From the start, airlines could not be efficient without good contactability. The need for better company communications, over developing long routes, gave birth in 1949 to SITA (once known as the Societe Internationale de Telecommunications Aeronautiques) - a non-profit-making co-operative, among major airlines - to provide self-managed communications. It has a considerable advantage in that is self-regulated.

SITA's dedicated civil-aviation database network quickly grew, to ensure that typed and printed messages could be exchanged between out-bases and airline headquarters. The SITA airline network (now the world's largest private data-network) remains primarily on a non-profit basis for airlines alone. These now number nearly 500, and computer reservations systems take up 20% of the traffic.

After nearly 50 years, SITA has greatly diversified into commercial activities. A year ago, digital-voice technology was launched. It formed Scitor ten years ago, providing finance for investing in the existing network when airlines were short of cash. It went on to extend the concept of a dedicated data network to companies outside the airline industry.

While the SITA Holding company still carries out the same core function, it has entered that world of international communications now typified by the Internet. A similar revolution in the airlines' network of communications was natural for providing a range of advanced tools for keeping aircraft flying.

SITA has accepted aviation manufacturers over past three or four years; 30 were members at the end of 1996 and four new companies are joining each year. Airbus, Boeing, General Electric, McDonnell Douglas, Rolls-Royce and United Technologies were founder members of a Focus Group. It combined with these experienced data-user companies to set a specification for transferring large data files; but the new AeroNet uses the same protocol as that of the Internet - Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol - referred to as "TCP/IP".

Source: Flight International