Flying high

National flag carrier, Syrian Arab Airlines, has been striving to become fully e-enabled. The airline hopes its two latest IT projects will bring it nearer this goal.

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By  Sarah Gain Published  December 5, 2005

|~|CUTEImage2-Body.jpg|~||~|Syrian Arab Airlines has taken two further steps in its company-wide IT overhaul. The carrier firstly signed up to implement Fastrac, the revenue accounting system from Mercator. It followed this deal with an agreement to migrate all of its communications onto an internet protocol (IP) network in collaboration with SITA SC. The moves will allow the airline to significantly cut its communications costs while also enabling a range of new services and functions. The Syrian flag carrier has updated many IT systems over the last few years, as it looks to entirely automate its operations. A range of major back-end systems, such as HR, financials and storage, have been upgraded in the programme, and the airline has also implemented a number of IFR International’s aviation management systems, including maintenance, crew management, scheduling and flight operations. In addition, the airline has recently deployed an Arabic language interactive voice response (IVR) application that accepts a combination of voice telephone input and touch-tone keypad selection. The IVR application provides pre-recorded voice responses for a variety of situations, along with keypad signal logic, to give access to relevant data. The solution has streamlined back-end functions such as supply order entry transactions and has simplified selective information searches of flight schedules and other data, according to Nabil Ismail, Syrian’s director of telecommunications and IT. “The IVR system allows us to provide better service and makes access to information easier,” he says. “You do not need to touch any buttons, but can just speak in Arabic to this system to get the data for flight information, cargo, lost and found luggage, and so on. We are in the process of adding some additional services now.” Having got all these new systems in place, Syrian has now moved on to more advanced solutions, beginning with revenue accounting. The airline is now moving to replace its legacy system with a more modern Fastrac solution from Mercator, the IT arm of the Emirates Group. Currently, the carrier is using a 10-year-old system that it bought from Royal Jordanian, but this was beginning to prove insufficient as the business grew. “We got it (the old system) in 1996, and it is offline, not online,” comments Ismail. “It also does not include sales, as it only has information from the uplifted coupons.” To overcome these problems, Syrian Air selected the passenger version of Fastrac, which will analyse the data printed on air tickets and convert it into the critical financial and management information that an airline needs to compete effectively. Specifically designed for small- to medium-sized airlines, the Fastrac solution offers functionality required for revenue accounting covering areas such as sales, uplifts and interline billing. Ismail believes the software will support the airline in its growth plans, strengthening its income, raising productivity and boosting commercial confidence. "Fastrac will give us everything we need to automate and streamline our revenue accounting operation. The system will help us speed up cash flow, cut costs, prevent fraud and boost our revenues,” Ismail says. ||**|||~|PHOTO-1---Paper-BODY.jpg|~|Ismail is determined that Syrian Arab Airlines will have completed all aspects of its e-ticketing migration by IATA’s 2007 deadline, making paper tickets a thing of the past.|~|The Fastrac implementation will begin by the end of the year, and take around six months to complete, including parallel testing. Once finished, Syrian will have much better control over its cash flow, including faster settlements and greater ability to prevent fraud. The project will also be a vital step in the move towards the roll out of e-ticketing. “We will have made another significant step towards the transformation of Syrian Air into a major regional player," Ismail says. Alongside the Mercator project, Syrian is also working with dedicated travel and transportation industry communication services integrator, SITA SC, to migrate onto an IP-based infrastructure. At present, the carrier connects its various outstations across Syria and the rest of the world to its head office using legacy systems such as leased lines. This technology is slow and expensive according to Ismail, however, and the carrier is about to migrate its network infrastructure to IP with the help of SITA’s professional services consultants. “We will save on the cost of leased lines between the cities of Syria. We will reduce the cost of the SITA connections, the routers and many things,” says Ismail. “Overall, we think the total saving is more than half, about a 65% reduction.” The three-year deal with SITA will begin with migrating the airline’s 40 outstations within Syria onto IP, which is estimated to take up to two and a half months. At the same time, the two sides will also begin to migrate the international stations, which will to take around four to six months to complete. The deal includes the provisioning and maintenance of an IP-based virtual private network (VPN) for direct access to all international and domestic data communications such as financials and human resources (HR). Ismail explains that Syrian Arab Airlines will also be able to access applications online through ISNet, a SITA community network that provides flexibility and accessibility similar to that of the public internet but without the security issues. The move will have a number of advantages for Syrian, aside from the cost-savings that Ismail mentions. The airline is also anticipating reduced technical complexity following the migration, which will allow it to deliver a faster, more personal service to its customers according to Nachaat Numeir, the airline’s chairman and managing director. “Migrating to an IP-based network will enhance the efficiency of our business applications and processes, improving both internal and external communications across geographical boundaries, and making us more competitive,” he confirms. The IP network will also enable future deployments of other applications such as voice over IP telephone calls, video-conferencing and a company-wide customer relationship management (CRM) application. More immediately, however, the IP network will support Syrian’s move to new departure control (DCS) and reservations systems, which will be key for its e-ticketing rollout. “We will be ready to use a very comprehensive new system that depends on the graphics for reservations and DCS system, which would not work on the old system and protocol,” explains Ismail. He is determined that Syrian Arab Airlines will have completed all aspects of its e-ticketing migration by IATA’s 2007 deadline. “We will be on time for the IATA regulations,” he says. ||**||

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