are about to be something of the past and that things are now getting back to normal. The truth is that some things may actually be changed forever. People worldwide spent these last two years adapting to the “new normal” and, although most of us wanted our lives to get back just as they were, some changes came with interesting challenges. It’s not just about people adapting to a new world. When people start to have new habits and think in different ways, the global market has to adapt as well.
One of the most affected areas was, without a doubt, the travel industry and now, two years later, things seem to be moving forward in a new direction instead of going back to the same place. Last year, online traffic increased by 11% in the travel industry, more than any other (ContentSquare, 2021). Airlines must face the reality of a changing travel experience in a post-pandemic world and create flexible solutions to meet the needs of the “new normal customer”.
The world was already on a fast-paced journey to digital transformation and the pandemic came to accelerate the rhythm of change. Many customers who were hesitant regarding online shopping are now comfortable with that new habit, and generations Y (millennials) and Z were already shopping online not only for plane tickets but for everyday things like groceries. These times, when the world stopped for a moment, brought much uncertainty, and a strong effort to strengthen digital solutions can be quite a challenge. Fortunately, many airlines are facing this situation as an opportunity and that can only lead us to an exciting future in travel.
Flying Above and Beyond Expectations
Customer-centric OTAs and travel suppliers are moving to the next level. Let’s take the example of Airbnb which just launched a new way of selling travel, based on the experience that customers are looking for. Or Amazon introducing a beta in the US to sell digital travel experiences. Airlines such as Southwest which was already leading in digital experiences just introduced additional mobile self-service options to enhance and personalize the customer experience along the travel journey. Travelers will be able to add for example an upgrade for priority boarding before leaving to the airport, instead of having to queue at the airport or call the contact center. All airlines understand now that their business model and digital ecosystem needs a serious revision.
Imagine someone — we all know this person — who started a new job in this post pandemic scenario. What new challenges come to mind for this consumer who now has to create a whole office in the house? The journey has shifted completely. This person will spend some time on a thorough search for the right products and maybe find out some other products or services that were unknown before. There’s the space for recommendations where the store will gain the customer’s trust and loyalty.
It’s not just about providing the right product, the expectations are already high. The companies who manage to surprise their customers by going beyond are the ones who will win this innovation race. The companies who do this properly make their customer feel they matter all the time, and right in the device we all can’t seem to leave — the smartphone. It’s Amazon that lets you know your new ergonomic chair is arriving today, it’s the fitness app that sends you a notification that you haven’t been working out for two weeks, or any food delivery service that sends you a reminder that tonight is perfect to order tacos from your favorite place. When it comes to travel it shouldn’t be any less than this.
The Future Customer Experience Is Now
If we agree that the customer journey has severely changed with the last pandemic then it’s imperative for airlines to invest in extensive research on user experience.
Airlines could learn a lot from retailers that are investing in this customer experience more than ever, and it all starts with how much they prioritize user research. Tesco, one of the largest supermarket chains, realized how many customers were tired of commuting to the office in the city center because they didn’t have the ideal conditions to work from home. The result is that Tesco is now creating flexible office spaces inside their supermarkets. This is a clear example of companies that listen to the customer’s needs and provide solutions beyond expectations.
Concepts like innovation and flexibility have never been so crucial and, in the end, it’s all about who takes off quickly to this transition. The airline industry has been able to reach a certain level of modernization since the general adoption of the internet, however, this evolution is still deeply rooted in the same concepts and flows from decades ago. Low-cost carriers, for example, have been driving digital adoption and agile commercial policies, gradually augmenting their products. Even these companies are now realizing the need to move to the next level to remain relevant. It’s urgent to implement leaner technology and processes or rather to simplify and get rid of unnecessary processes.
The latest digital retail platforms, tools, and methods are getting increasingly important for airlines if they want to become true retailers. Air Asia aims to generate 50% of its revenue with non-travel / non-aviation related revenue by 2025. The ultimate goal is that airlines become completely customer-centric in every area. It requires getting away from legacy technology fast, which was built around transactions and not around the customer. This could mean the end of booking classes or fare filing and the beginning of a simplified and flexible process. Alongside innovative platforms travel suppliers will be ready to adopt existing next-gen services and, at the same time, guarantee a first-class ticket to future trends.
People want to travel, and only a few airlines have really used the pandemic to lay the foundations for the transformation journey and move with full speed – and low risk – to ensure they have a state of the art customer proposition. With additional challenges – and opportunities – that sustainability and new mobility models present there will be a lot of new players joggling for positions and some unforeseen ones such as rail becoming stronger again. At the beginning of the next decade, in 2030, we forecast a fundamentally different travel experience. If airlines do not grab the opportunities of digital retailing they risk increasingly turning into operating units for the players who will.
Airport performance relies on accurate off block times. Operators have all the data to make it so. It’s a matter of knowing how to put it to work.
In a sea of aviation acronyms, none has such a broad or deep impact on airport performance as TOBT: Target Off Block Time.
TOBT is the exact moment when airlines and ground handlers predict an aircraft will go off blocks – when passengers are seated, doors are closed, the boarding bridge has pulled away, and the plane will leave its stand.
All airport partners work in sync, based on the TOBT, to turn around aircraft as efficiently as possible, allowing traffic control to optimise the departure sequence based on the expected readiness of flights. But when things go wrong, cost, punctuality and customer experience can take a severe hit. For busier airports, inaccurate TOBTs can also impact runway capacity and the wider air traffic flow.
TOBT – the king of pre-departure milestones
Of course, a target off block time does not live in isolation. It’s one of several milestones within an Airport Collaborative Decision Making (ACDM) framework used by airports and their partners to share a common situational awareness of the pre-departure process. But TOBT is the king of milestones upon which all others are derived.
TOBT is initially automatically calculated by the airport based on the flight arrival information. About 30 to 40 minutes before departure, usually, when the turnaround process has started, airlines and ground handlers coordinate and update the time based on the operational situation. The TOBT must be updated at least 10 mins before departure to ensure that it is relevant and useful.
And therein lies the challenge.
This critical milestone relies on busy airline or ground staff to manually estimate departure readiness within two minutes. That’s a lot of pressure to come up with an accurate estimate. It also relies on their experience with estimating – a challenge if they’re new to the job – and whether they genuinely have good visibility of the situation and all its moving parts.
As a result, the accuracy of this milestone can vary widely. Many large airports report it to be less than 60% accurate within 5 minutes, with even fewer TOBTs accurate to within 2 minutes. The result is significant knock-on effects on apron congestion, gate resourcing planning and departure sequencing, and even the wider regional air traffic flow.
But there is a better way.
Machine learning as a cornerstone of predictions
By automating the prediction of off-block times, operators can achieve far more accurate and stable off-block performance than when relying on the estimates of a distracted ground crew.
Three capabilities make AI and, in particular, its subset machine-learning, exceptionally powerful in predicting off block times.
Machine learning can process massive amounts of data.
Machine learning can help by quickly sifting through rich data pools to analyse past off-block time performance and identify patterns. Data used to train the prediction model can include origin, destination, carrier, aircraft type, gate, passenger load, boarding times and airfield condition – vast amounts of data from different sources, all contributing to greater accuracy in off block timings.
Machine learning can provide granular predictions in real-time.
Predicted off block times are not a static milestone. As a machine learning engine ingests data in real-time – such as live flight, weather, boarding, passenger flow or video analytics capture of ground handler activities – it dynamically updates predictions based on the situation.
Machine learning can continuously learn and improve outcomes.
A machine learning model can be continually refined, automatically learning from past events to make better predictions, or adjusting the weighting of data to ensure the most accurate and relevant data is used when updating the model.
Bringing machine learning to life
We could see huge benefits in making our technology more adaptable, reduce the complexity in configuration, and develop systems that ultimately get better over time. With that in mind, and by defining key AI and ML-powered forecasting capabilities that would leverage what airports and their partners already have – lots of data – allows faster and more accurate forecasts.
The Veovo ‘Airport ML at scale’ approach is built on lessons from multiple airport client engagements. We firmly believe that this is the future of airport technology, where enhanced services like this are easily integrated to deliver real operational benefits quickly.
And there are significant benefits of a ML-powered, higher quality, predicted off block time. It drives better planning, timely operational decisions and enables post operations analysis to drive a continuously improving airport performance. All this from making that one simple time stamp more accurate.
Introducing AI/ML capabilities need not be complex or daunting. By wrapping the “smarts” into a reusable service block and coupling it with open and flexible integration, these components can be quickly adopted, enhancing current system and operational performance, and then built on over time.
Transforming airport performance
Machine learning brings data and human know-how together to solve one of aviation’s thorniest challenges: on-time departures. With the help of machine learning, TOBT accuracy can be dramatically boosted – from less than 50% accurate to within five minutes using manual methods to up to 90% accuracy.
When airports and their partners have confidence in off block times, they can better use their airside assets, get more capacity out of the same resources and ultimately deliver a better service to passengers.
Machine learning is giving those organisations that embrace it a significant head start in transforming airport performance. Operators and their partners already have the data gold they need. All they need to do now is access to the right prediction engine and integration framework to help them mine it.
When low-cost carriers designed their business models to simplify their business and reduce costs, they went ticketless. But why do legacy network carriers need tickets (now e-tickets) after all? Will they still need to issue tickets to customers who accepted their NDC offers? What are the steps for airlines to move to Order management?
Would we invent airline tickets today?
If you ask the question “what is an airline ticket, and can airline live without tickets?” pundits may argue that it is critical to many airline processes (which is correct), and it makes no sense to get rid of tickets. But if you ask the question differently “if we invented network airlines today, would we invent tickets?”, the answer will certainly be different.
In today’s world, network carriers are selling through travel agencies and through airline partners, they are operating at shared airports, and they are doing business like retailers, making offers to customers and delivering their orders. Indeed, they don’t need to issue tickets. Being ticketless and moving to orders is a goal shared by other modes of transport, like railways.
In September 2016 IATA published a report that studied the transition to order management, meaning retiring tickets from all airline processes and replacing them by orders. The report was drafted by Travel in Motion, on behalf of IATA’s airline distribution standards team. What are the key questions for the transition?
1 – Cost benefit analysis
The customers benefit from order management because they can easily create their own order and modify it before or during the trip. The airlines benefit from the increase in ancillary revenue, including for interline flights, and from the reduction in costs related to customer servicing and IT systems. Of course each airline has a different mix of customers and product offering, which will influence their analysis of the costs and benefits of order management.
2 – Impact on stakeholders
The report explores the vast impact on stakeholders of such a transition. Within each airline, customer service will access orders, ground and inflight staff will deliver orders, revenue accounting will process and settle orders, reservations will create and modify orders, digital channels will display orders, sales teams will notice the satisfaction of customers, revenue management will create offers than can be fulfilled in orders. Outside of airlines, interline partners, travel sellers, ground handlers, and payment providers will handle orders and benefit from them.
The PNRgov message containing Advanced Passenger Information, sent by airlines to governments prior the flights, will be based on Orders instead of PNRs.
3 – End state Architecture
The report recommends an architecture based on an “Offer and an Order management system” that support sales channels and rely on internal delivery and accounting systems. This architecture is free from any legacy record or message, such as PNR, E-ticket and EMD.
The alternatives include the “encapsulate” option, where the legacy records and message are encapsulated into orders, and the “on-top” option, where the core functions remain in the PSS and the new management functions are built “on-top” of the PSS.
4 – Approaches to transition
The report recommends the “staged” approach, as opposed to the “shadow” or “big bang” approaches. Indeed the approach that takes place in phases or stages help minimize risks. The steps can be defined by channel or by product or by function, which progressively cutover from the PSS to the new Order Management System.
Each airline may start the transition with a different configuration, either a PSS and a website, or already a merchandizing platform creating offers and an NDC API distributing offers. Each airline may have a different end state architecture in mind, which generates as many possible transition paths.
5 – The right transition
The report argues that different profiles of airlines may choose different paths, which find the best compromise for them. At a high-level, the three airline profiles are network airline, hybrid airline or low-cost airline, and within those profiles there are innovative or follower airlines. The decision criteria include cost/benefit, architecture, transition approach, impacts and risks.
In summary, the air travel industry has moved from asking “if” to “when” to “how” the transition will take place. In the “how”, the 5 questions to ask are: What are the costs and benefits? What is the impact on stakeholders? What is the end state architecture? What are the possible transition paths? Which transition is right for my airline?
The airlines which will get this transition right will be the first to deliver a smoother travel experience to their customers.