Harnessing the digital revolution

As digital technology evolves, the air transport industry is working to adopt and integrate the latest in IT and communications in an effort to drive out unnecessary costs, enhance the passenger experience, and improve operational efficiency.

BRUSSELS — The focus at the 2010 Air Transport IT Summit held here in Belgium in June was well-conveyed by the conference theme: The Next Digital Decade. Amidst heavy tech-talk of emerging innovations, Web-based practices, and the widespread acceptance and adoption of mobile electronic technology ... there was also a profound call for industrywide stakeholder integration. As Paul Griffiths of Dubai Airports expressed, “Silos have carved up the travel experience. We need to change the mindset and the industry model.”

Managed and hosted by SITA, specialists in air transport communications and IT (information technology) solutions, and co-hosted by Airline Business magazine, the air transport industry (ATI) IT summit features high-level presentations given by tech specialists at both airlines and airports from around the globe.

British Airways (BA) CIO Paul Coby opened the conference with encouraging remarks about the state of the industry, commenting, “As we look ahead to the new decade there are promising signs of recovery for air transport; traffic volumes are now rising ... there is no denying that the recovery is happening.” But, he adds, “There’s no denying that within the last year we’ve faced unprecedented challenges as an industry.”

Now, the air transport industry is looking to address those challenges with an emphasis on utilizing technology to increase operational efficiency, maximize revenues, and optimize the customer experience.

SITA asks, “As we plan for the upturn, how can airlines, airports, and other industry stakeholders build their IT strategies to chart the course ahead?” The 2010 Air Transport IT Summit proved an appropriate forum for discussing just that. With more than 300 delegates from around the world in attendance according to SITA, the summit provided a robust mixture of insight from forward-thinking industry professionals.

Speakers at the conference included Cathay Pacific Airways chief executive Tony Tyler, who candidly addressed the issue of IT distribution, and the challenge of giving customers the technology they expect; Delta Air Line IT infrastructure director Jay Fredericks discussed the role IT continues to play in the Delta/Northwest merger; and research analyst Henry Harteveldt defines who today’s digital traveler really is.

On the airport side, Dubai Airport CEO Paul Griffiths speaks to the air travel process as a whole, and why it should be redesigned to recognize the individual needs of the customer; Abu Dhabi Airport Company’s Michael Ibbotson relates how technology is planned for implementation at what is expected to be one of the world’s most innovative and leading edge passenger terminals; and LAWA’s (Los Angeles World Airports) CIO Dominic Nessi gives his vision for what the airline passenger will look like a decade from now.

Airline Perspectives; Lessons learned

Says Air France-KLM CEO Peirre-Henri Gourgeon, “The effects of the economic upturn were multiplied by two or three for the airline industry ... and even if recovery could be significant, what we know is that our margins continue to be largely insufficient for creating added value. So cost cutting measures and chances to grow are sort of going to be priorities.”

Regarding consolidation, Gourgeon says it will be a keyword as the industry moves forward. “We have more than 100 airlines competing all over the world; in our business it is very difficult because we cannot refrain when we have one seat ready to fly at half the cost ... it is always better to get some money for this flight seat than not having any money [for it].

Along the same lines, Jay Fredericks, managing director of IT infrastructure and operations for Delta Air Lines, brings a different perspective from a specific airline merger, Delta/Northwest.

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