How .aero can help leverage the benefits of removing paper tickets

On 31 December 2007, the deadline will be kept – and IATA's current issuance of 300 million tickets a year will become history.

Within little more than 400 days, there will no longer be industry standards for the use of paper tickets. IATA will cease to issue them. Travel agents will no longer be able to provide them. IATA's Billing Settlement Plans will no longer process paper tickets. No compromise. No slippage.

The immediate reward, as most readers will be aware, is a saving of US$ 3 billion a year for the industry. The intent has been that 40 percent of ticketing by IATA carriers  would be electronic by end-2005, 70 percent by end 2006, leading to 100 percent by end 2007. Real progress has been made in some regions, but others remain challenged.

For example, by the end of August this year, the US and Europe had hit the 70 percent point (in fact, the US is at 90 percent). The Americas and North Asia were on target to hit 70 percent by the end of the year. Africa and Asia Pacific were both trailing at a little under 50 percent, but the momentum from these regions is quickening. However the Middle East and North Africa are seriously behind schedule at less than 20 percent, while the Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was lingering at just 2.5 percent.

Does it matter? Yes – airlines that have not made the change will evidently be at a disadvantage to airlines that have. Crucially they will lose cost and convenience advantage in terms of interlining and settlement.

But that's not all.

The impact of paperless ticketing goes a great deal further. The record of an electronic ticketing transaction is firmly stored in the validating carrier's database, acting as the 'anchor' for all actions. Because that data is carried in electronic form, it can be monitored and accessed by any authorized system. It follows that a number of back-office procedures can be automated and higher quality management information can be produced. These include:

  • expediting the dispatch of data to revenue accounting.
  • eliminating the uplift envelope of paper tickets thanks to more rapid accrual of revenue.
  • automating the prorating  process according to agreed criteria.
  • providing faster sales information, triggering more responsive marketing and passenger offers.
  • improving the handling of involuntary re-routing.

Value can be found by re-prioritizing resources currently used for ticketing purposes. For example, agent productivity can be enhanced by turning call centers into revenue centers. Value can also be added to the ticketing process through operational changes to high input processes such as ticket by mail (TDM), and ticket on departure (TOD). Prepaid ticket advice (PTA) should be eliminated which results in eradication of fraud which typically is involved with this operation.

Handling interlining

There's another aspect to this major shift in the way airline data is processed, with direct relevance to the services offered by .aero. As we have seen, electronic tickets are stored in an authoritative database of the validating carrier rather than carried by a passenger on a piece of paper. However, all airlines and agents involved in the journey need to be able to access this authoritative database to use the ticket. In the beginning this was relatively easy, due to the small number of people required to interact. Each airline connection was configured individually, interaction between e-ticketing systems was strictly bilateral.

Now, with electronic interlining, this process of access has become progressively more complicated.

Each interline system maintains a list of IP addresses – the address describes the network locations of their counterpart. Think of it as an address book. To connect to other counterpart locations you must have the right address, you must use the right protocol, you must authenticate who you are talking to and vise versa. And if a system moves to another location, ALL users have to update their address books before they can talk again.

Today, as more and more airlines interline with each other, the cost of deploying and managing systems increases along with time to market – due in part to a lack of shared community standards that clearly set out how to locate and connect to their business partners 

What's next?

It has become clear that new technologies have to be deployed to ensure that the communications between the airline systems for interline and other interactions are in tune with advancements of the technology. The Type X Working Group, one of the community initiatives working towards this goal, has recently announced the availability of new XML-based business-to-business messaging standards for the Air Transport community. The standards define a new messaging approach —making use of XML and Web Services technology to complement existing industry Type B messaging.

Deployment of these new standards in IP environment could take place using Domain Name System as an integral  part of addressing scheme. 

Fully qualified domain names are globally unique digital identifiers. Any conceivable set of known identifiers, such as a booking reference, can be easily converted into a structured domain name following an agreed convention.

Deployment of DNS technology and the application of standard naming conventions could help develop a shared application that would improve the flexibility and scalability of the current systems – removing the cost associated with maintenance of this information by each carrier.