Building open API connections for the digital transformation

The industry’s digital transformation is built on the ability to exchange data quickly and easily.

But too much information still channels through closed communication networks managed by third parties. This limits the ability of airlines and other value chain participants to control the use of their data and dynamically and autonomously adjust processes when changes or disruptions occur.

Consider third-party flight status or bag tracking apps used to communicate key information as part of the passenger journey. The information that third parties provide may be operationally accurate, but also incomplete and often outside of the control of airlines. News of a cancelled flight could be delivered through the app, for example, without the follow-up information from the airline that an alternative flight is available. Or the cancellation may simply be presented in a manner that is at odds with an airline’s customer commitment.

The aim is to transition the industry away from these limitations to a modern open communications ecosystem, where any party—including customers, sellers, airports, and airlines—can connect seamlessly to any other party in an open, secure, and trusted manner. This will allow airlines to take back control of their data so they can run their businesses as they see fit without the need to rely on third party providers.



The key to this transition is the Application Programming Interface (API). An API essentially allows two systems to talk to each other. Since 2018, IATA has been working with airlines to develop common Open API standards so that interfaces between systems are consistent globally.

“APIs based on open standards are the key to modernizing data exchange,” says Matthew McKinley, IATA’s Senior Manager Digital Transformation Programs. “In other words, by leveraging common Open API standards, an airline can set up an API to maximize interoperability while remaining in control of their data.”

Open API standards are now well established, with the first version of industry Open API standards approved in September 2020. With the standards in place, aviation is ready to take the next step in its journey towards Open API—namely the Open API Hub. The hub, developed in conjunction with RapidAPI, acts as a matchmaker and will make it easier for airlines and their partners to discover APIs and establish connections.

The Open API Hub can be accessed through the IATA Developer Portal.

“We’re thrilled to partner with IATA to provide a central hub where developers can share, discover, and connect to APIs from across the airline ecosystem—empowering them to create a seamless customer experience,” says Iddo Gino, CEO and Founder of RapidAPI. “Access to airline data and API through a streamlined, unified hub will accelerate digital transformation and innovation across the travel industry.”

The Open API Hub will:

  • enable discoverability and promotion of industry APIs
  • facilitate API onboarding
  • promote adoption of the industry Open API standards and programs

“A pre-pandemic survey suggested that over 80 airlines have already implemented, or plan to implement Open APIs,” explains McKinley. “The Open API Hub provides a single place to make all of those APIs discoverable.”

The Open API Hub is available to airlines or any industry relevant parties who want to do business with airlines. As such, the hub will accelerate the industry’s digital transformation. Importantly, any organization that publishes APIs on the hub remains in full control of who can access their APIs, so nobody can connect to those APIs without their consent, and they always retain full control of their data. 


Innovation enabler

There are challenges and opportunities associated with the Open API Hub. The obvious obstacle is cost. Moving from legacy systems and frameworks takes time, money, and expertise. Adopting modern API technology and conforming to open API standards will consume considerable airline resources.

Once adopted, however, the savings and return on investment will be evident. By adopting APIs based on open standards, airlines will have full discoverability and interoperability, even with partners outside the industry. The efficiencies this brings will be manifest.

It also gives rise to greater innovation. The limited ability to partner with legacy systems also curtailed the potential for groundbreaking ideas. With the Open API Hub, innovative start-ups and established organizations alike can bring fresh concepts to the industry, and easily connect with airlines.

This will be particularly useful to those carriers without the resources to pursue pioneering services in distribution or seamless passenger travel. As long as these carriers put open API standards in place and list their APIs on the hub, partners will be able to connect with them and offer market-leading services in a cost-effective manner. To further assist, APIs can be filtered by name, description, provider, technology, user interface, or the platform API.

Moreover, the Open API Hub will bring greater transparency to IATA industry standards and programs, such as Modern Airline Retailing, ONE Record, New Distribution Capability certification, Open Air certification, and more. If the API follows a specific IATA standard or program, it can be listed under that program page in the hub, to showcase the provider’s capability and commitment.

“The Open API Hub is supporting the digital transformation strategy set by the Digital Transformation Advisory Council (DTAC) and is based on standards developed by the industry’s Open API Working Group,” concludes Stéphan Copart, IATA’s Head Digital Transformation. “DTAC envisions building an open data ecosystem through open APIs, open standards, and open architecture. The Open API Hub is a milestone on that path. It is an enabler for even more innovation and will help to accelerate the discovery of new solutions and standard implementations in the offer-order and passenger experience environments.”

Contact IATA for more information.


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 Airlines Issue 1 2023
This article appeared in the 2023 Issue 1 issue of Airlines Magazine.
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