More than just the provision of a domain name

Whilst the air transport community is working hard to save billions in annual costs through initiatives such as IATA's Simplifying the Business programme, focused on five core projects: e-ticketing, common use self-service (CUSS), bar-coded boarding passes, RFID and e-freight. Areas which depends on technology – underpinning this technology is the need for secure, predictable communications, .aero is enabling the air transport community to leverage the benefits of a complex world with .aero being increasingly able to provide the enabling, relevant and neutral standards required.

A longtime observer of the air transport industry, Ian Tunnacliffe of Travel Technology Research, appeared to contradict the logic of the Simplifying the Business theme when speaking at SITA's 2005 Airline IT Summit. He suggested that IATA's programme is about preserving complexity, not simplifying it.

Thankfully, he went on to clarify his comment. The programme, he said, is about hiding complexity from customers and staff, lowering the cost of complexity and delivering improved service levels. Edward Nicol, Director of Information Management and CIO at Cathay Pacific, took the same tack when he said that: "External customer-facing simplicity often leads to internal supporting complexity. So while simplicity is 'in', so is complexity – 'good complexity', that is. The trick is to get the balance right. IT should have a huge role to play in all this".

The role of the .aero top level domain in facilitating the dimension change needed at a community level is becoming more self-evident, as the evolution of the domain name system (DNS) and Internet technologies and standards themselves evolve. Talk of .aero as the enabler is valid and true.

Global standards, open systems

Building on the well-established predictive naming conventions commonly used within the aviation community, the .aero top-level domain offers the opportunity to develop community-wide Internet standards to take advantage of cost effective means of communications, while also retaining the flexibility of open systems and security for all participants.

The existing communications infrastructure continues to prove robust. But it is widely recognized that the transition to Internet-based communications offers the potential for significant cost savings to the air transport community. Those companies that have already transitioned to the Internet have done so on a case-by-case basis or within alliances, but there is now a realization that this bespoke approach, which offered advantages to first adopters, lacks flexibility and does not deliver the cost saving effect traditionally enjoyed by the community from solutions based on community standards.

The Internet's Domain Name System (DNS), the technology behind .aero, is arguably becoming the world's largest distributed database, tracking a wide variety of elements such as Internet addresses, phone numbers or even individual products. The potential is exemplified by the introduction of RFID processing technologies (one of IATA's SimpliBiz elements), that work most effectively by linking with the DNS.

The point was forcefully made by Viviane Reding, the European Union Commissioner responsible for the Information Society and Media, in a keynote speech at the recent International CeBIT Summit in Hannover, Germany: "RFID technology as we know it today will evolve and reach unprecedented levels of functionality, of memory storage and processing capabilities. In the near future, we will see the breakdown of the boundary between cyberspace and real space. The worlds of data and things will merge so that the virtual world of the Web will be rendered physical as we move towards – what computer scientists have called 'the Internet of Things'. "We're heading for a world in which billions of networked objects and sensors will report their location, identity, and history. Such a phenomenal development, hard to imagine not long ago, should open up tremendous opportunities for both economic prosperity and the quality of life of citizens. For instance, over the next 50 years, the innovative marriage of RFID tags, sensors, Galileo, 4G networks, Wi-Fi and artificial intelligence, will create an 'intelligent infrastructure' that has the potential to dramatically reduce congestion and pollution, and enhance security, passenger monitoring and comfort."

For the air transport community, RFID offers a technology that allows for accurate tracking and tracing of things such as baggage, spare parts, cargo and asset management. This can be effectively teamed with the policies and naming conventions of the .aero TLD to create a solid foundation for a secure and reliable systems for community applications, becoming the aviation community's own 'Internet of Things'.

Nor does the potential for RFID stop at baggage tracking. There are many other potential uses for RFID within the air transport community, including the tracking of aircraft spare parts, ULDs, and even passengers who fail to arrive at the boarding gate on time.

Other benefits from the magic of DNS

There are other important applications that will benefit from the DNS technology. They include these examples:

  • Airline e-ticketing applications must be able to establish rapid and reliable links with an interline partner's application. Today, each interline systems needs to maintain a list of IP addresses that describe the network locations of their counterparts, very much like a person would maintain a phone book. When one system moves to another location, all partners have to update their 'phonebooks' before they can talk again. This is an administratively complex exercise. Deployment of DNS technology and the application of standard naming conventions would vastly improve the flexibility and scalability of current systems and remove costs associated with maintenance of this information by each carrier.
  • Domain name holders can configure a VoIP address associated with a given predictable name so that callers can use their VoIP application to place a call. For example zone could contain a VoIP address for Lufthansa's departure control at Geneva Airport (see article on SITA's Voice Exchange on page 00).
  • One domain name can identify an array of services, since multiple records of different types can be associated with one domain name. For example, could be used by different systems to locate a phone number, fax number, e-mail address or Web service URI relating to baggage processing at Geneva Airport.
  • DNS applications already 'parse' RFID values to locate a system that supports data provided by the manufacturer. Baggage management systems can follow the same method of data processing as interline e-ticketing - storing data relating to a bag in the database of the originating airline. In this scenario, the application can parse bag identifiers (RFIDs or barcodes) to locate the database of the originating airline. The same logic can apply to any other identifiers.

What does this mean for the aviation community and .aero?

The world will move forward with or without .aero. The .aero team is making no claims to 'own' the world. But the .aero initiative was created as a place where air transport policy and Internet policy can meet.

As a dedicated community resource, the .aero team can and does develop policies, with the full involvement of the air transport community, for the use of the .aero TLD. We ensure that relevant standards are in place to operate community specific domain naming structures and underlying networks, and work to create a low-cost infrastructure for further exploitation of ID technologies such as RFID.

This dedicated community resource represents an excellent platform on which to base secure, simple and low-cost new RFID applications, and from which to foster the development of .aero as a key resource for new community-wide information systems.

The importance of this platform can also be understood when considering the wider use of RFID. Commissioner Reding also made this point in her CeBIT address: "Technical developments will eventually make it feasible to give virtually every object on Earth an Internet identity! This means that we will be confronted with a new debate on the governance of the Internet: the governance of the 'Internet of Things'. This will be essential given that the root servers matching RFID tags to information about products will carry important economic intelligence".

More than just a domain name : .aero's activities and vision

The .aero top level domain is first and foremost an aviation community initiative. Sponsored by SITA, it comprises three sets of activities:

1. Operation of a world class registry service for the .aero top level domain and distribution of .aero domain names to aviation entities, organizations and individuals.

2. The development and maintenance of policies for, and on behalf of, the aviation community in close consultation with major aviation associations and organizations represented in the Dot Aero Council.

3. The development and promotion of innovation opportunities based on structure use of the DNS – the technology behind .aero.

It was a visionary step to apply for sponsorship of the .aero TLD, back in the year 2000. When SITA did so, it had an approximate understanding that the underlying technology (DNS) might one day be an important factor in leveraging the Internet to build flexible and cost effective communication systems.

However, any doubts about the directions of technology development that may have been present in 2000 were rapidly dissipated once the DNS was embraced as the key underlying technology to bridge classical telephony and Internet into one unified framework of communications, using a standard based on DNS called ENUM.

Today, the .aero registry is fully operational, running on world class technology operated by Afilias, a technology company powering some of the largest TLDs in the world, including the .org and .info domains. There are six .aero distributors and well over 4,000 domain names have been registered since the launch in March 2002.

With the registry fully operational and distribution channel in place, the .aero initiative is now focusing on fulfilment of its vision – to be the enabler that allows the air transport community to build contemporary communications systems based on next generation network technologies.