Full speed ahead on e-tickets

Posted: 16 September 2005 | Bryan Wilson, Project Director – Electronic Ticketing, IATA | No comments yet

IATA’s e-ticketing initiative has covered substantial ground since its inception, but as Bryan Wilson, there are still obstacles to overcome.

IATA’s e-ticketing initiative has covered substantial ground since its inception, but as Bryan Wilson, there are still obstacles to overcome.

The IATA Annual General Meeting in Tokyo emphasised and accelerated progress towards 100 per cent e-ticketing, a top priority of IATA’s Simplifying the Business programme (StB). This is an IATA led initiative involving five key projects – 100 per cent e-ticketing by end of 2007, common use self service check-in, bar coded boarding passes, RFID for baggage management and IATA e-freight. All are designed to ease the transport of passengers and cargo and generate USD 6.5 billion in annual industry savings. Electronic ticketing has the tightest deadline of all the projects and represents USD 3 billion of total savings.

IATA’s mandate on e-ticketing (ET) is to engage the airlines, gather market intelligence to determine each airline’s level of readiness and support them in achieving the goal. During the first ‘campaign’ held in April and May of this year, the StB team met with 400 airlines, including non-IATA members, to do just that. The campaign approach slices off bite-sized chunks of the massive initiative to focus staff and produce fast results, typically during a 100 day period.

Sharp market focus

As a result of this intensive outreach programme, detailed market intelligence was summarised in special e-ticket reports that were distributed to every airline CEO that attended IATA’s AGM in Tokyo at the end of May. The reports gave airlines a clear and concise snapshot of their e-ticketing status, levels of ET market penetration and status of their main interline partners.

A special private session was also conducted with CEOs of airlines that did not yet have plans to implement e-ticketing, to review both the benefits and complexities of electronic ticketing. Representatives from global e-ticketing solution providers then joined the second part of this session to explain their solutions and methods of implementation. Each of these companies – Amadeus, Lufthansa Systems, Sabre, SITA, Travelsky and Worldspan – have signed MOUs with IATA which commit them in the following areas:

  1. To provide the technology and expertise necessary for the 100% e-ticket goal.
  2. To work with IATA and apply IATA standards.
  3. To develop industry solutions.

Progress made

A look at the results of a recent e-ticketing survey conducted by IATA reveals that significantly more carriers are either already offering electronic ticketing or have plans to do so, when compared to the same survey last year. In fact the proportion of carriers that issue electronic tickets has jumped from 20 per cent to 35 per cent. Whilst none of these airlines has yet issued all of its tickets electronically, the overall proportion of travel agent issued tickets which are now ET has reached 32 per cent of the world market outside of the USA. Airlines are now rapidly advancing their plans to implement ET – with the number of airlines that had neither ET capability, nor plans to implement, reducing dramatically from 75 per cent to 27 per cent.

Larger airlines are naturally ahead on e-ticketing. The smaller airlines that cannot e-ticket now or have no e-ticketing plans represent only 14 per cent of tickets. E-ticketing capabilities are most advanced in the Americas and Europe and least advanced in the Middle East, North Asia and The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Next steps

IATA now has 140 staff members, including headquarters staff, regional offices and country representatives fully mobilised for the StB effort, with first priority assigned to making e-ticketing universal. Campaign Two of StB includes a number of specific steps. The general aim is to get carriers that still lack plans or e-ticketing systems to move towards implementation.

To this end, in what will become a quarterly exercise, team members will again meet face-to-face with all IATA carriers and their non-IATA airline partners at airline head offices. Also present at the meetings will be IATA country representatives, supported by regional teams, each airline’s designated ‘StB champion,’ and carrier experts. The focus of the meetings will be the high-priority e-ticket effort, with discussion centred around each carrier’s e-ticket status and challenges specific to the carrier. The StB Team will explain where the industry is, what solutions exist and then answer any questions.

The rest of these meetings will address other StB projects, with the exception of the meetings with the cargo carriers, which will instead focus on StB’s e-freight project. The aim is to implement this project by 2007 for early adopters and 100 per cent implementation by 2010.


The StB team will also start to remove the barriers to electronic ticketing. Existing research has already highlighted the most common e-ticket challenges. First are the gaps that exist in skills, both technical and managerial, to reengineer processes, drive costs down and serve customers better. Second there are some regulatory and legal issues to overcome. For example some governments still do not accept electronic tickets for clearance of customs and other checks. The third general challenge is the cost of implementation. IATA will facilitate discussion between airlines and solution providers to resolve the cost issues associated with the implementation of ET.

Some other perceived challenges are certainly not critical and many relate to common misconceptions about ET. For example, the argument that poor internet penetration in a country blocks e-ticketing is a fallacy, because they can still be purchased through other sales channels – including travel agents and airline call centres. A key consideration remains though that electronic tickets must meet IATA standards and be suitable for accounting and exchange among airlines. E-ticketing should not be confused with ‘ticketless travel’ which is used by some low-cost carriers and is unable to support exchanges or interlining. IATA’s mandate is for a move to true e-tickets, which can be used by anyone in the world.

Further developments

The StB team has also been tasked to work on three ‘vertical campaigns’, which specifically address other groups relevant to e-ticketing. These include:

Ground handlers. Some carriers are handled by firms that currently cannot support e-ticketing. During the next three months, StB staff will contact and evaluate the readiness of up to 600 ground-handling companies. As with the earlier airline meetings, the aim is to educate, mobilise and collect market intelligence in this important community.

Governments. The second effort is similar to IATA’s traditional role of working with governments to advance aviation interests. StB staff will survey carriers on official policies that hamper e-ticketing – in customs, immigration, security and taxes – in order to learn how serious each hurdle is and which countries are involved. Concerns will be validated with IATA’s staff experts and country managers and then an action plan for addressing them will be worked out with affected carriers.

Carriers which require system upgrades. The third campaign will provide support for carriers that are responsible for their own reservation, departure control and ticketing systems and have not yet issued e-tickets. These carriers may have complex system upgrades to perform before they can start implementation of e-ticketing. Surveys indicate some 30 airlines in this category, of which perhaps half may require specialised help.

Another effort will specifically address Chinese aviation. The young age of many Chinese aviation firms, China’s rapid expansion and its low-cost approach justifies this special focus. In fact, StB is a national programme in China.

Smaller airlines

Many small airlines have asked for help with e-ticketing. IATA has two plans for helping these airlines. It will provide help through nine Regional ET Workshops around the world, to provide in depth ET education to airlines. These workshops follow two successful meetings in Bangkok and Johannesburg and will be held in Mexico City, Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Nairobi, Dakar, Budapest and Moscow.

To provide more personalised help, a ‘buddy system’ is also being launched to bring additional support from more experienced airlines. IATA’s Director General & CEO Giovanni Bisignani will ask for help from large carriers that have in-house expertise. These large airlines will be asked to assign experts for up to 15 days of consulting with smaller airlines, paid for at commercial rates out of USD 2 million in IATA funds.

New tools and infrastructure have also been developed to help make business intelligence on e-tickets and StB readily available to airlines. Key variables will be monitored and reported. Customised CEO reports on progress will be standardised and updated quarterly and an industry scorecard will be calculated.

IATA is also to establish a contact centre, enabling all airlines to obtain rapid answers to e-ticketing and other programme questions. Critical data will be placed in a digital library, accessible through the internet. It will be possible for other questions to be sent and forwarded quickly to the relevant expert for a response. Additionally, progress will be monitored and reported via customised CEO reports, an industry scorecard and an online reporting tool.

Looking even further into the future, IATA will have new campaigns, with specific projects and goals, every three months. For every hundred challenges, maybe fifty will be solved by each campaign, but another ten new ones will arise. IATA will continue to move quickly and measure the results in order to meet its final targets.

Bryan Wilson

Bryan Wilson began his career with British Airways, where he worked for 26 years in both IT and Strategy, starting his career in Operational Research and finishing with six years in charge of the BA route network and a further two years as the CIO. He has subsequently worked for SITA in Geneva as SVP for Applications Services, providing systems and aircraft communications to more than 170 airlines. Prior to joining IATA in April 2005, he had been an independent IT and Transportation consultant.

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