Above the clouds

Middle Eastern airlines are using new technologies to give them an edge in regional and global markets. ACN looks at recent developments at Royal Jordanian and Jazeera Airways.

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By  Colin Edwards Published  June 1, 2006

|~|majali200a.jpg|~|El-Majali: Technology solutions used to reduce costs and increase yield.|~|Royal Jordanian is undergoing a major business transformation following its decision to join the oneworld airline alliance - a move it expects will help it realise its goal of becoming the leading airline in the Middle East.

The airline has entered into a three-year, US$3.2 million contract with SITA, whereby SITA will provide Royal Jordanian with its Horizon software. This solution enables interoperability with all the other alliance partners through a number of products and solutions. These include the SITA Departure Control System, e-ticketing, which will enable it to become compliant with IATA's 2007 100% e-ticketing goal), expanded distribution through the Royal Jordanian web site, and sophisticated pricing and revenue management tools.

“There were some key elements in deciding why we chose SITA Horizon portfolio - not least its E-commerce solution,” says Samer El-Majali, CEO and president of Royal Jordanian. “Such products will increase our ability to reduce our cost base and increase our yield. It was critical also that SITA could enable us to be oneworld compliant.”

Royal Jordanian is expanding rapidly and currently flies to 53 destinations across five continents carrying almost two million passengers per year. Amman is to become the oneworld hub of the Middle East.

Richard Stokes, SITA's senior vice president for Passenger and Travel Solutions, says: “This move by Royal Jordanian to buy our Horizon portfolio is further confirmation that airlines are looking for straightforward solutions to simplifying their distribution and prefer a holistic approach to the challenges of optimising yield while offering state-of-the-art shopping tools to the consumer.”

Royal Jordanian's compliance with oneworld alliance standards required the implementation of e-ticketing and connectivity to the SITA DCS, as well the renewal of the SITA Reservations system. SITA will establish connectivity with all oneworld carriers.

The airline will benefit from the reduced costs of online distribution while also improving customer service through its own web site. SITA's Airfare Shop application will provide the airline's customers with significantly enhanced online shopping capability.

SITA, which is a leading global service provider of IT business solutions and communications services to the air transport industry, published its annual Airports IT Trends survey at the end of last year. The survey shows that airports' IT spending is increasing both as a percentage of revenues and in real terms.

Among the findings were that self-service kiosks have already been deployed at 50% of airports globally and plans over the next two years will see this figure rise to 75%. WiFi access will be available in more than 90% of airports surveyed within the next two years; biometric identification will be used by 33% of airports for check-in and boarding within the next four years; but RFID tags for baggage management will not make a serious impact until 2008/2009 when 45% of airports plan to be using it.

The survey concludes that airport operators are making smarter use of technology to help meet various challenges in today's highly competitive marketplace.

“The survey results show that airport IT investment levels have climbed to 4.6% of revenues, up from 4.1% last year,” says John Jarrell, SITA senior vice president, Airport and Desktop Services.

“With passenger numbers rising and increased revenues, the trend for increasing IT budgets in the future looks positive. We estimate that airport IT spend in 2005 is around the US$2.5billion level.”

“Given that passenger traffic is forecast to almost double by 2020 to 7.4 billion, it is not surprising that airports are looking for IT solutions to play a bigger part in their operations. As the industry becomes increasingly competitive, we are seeing airports across the world using IT to attract both airlines and their passengers by providing efficient and safe airports.”

One newcomer to the Middle Eastern airline sector to have recently invested in new technology to ensure it differentiates itself from more established regional players is Jazeera Airways. The Kuwait-based privately owned airline has implemented a multimedia customer support centre and interactive voice response (IVR) services to respond to, track, and log all traveller inquiries. The IVR is aimed at improving flight booking processes to customers by enabling them to contact Jazeera by telephone for faster resolution of enquiries and easier ticketing.

“Jazeera Airways strives to distinguish itself from its competitors through leading-edge technologies like our new contact centre application from Nortel,” says Marwan Boodai, Chairman and CEO of Jazeera Airways. “Giving passengers full control over their travel plans is one way to achieve this goal. Traditionally, we have worked with the best vendors in the industry and brought leading- edge technologies to the Middle East to achieve the highest levels of customer satisfaction.”

The contact centre solution at Jazeera Airways is one of a range of technology-based initiatives taken by the airline to bring innovative customer services to the market 24/7: others include agreements with regional mobile network operators to support 'e-ticketing' over mobile handsets.

The new call centre, which is based on Nortel equipment, was implemented by Middle East Telecommunication Company (METCO), Nortel's channel partner in Kuwait. METCO built an integrated contact centre solution that consolidates incoming calls to the airline to a universal queue and then routes them to the appropriate agent for fast, effective service.

“Obviously, our contact centre is at the heart and core of our business, so we needed a solution that works effectively but more importantly, will keep working without downtime - that frustrates customers. We needed a vendor like Nortel that we could depend on and technology we knew would be reliable,” says Boodai.

Jazeera's new contact centre enables travellers to book their e-ticket flights at any time, offering a truly 24x7 service on a global scale. They can book their destinations online or through a dedicated telephone number.

METCO implemented a complete integrated solution in less than two months. The solution included Nortel Communication Server 1000 IP Telephony solution, Nortel CallPilot Unified Messaging, Nortel Contact Center, Nortel Self-Service solution based on the MPS 500 platform and a converged LAN built around the Nortel Ethernet switches 470.||**||

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