Analysts: IT will affect airline industry

The airline industry will be hit by an IT tsunami and the aftermath of that wallop will leave customers with a buying power they have never before enjoyed, according to industry analysts at the annual International Air Transport Association IT convention in San Jose.

With new systems that can streamline ticketing, sell directly to customers online, tailor travel to a customer's specific needs and eliminate waste within ticket costs, airline ticket prices could drop sharply, the analysts predicted.

"You don't even know how much power is shifting to the customer because of this," said Nawal Taneja, chairman of Ohio State University's aerospace engineering and aviation program in a speech yesterday. "The margins are going to come down like (the industry) won't believe."

Taneja said IT leaders in the industry will find ways to provide more convenient ways for passengers to interact with the airlines and will gain a clear understanding of what passengers want. He cited industry, IATA and J.D. Power & Associates studies that showed customers want "hassle-free, comfortable and consistent service."

Check-in lines, inflexible flight ticketing and late arrivals ranked as the chief complaints in the studies Taneja referenced.

"I have seen better organisation at zoos than at airports. . . . Get the basics right," he told the convention attendees. He said airlines should use IT more effectively to solve such problems.

Ken Kauffman, a product manager at Cisco Systems, said the industry is hobbled by its reliance on multiple, incompatible computing platforms.

"We've been in business a long time and we've used a lot of different technologies and we've never actually thrown anything away," he said.

"What we have is a mish-mash of proprietary protocols that take data and move it along a proprietary network," he said. "That's got to change."

He said the industry would need to standardise into a fully functional TCP/IP network architecture in the coming years.

"Our bandwidth is going to increase 10 times over the next two to three years," Kauffman said.

Terry Jones, CEO of Travelocity.com, told the convention that customers now have the ability to shop around and customise their travel, which shifts control of the industry to them.

Taneja warned that travelers who are learning about the ease of quick check-ins at hotels and car rental services won't stick with airlines that can't meet those standards. He added that customers will come to expect airlines to operate modern, glitch-free systems.

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