SkyTeam looks to new technology to facilitate data interchange

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The SkyTeam Alliance is preparing to implement new technology that will enable alliance members to exchange PNR records and other data without having to invest in a common platform.

SkyTeam chairman Leo van Wijk told the Amadeus Horizons conference in Bangkok the alliance is pursuing newly available technology which represents “a major step forward in improving the interchangeability of data.”

Speaking to ATI following the speech, van Wijk said SkyTeam’s committee of chief information officers recently decided a new web-based messaging technology which the members are already starting to use for internal communications can also be used between the carriers to exchange data. He says the SkyTeam board will vote at its next meeting in June on whether to acquire and implement the technology, which is available from multiple suppliers.

“With all the IT managers having agreed to it recently I have no doubt it will be approved,” van Wijk says.

He adds the technology will only cost each member €1 million to €2 million. Trials will likely begin before the end of this year, followed by a phased implementation.

All three global alliances now struggle to share data because every carrier has its own IT platform. This limits the alliances from providing several key services, including the ability for a member to change a ticket that was issued by another member. This limitation makes it very difficult for passengers with multi-carrier itineraries when they find themselves wanting to make a change in a country the ticketing carrier does not serve but other members of the alliance have a presence.

In an effort to provide more seamless services, Star selected Amadeus in 2005 to develop a common IT platform for the alliance based on its Altea platform. Amadeus and Star have just announced TAP as the sixth member to sign up for the platform, joining United Airlines, Lufthansa, Austrian, Adria Airways and Croatia Airlines.

But SkyTeam and Oneworld have decided against following Star in pursuing common platforms.

“All airlines in an alliance going to a standard IT system won’t happen in my opinion for all sorts of reasons,” van Wijk says.

He says it is unrealistic to expect all carriers in an alliance to acquire one system and it would take too long to wait for all carriers to migrate. With the alternative technology now being pursued by SkyTeam, “you can do it step by step”.

“We believe there is an architecture possible where there isn’t one system but you can still communicate data,” van Wijk adds.

Cathay Pacific Airways chief information officer Edward Nicol says Oneworld’s committee of CIOs also has come to the conclusion that pursuing a common IT platform is unrealistic. He says Oneworld believes it can provide a seamless service to customers, including the ability for members to change tickets that are issued by another member, without moving to a common platform.

Nicol tells ATI that Oneworld is now working on implementing a simple solution that allows carriers to access data entered by another carrier. He claims Oneworld is ahead of SkyTeam and Star in its effort to improve the accessibility of passenger data.

“You look at the other alliances and the rhetoric is well ahead of reality,” Nicol says. “We’re focusing on what customers want. Customers don’t care what the system is. They want a seamless experience.”

But Lufthansa senior vice president and chief information officer Christoph Ganswindt says for Star to really provide a seamless service a common IT platform is the answer.

But Ganswindt says after a slow start following the decision of Lufthansa and United to launch the product, “we see more and more carriers selecting” altea and “there is a lot of momentum now.” Ganswindt adds there are now three other Star members “in the process of signing up” for the platform.