Supporting airlines in their digital transformation is vital as the pace of industry change picks up speed

By Graham Newton

The industry “has never lacked ideas, but it has lacked speed in implementing those ideas,” believes Stephan Copart, IATA’s Head, Projects and Innovation, Financial and Distribution Services.

IATA initiatives—from e-ticketing through Simplifying the Business to New Distribution Capability—have taken seven years on average, from problem identification to early adoption.

All these programs have achieved their goals and helped to transform the industry. But shrinking the timeline has become imperative as new, disruptive ideas and technologies appear on the scene on an almost daily basis.

The Electronic Miscellaneous Document (EMD) project, for example, was fully implemented by the end of 2012, as stipulated by the project vision from the outset. Before that was achieved, however, ideas for ONE Order were circulating—an initiative that effectively renders the EMD obsolete.

In addition, aviation is facing increasing pressure from external forces, especially in areas such as retail, where greater agility is required to combat these competitive threats.

“Aviation is a complex industry and time will always be needed for any transition,” admits Copart. “Nevertheless, there is a real need to be quicker. Airlines must realize the benefits 
of new technologies as quickly as possible.”

The program will establish best practice but is not looking to impose anything
-Stephan Copart, IATA’s Head, Projects and Innovation, Financial and Distribution Services

Foot on the gas

Accelerate@IATA is an innovation platform designed to support faster technology implementation at airlines. It brings together airlines, value chain partners, and startups to identify problems, find solutions, and bring them to a pilot phase within 100 days.

An Innovation Day was held in July 2019 where seven startups were invited to discuss the opportunity further with IATA and have now been through the first phase of the acceleration process. Further talks with IATA educated them on the airline retail landscape and ecosystem.

As part of the second phase, the same seven startups joined the wider community at the October 2019 AIR Symposium in Bangkok where they presented their solutions.

In general, four phases are envisaged for the program:

Phase 1: Start-up sourcing phase, closing with Selection Day
Phase 2: Acceleration process
Phase 3: Closing event to present solutions, Demo Day
Phase 4: Pilot phase with airline partners.

Accelerate@IATA comprises anchor partners and ecosystem partners. Anchor partners help IATA to define the problems and are active decision makers during the entire program through the startups’ selection process, acceleration involvement, outcome, and pilots.

There is a maximum of 20 anchor partners, 15 of which must be airlines. Ecosystem partners get to collaborate with the selected startups and will also be involved once the pilot phase is reached.

Innovation hub

Of course, many airlines, such as Lufthansa and JetBlue, have their own innovation hubs or have invested in similar platforms. But Accelerate@IATA tackles non-competitive issues and leverages collaboration. This results in industry solutions that will benefit from the network multiplier effect and assist smaller airlines by exposing them to innovation that is validated 
by industry.

“The program will establish best practice but is not looking to impose anything,” says Copart.

“We will be able to educate startups about industry needs in a far more efficient manner and provide them with resources, such as space at IATA’s Geneva office, so they have constant access to subject matter experts. And for members, Accelerate@IATA is a tool to use as they see fit.”

Jonathan Newman, Chief Commercial Officer at Caravelo, one of the startups, underlines the point. “The Accelerate@IATA program has provided Caravelo with an immediately positive induction to the heart of the industry,” he says. “Through the introductions and valuable insights we've been able to make better headway, far quicker than we would have done without."

Managing the scale of the project could be a challenge in future. Anchor partners are necessarily limited for practical reasons despite the huge interest, for example. And there is already traction in other industry areas, including airport processes, flight operations, and cargo. Scaling up Accelerate@IATA is therefore already under consideration.

“Not every airline has the same needs or the same challenges at the same time,” Copart concludes. “but if we can rapidly move from real solutions to real problems into a pilot phase then all airlines can benefit. Accelerate@IATA will deliver sustainable solutions based on IATA standards to all airlines.”

For more information on how to get involved, please contact

The benefits of Accelerate@IATA

For airlines:     

  • Access to global, stage-agnostic start-ups, and technology providers     
  • The opportunity to be at the forefront of new technologies     
  • The ability to play a leading role in shaping the industry’s future innovation programs     
  • A transformation fast track, accelerating implementations, and reducing transition costs     
  • Savings on innovation costs compared to internal development

For start-ups:     

  • Access to IATA’s global network of airlines and value chain partners for pilot and implementation opportunities     
  • Access to expertise and market knowledge     
  • Industry mentorship     
  • Potential funding via the partners

Accelerate at AIR

A Startup Sphere commanded the exhibition space at the AIR Symposium in Bangkok. Airlines showcased solutions and industry initiatives were discussed as part of Accelerate@IATA banner. This area also included hackathon winners and allowed startups to present ideas

Picture Credit | Alamy