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Turbulent time for e-ticketing

Regional airlines will fail to meet an industry deadline of December 2007 for issuing all tickets electronically, as they struggle with massive implementation costs, out of date systems and a serious shortage of IT specialists.

Regional airlines will fail to meet an industry deadline of December 2007 for issuing all tickets electronically, as they struggle with massive implementation costs, out of date systems and a serious shortage of IT specialists.

Industry figures claim airlines are facing an impossible task to fully meet the deadline set by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). After this date the 60,000 IATA affiliated travel agents globally will no longer issue paper tickets.

At present just eight of the region’s 23 airlines issue e-tickets, with IATA’s own figures showing that as of August, just 12% of tickets in the region were issued electronically, compared to a global average of 60.7%.

Industry experts, including Wahab Teffaha, secretary general of the Arab Air Carriers Organisation, are confident that regional airlines will at least start to issue e-tickets on their own routes by the deadline.

However, it is looking unlikely that airlines will meet the deadline for interline electronic tickets. Interlining is where airlines will accept a booking for a passenger’s entire journey then liase with onward carriers for the destinations they cover.

Airlines must create interfaces between their different reservation systems before they can issue e-tickets for interline journeys — a complex process costing up to US$25,000 or more for every link created.

The cost can run into millions of dollars for airlines, which often have hundreds of interline agreements. This cost comes on top of the price of deploying an electronic ticketing solution — and upgrading revenue accounting systems — both multi-million dollar projects.

This combined with the time it takes to establish and test each link means that even the region’s major airlines cannot issue 100% of their interline tickets electronically by December 2007 and have had to prioritise which interline partners airlines to work with.
Gulf Air told IT Weekly it planned to issue e-tickets on 38 out of over 100 interline routes, Oman Air, 20 out of 80 to 100 and Emirates for 80% of its interline traffic by the deadline — although all airlines pointed out that these partners’ routes accounted for the bulk of their interline traffic.

Edward Grauvogl, divisional manager of commercial and planning for Oman Air, commented: “What we’re going to do is look at our 80 to 100 interline agreements and probably come up with the most important — those will get done by the end of next year.”

Lars Denlew, Gulf Air head of distribution and e-commerce, believes that IT solutions providers are charging carriers to establish links for individual journeys when they have already set up similar links between reservation systems for other carriers.

“IT providers, they know that we’re forced to do that now and they are trying to utilise this by selling a solution they already have in place, they sell it many times to every airline,” he said.

Denlew said that such is the cost and complexity of undertaking interline e-ticketing projects that many carriers will be forced to implement links for interline e-tickets without testing them individually first — including his own airline.

“That’s going to be a matter of survival for us,” he admitted.

Najib Benkheder, who runs the consulting practice of Sabre Airline Solutions, said some regional airlines still lacked the infrastructure needed for e-ticketing while Denlew said one of his airline’s major interline partners still had not implemented an e-ticketing solution.

Grauvogl said he believed IATA will have to extend the deadline given the current situation.

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