Francesco Violante, CEO, SITA
This year could be one of the most significant in the history of IT’s contribution to the airline industry as we see a real increase in IT and telecommunications spend for the first time in three years as well as the adoption of several transformative initiatives, particularly in travel distribution.

Indeed, this may be the year when the proportion of tickets sold by airlines via directly controlled distribution channels overtakes indirect distribution for the first time.

The 13th annual SITA/Airline Business Airline IT Trends Survey shows clear signs that this might happen and the number of tickets sold directly could rise to 58% by 2014, thereby reducing the share sold by GDSs and online travel agents.

Earlier this year, SITA launched the airline industry’s first next-generation payments platform, which allows airlines to further strengthen their direct channel sales. With SITA’s Horizon PaymentServices airlines can access, through one standardized interface, multiple payment service providers. This provides flexibility and control over the widest possible range of global and local payment methods.

This trend towards direct channel sales will gain in strength as the vast majority of airlines either already sell, or plan to sell, tickets through mobile phones over the next three years. Worldwide sales of mobile devices were up 16.5% to 428.7 million units in the second quarter of this year according to Gartner, and sales of smartphones were up 74% year-on-year.

The ownership of smart devices among the traveling public is growing fast and most of them want to be able to use them as travel assistants. Passenger mobile service offerings from airlines are set to explode with the priority on mobile services which support check-in, flight status notification, electronic boarding passes, and travel distribution.

Alongside mobile phones, kiosks and social networks are also emerging as important sales channels. The industry is seeing promising innovations such as the launch by Malaysia Airlines and SITA of the world’s first iPad kiosks to sell airline tickets using the Apple iPad, as well as a Facebook application, MH Buddy, that allows users to book and check-in for flights without leaving Facebook and then share those details with friends and family.

Smartphones are also being enlisted in the global effort to improve passenger processing following the success of our experience with Copenhagen Airport, which has deployed the world’s first indoor augmented reality application which allows passengers to use the photo view of their smartphone to see information on gates, shops, restaurants and other services overlaid on their view of the airport in an entertaining and interactive way.

This app uses triangulation and signal strength from Wi-Fi access points to determine the location of individual passenger’s mobile phones (without identifying the individual passenger). The airport can see the mobile devices represented in real time as dots on a 3D representation of the airport and can take pre-emptive action where bottlenecks look like being created.

No matter what your perspective, airline or passenger, your air transport experience is going to get better with a smartphone.

More information: