So much is happening in the world of airline distribution, with the Global Distribution Systems (GDS) changing hands, new airline GDS pricing deals and new revenue streams emerging, the Airline Distribution conference could not come at a better time, writes David Field

The ways that airlines have to tell flyers about their choices, to entice them, to sell to them, and to take their money, are all changing with a speed and velocity that makes the airlines look slow. But changes in airline distribution are more than just swift they are quite simply profound.

The four major Global Distribution Systems (GDS) are now three and all three are, or are about to be, in private hands with deep pockets. Meanwhile the new technologies that were going supplant the GDSs have not done so but are finding their place in the airline's expanding array of distribution tools.

There they have a place along with the increasingly attractive, increasingly clever and increasingly effective websites that the carriers themselves have engineered to sell their product. These in-house websites face rivalry from consumer-oriented websites such as Travelocity or Expedia that have become brands as trusted and as recognised as airline brands themselves.

Airlines, though, until recently, have not always been central to the distribution debate, which has in the recent past been a discussion largely among rival suppliers meeting each other rather than between and with the airlines themselves. Now, Airline Business and its partner UATP bring together the distribution world and the airline world in their annual distribution conference, set this year for 24-26 April in Fort Lauderdale.

Previous Distribution conferences in Bangkok, Thailand, and in Dublin, Ireland, have brought airlines together with the intermediaries, the web-wise and the tech-savvy in events that have drawn increasingly larger crowds of highly placed delegates who come to talk - and to listen. Over 200 delegates and 40 airlines attended Distribution 2006.

This year's Distribution summit already has won commitments from some of the most sought-after figures in the industry. Jeff Smisek (pictured), who as president has helped lead Continental Airlines into its enviable spot as one of the world's favourite airlines, will be in Fort Lauderdale.

Also speaking is Chris Phillips, who as director of sales development and strategic planning, has helped Delta Air Lines navigate its way through reorganisation and into one of the industry's most ambitious overseas expansion plans.

Latin influence

The conference will have a Latin flavour, as fits its venue in South Florida and as fits its role as host to Continental and Delta, which have both penetrated deeply into the Caribbean, Central and South America. The newly invigorated Travelport, fresh from taking over Worldspan, has identified Latin America as ripe for Internet sales penetration, while Sabre, now with private backing, is also looking southwards.

Pascal Burg, the Edgar Dunn consultant who has emerged as a leading authority on payment systems, credit cards and distribution, will speak, resuming a discussion on payments that was a hit at the 2006 Dublin Distribution event.

Humberto Rivero, IATA's well-known and often outspoken director for the Americas, will explain how the airline association has remodeled its Billing and Settlement Plan. UATP's worldwide sales chief Scot Bealer will also speak about cutting the costs of selling and collecting payment.

Well-known authority on the Internet, airline distribution and travel, Forrester Research's Henry Harteveldt, will lead a debate on sales and marketing innovations that centre around the web, focusing on ways to engage directly with travellers.

To book a place at the event or for further information on attending Airline Distribution 2007, just visit the website  or contact conference manager Linda Lucas

Source: Airline Business