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Electronic tickets are failing to take off here

Airlines in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are lagging behind the rest of the world in implementing electronic ticketing (ET).

Airlines in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are lagging behind the rest of the world in implementing electronic ticketing (ET).

IATA has set 2007 as the deadline for the total abolition of
paper tickets around the world in favour of virtual e-tickets,
but local carriers have made little progress in implementing the technology.

“Overall, we can say that MENA carriers are not ready today, and that they have low penetration,” said Philippe Bruyére, programme director, Simplifying the Business (STB), IATA.

In May, Middle East airlines issued just 1.3% of their tickets in electronic format — the lowest total, by far, for any region worldwide. The Americas, excluding the US, had the highest penetration rate at 58.8%, followed by Europe (44.1%), Africa (32.6%), Asia-Pacific (27.9%) and North Asia (5.4%).

At present, the only airline in the region that is 100% ET-compliant is the Sharjah-based low-cost carrier Air Arabia, which does not belong to IATA.

Among regional carriers that are IATA members, only three airlines — Emirates, Royal Air Maroc and Royal Jordanian — are issuing any e-tickets today, and none of these are 100% compliant.

“This figure gives us some concern, as the deadline is the end of 2007,” said Bruyére. “Two and a half years is long enough, and it is feasible [that they will meet the deadline], but it takes on average six to18 months for an airline to implement ET,” he added.

“It is a pity to see the Middle East so focused and delivering such great results in other areas [of aviation], but a bit behind on electronic ticketing,” said Giovanni Bisignani, director general and chief executive of IATA.

IATA recently had meetings with 400 airlines around the world to discuss ET. It found that 70% of local carriers were planning their ET rollout, with only 26% not having reached the planning stages.

“Most airlines in the region are tackling ET very seriously and they are in the planning stage. That means that they are integrating ET into their overall strategy and, although they do not have a solution in place yet, they are planning to launch ET very soon and to meet the deadline,” noted Bruyére.

Middle East Airlines (MEA), for instance, is already preparing to roll out ET and Adib Chreif, head of IT at the carrier, is confident that it will stop issuing paper tickets by the end of next year.

“We are working on the project, and I believe that
in [early] 2006 we will issue our first e-ticket. By the end of
2006 we will be 100% e-ticketing,” he said.

Etihad Airways is also drawing up plans for ET, but the
Abu Dhabi-based airline’s head of IT, Claus Giesemann, is sceptical that all airlines around the world will be able to meet IATA’s deadline.

“IATA is saying by the end of 2007 there will be no more paper tickets, which personally, I don’t believe, because some airlines will not be able to handle it,” he commented.

IATA has been driving ET-compliance as part of its STB programme. The STB initiative covers five main areas: ET,
e-freight, common use self-service (CUSS) check-in kiosks, RFID bag tags and barcoded boarding passes.

IATA hopes to introduce all of these into the industry over the next few years, with the aim of saving around US$6 billion per annum.

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