Yemenia's outsourcing agreement

Yemenia, the national flag carrier of Yemen, has outsourced its passenger sales and services IT requirements to Mercator, the IT division of the Emirates Group.

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By  Sarah Gain Published  September 24, 2005

Yemenia is migrating its passenger reservations and departure control system (DCS) from SITA to Mercator, the IT arm of the Emirates Group. The migration will play a key role in supporting the Yemeni carrier’s drive to implement e-ticketing before the IATA deadline of the end of 2007, as well as allowing the airline to cut its costs and improve service levels. “We are preparing Yemenia to cut over to e-ticketing by the deadline set by IATA. It is the e-ticketing that is ultimately driving our decision to move, but we must also think about improving the reservations systems capabilities and facilities, and therefore improving the service to our clients,” says Amin Alhaimy, deputy managing director of commercial affairs and IT at Yemenia. “It will also improve the inventory management by providing good value add-ons — all of these together made us decide to change,” Alhaimy says. As today’s consumers demand convenience and competitive pricing, the entire aviation industry is striving to find cost reduction possibilities and simplify its processes through effective use of technology. IATA has been tasked to lead the industry’s agenda to simplify business practices by moving forward with five core projects: e-ticketing, common-use self-service kiosks for check-in, bar coded boarding passes, radio frequency identification (RFID) for baggage handling and IATA e-freight. Delivering these projects is of paramount importance to the IATA’s member airlines and to the credibility of the organisation. The IATA, therefore, works closely with technology partners, to ensure the necessary global support for airlines to not only keep pace with, but also benefit fully from change. “[The IATA] has set a plan and it is offering consultancy and help. I believe the organisation is useful and helpful on this matter. It is important to all [airlines] that we follow the same procedure and utilise the same platform. By all conforming to the standards, our business practices become more streamlined and efficient,” Alhaimy notes. The regulatory body believes its vision of 100% implementation of e-ticketing (ET) worldwide is achievable by its target date of 2007 and is itself taking action to make the ticketing process paperless. The organisation will stop distributing its paper tickets by year-end 2007, and is also examining the feasibility of eliminating all other paper documents. In the meantime the IATA is co-ordinating all stakeholders to ensure their readiness and providing education and technical support systems for less developed regions. The IATA’s Simplifying the Business (STB) crusade aims to benefit both the industry and the customer by making a more efficient travel experience, improving customer service while at the same time saving at least US$3 billion in annual costs. However, other factors have also influenced the new initiatives. For the last four years, the aviation industry worldwide has continued to struggle to overcome the economic impact of the events of 9/11, and as the financial situation has made its gradual recovery, the air travel market’s landscape has changed dramatically. There have been many new entrants to the market recently and the availability of new online technologies has perpetuated customer expectation of speedy, hassle-free service. “[Simplifying the business] is a difficult process, but it helps the airline and it helps our clients. As a passenger, travelling without a paper ticket, checking in at the kiosk at any airport, and getting your bag checked with RFID is ideal. The initiative certainly requires a lot of investment and a lot of planning but I believe it is worth it,” says Alhaimy. Yemenia has been using SITA’s Super Gabriel 2 for its reservations and departure control for the last 10 years. However, in line with IATA’s STB programme, the airline reviewed its back-end IT systems and then opted to migrate onto a new platform. Working with the Arab Air Carriers Organisation (AACO) and other member airlines, Yemenia assessed a number of systems, including Amadeus and Sabre, before opting for the Mercator Airline Reservation Systems (MARS) and Mercator Airport Control System (MACS). “[Our legacy system] was a good system, and it did the job for us, but we now need a new generation system in order to move forward,” explains Alhaimy. Yemenia is one of many carriers in the Middle East that has experienced a recent boom, developing infrastructure and expanding its fleet, as well as making frequent improvements to its website in order to cope with the growing customer demand. The airline opted for the Mercator package for a number of reasons, including favourable references from Kuwait Airways and Air Algerie. Yemenia’s own experience of using the Emirates Group’s revenue accounting package, Fastrac, also made Mercator a logical choice. “It is vital that we have the IT solutions in place that will support our rapid pace of growth and the backing of an IT supplier that we can trust to deliver. Mercator, with its unrivalled airline and IT experience, has proved itself to be such a partner,’ says Captain Abdulkhalek Al-Kadi, Yemenia's chairman. The Mercator Airline Reservations System (MARS) is hosted in Dubai, providing the high-level customer service, functionality and ease of use whilst maintaining cost efficiency. By deploying the system, Yemenia joins Emirates Airline, and other major carriers such as Sri Lankan, Air Algerie, Royal Airways and Kuwait Airways, which are all currently using MARS to provide key system features such as revenue management, class nesting functions, code sharing and flight complexes, passenger lists, various queue functions, and flight schedules. “As a reservations system it is very user-friendly — easy for the counter staff. It also helps checking the various duplicates and eliminating the passive bookings,” says Alhaimy. The new system will provide Yemenia with advanced-functionality; fully integrated departure control and seamless information flow as a result of revenue management and operational systems. The system offers a comprehensive online help function along with integrated modules such as Super Agent, an advanced reporting mechanism for operation and management information needs. MARS will also be integrated with Yemenia’s new Mercator Airport Control System (MACS), a departure control system (DCS), to create a powerful sales and services tool enabling reservations and seat assignment all the way through to flight closure time and full post-departure updates. “Together the two systems give us greater control and visibility over our operations. By working more effectively we can generate savings and provide better services. MACS will give us a competitive edge, keeping us up-to-date with the rapid changes in the airport industry,” Alhaimy enthuses. MACS is hosted from twin data-centres in Dubai, providing a check-in and load control system, improving the airline’s productivity by allowing fast and efficient check-in. Over 25 IATCI links to all major DCS systems reduce the need for staff at transfer desks, and advance load planning (ALP) will facilitate Yemenia’s handling of wide body aircraft. The system is well suited to deal with baggage reconciliation systems (BRS) and can produce and receive all relevant baggage system management messages to deal with an external BRS and other DCS systems. Mercator has created a special PC backup for MACS providing an up-to-date status of each flight in a stand-alone mode, and not dependent on the host. Online help will reduce training time for Yemenia and eliminate the need for manuals, while a dedicated and experienced implementation teams from Mercator provides quick on-site support to reduce post implementation teething problems. “The helpdesk support we are used to getting from Mercator for the revenue accounting system has really been a positive influence in signing this agreement. We have seen the level of support they offer from their side and we have evaluated the level of training they can provide,” says Alhaimy. The key advantage the MACS system is providing, however, is the support for ET. For Yemenia’s customers this will mean hassle-free ticketing, no tickets to lose and no last minute queues for tickets on departure, as well as greater opportunities for using self-service kiosks. The benefits also extend to the travel agents, for whom e-ticketing will simplify the process of altering bookings. Most importantly for Yemenia, it is estimated that approximately US$9 in savings can be made each time an e-ticket is issued in place of a paper one, not to mention the savings that eliminating the costs of printing, postage, shipping, storage and for collateral materials such as envelopes and ticket jackets, that e-ticketing will bring. “We prepared Yemen as a country and Yemenia as an airline, for e-ticketing, by introducing the first BSP (bank settlement plan) to Yemen, which was effective from the beginning of the year. Moving Yemenia from manual ticketing to automatic ticketing would not be possible without the appropriate platform,” he adds. “With Mercator passenger services platform, we will be mature for e-ticketing right away, and I believe we will see financial benefits almost immediately.” The airline expects to complete the full migration to the Mercator system by the end of June next year when it begins to issue e-tickets. The technical challenges of the migration are lessened by the fact the SITA and Mercator systems are both hosted by the vendors, rather than inhouse. However, a team of 20 airline employees will work on the migration, including staff from the reservations, commercial, communications and IT departments. This team will lead the migration and business process re-engineering needed to take advantage of the opportunities offered by e-ticketing. A steering committee comprising representatives from both Yemenia and Mercator is currently designing a detailed project plan for the migration. “It is a long process. We will do it smoothly and are counting on the continued help and support of SITA. Of course, we will also continue to co-operate with SITA [in other areas]. For instance, we have entered into an agreement for an IP virtual network with SITA SC, and there are many other projects,” he continues. Alongside the reservations system and DCS project, Yemenia is also planning to implement a new system to run its frequent flyer programme. Among offerings from other vendors, the airline is considering CRIS from Mercator, which will integrate fully with the new MARS system, but is yet to decide. Also underway are plans to select and implement an internet booking engine to allow online sales, as well as updating a number of other back-end systems, including scheduling and route profitability. “We are automated in almost every area, but will keep looking and trying to develop in everyway we can. We are now drawing up the roadmap and I think it will all be methodical work,” states Alhaimy. Yemenia’s chairman, Captain Al-Kadi adds, “We’re currently undergoing a dramatic rate of expansion at Yemenia. Our accelerated fleet expansion, increasing passenger numbers, recent entry into the Arabesk airline alliance, [and this project] have all combined to send a strong message that Yemenia is going places.”

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