As the first Indian airline to join a global alliance, Air India’s Star Alliance membership has opened the door to increased business opportunities for the country’s flagship carrier.
The initiative takes place against the backdrop of long-term forecasts of future expansion of India’s aviation industry. Today, the country is one of the fastest growing aviation markets in the world. Currently ranked ninth, it’s expected to move up to third behind the US and China by 2020.
IT will figure largely in that evolution. “Rapid market growth requires the support of innovative technology,” says a CAPA-SITA white paper on Indian aviation.
“India’s aviation market is three times larger today than it was ten years ago and traffic is expected to triple again over the next decade. It is in such dynamic environments that thoughtful and innovative deployment of technology solutions can drive the greatest value.”
For Air India, IT played a prominent role in its quest to join the Star Alliance, becoming a critical part of a growth strategy to raise the airline’s revenues, as it commits to ‘redefining air travel for its passengers’.
Being a member of alliance, Air India will offer a global integrated network “beneficial for both sides,” says Rohit Nandan, Air India’s Chairman and Managing Director.
“Membership will greatly facilitate Air India’s ability to achieve its future growth strategy by increasing passenger numbers and network expansion through code share deals with partner airlines.”
As Air India’s network grows, the Ministry of Civil Aviation has granted Air India traffic rights to operate a direct daily flight to Melbourne and Sydney, Australia, as well as flights to Rome Milan and Moscow pushing its international destinations up significantly.
In the words of India’s Civil Aviation Minister, Ashok Gajapathi Raju Pusapati, joining the Star Alliance could increase Air India’s revenues by 4-5%. The minister also cites Air India’s wider reach and access to facilities for members of the world’s biggest grouping of airlines.
Membership offers passengers a seamless travel experience across the Alliance network around the world, besides premium customer recognition and benefits across member airlines. Alliance passengers can earn and burn more frequent flyer mileage points, with code sharing leading to a wider choice of flights and access to over 1000 lounges.
The Star Alliance network counts 27 member airlines, offering more than 18,500 daily flights serving 1,316 destinations in 192 countries. Today about 13 Star Member Airlines operate to 10 destinations in India and account for a total share of 13% of India’s to and fro market. Air India membership puts the Star Alliance in a stronger position with a share of about 30%.
Paving the way
Paving the way to alliance membership was a commitment to embracing new generation technology – to achieve a complex IT integration and a common code as an alliance entry requirement.
One of the major tasks in hand was to merge the independent codes of the two government-owned airlines making up the new Air India, as one of the most important aspects of Star compliance.
So the flight and IATA ticket codes of Air India (098) and Indian Airlines (058) needed to operate as a single airline under the AI (098) common ticket code.
To address the challenge of integrating the airlines’ codes, Air India migrated to SITA’s Horizon Passenger Services System (PSS), first selecting it in 2010.
The project marked a major step toward the complex migration of Air India’s and Indian Airlines’ IT platforms to the new PSS system following their merger, aligning processes and systems of the two airlines in ramping up to meet Star’s entry requirements. Crucially, Horizon is able to achieve integration of alliances regardless of platform.
The Horizon IT backbone, part of a $190 million agreement, provides Air India with the core PSS suite, as well as an online booking engine, departure control system, check-in and automated boarding control, baggage reconciliation system and a frequent flyer system. The frequent flyer program meant building Star tier system, such as Gold and Silver, to integrate with the Star Alliance members.
Seamless integration was a significant milestone towards complete modernization of Air India and a key imperative for Air India’s smooth Star Alliance entry.
SITA’s PSS ensured the exact Star Alliance standards and airline expectations were met. This included upgrading processes to match those of the existing Star Alliance partners.
The double migration of Air India and Indian Airlines to Horizon was achieved in record time, made possible by the close collaboration between SITA and Air India as long-term partners.
SITA completed the complex migration of the two separate airlines' IT platforms to the new PSS in a record 293 days. This included the successful transfer of more than half a million Passenger Name Records (PNRs) with 99.99% accuracy.
Advanced passenger services
“SITA’s cutting-edge technology was instrumental in making the membership possible and will undoubtedly allow us to continue to improve efficiencies and deliver enhanced passenger services,” says Air India’s Rohit Nandan.
“Our strategic partnership with SITA will go a long way in helping us become a strong global player.”
Today, in addition to catering for airline alliance requirements, the SITA Horizon PSS solution enables Air India to provide its passengers with a more efficient and functionally rich online booking engine, as well as kiosk check-in and web check-in, along with other advanced passenger services.
The PSS suite of solutions for Air India includes Reservations, Departure Control Services, Ticketing, eCommerce, Loyalty, Fares and Revenue Integrity.
As a single carrier, Air India is now able to leverage the strengths of its passenger systems, resulting in a more competitive, customer-friendly and world class airline with significant improvement in passenger yields.
It is achieving this through flexibility in its ‘Go to Market’ strategy through its PSS, with control over its own ticket distribution and drastically reduced distribution costs.
Air India’s recent focus has been on building the systems required to boost loyalty and to engineer a high degree of customer intimacy, a drive which includes adopting mobile check-in and eventually developing a comprehensive Customer Relationship Management solution.
Platform-independent and designed to be compliant with the leading global alliances, Horizon combines with SITA’s industry expertise to position as a leading PSS supplier able to meet the needs of airlines seeking to join any global alliance.
It reflects SITA’s dedication to meet the IT and communications requirements of airline members by creating greater choice in the PSS marketplace, backed by continued investment in a new generation passenger solution.
SITA in India
SITA has been an active participant in the Indian aviation industry for over 60 years, working closely with all stakeholders to support the growth and development of the sector. The company is at the heart of operations at many airlines and at most airports in India, representing more than two‐thirds of passenger traffic.
SITA has been instrumental in partnering with India’s air transport industry to introduce new technology, and has pioneered many innovations for the country's airlines, airports, passengers and relevant stakeholders. These include the first common use check-in and baggage management systems, air-ground communications and airport management systems.
During that time the company has provided Air India with mission-critical services, including network connectivity at all domestic and international stations, check-in, air-to-ground communications, fares management, baggage tracing and now new generation passenger services.
SITA wins accolade at Air India day
To celebrate the successful merger of Air India and Indian Airlines prior to entry into the Star Alliance, Air India’s celebratory event – 'Air India Day' – brought together over 1,000 distinguished attendees, including senior members of the airline, employees, industry partners, eminent artists and sports celebrities.
Presiding over the event, in August 2014, was the Union Minister of Civil Aviation, Secretary of the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Air India’s top management.
The event’s focus centered on the many major milestones accomplished throughout Air India’s transformation program, a process which brought about significant all-round improvements in business and operational results and, not least, Air India’s successful entry into the Star Alliance.
At its highlight, a glittering awards ceremony, India’s top management – flanked by the Civil Aviation Minister and Secretary Air – bestowed a number of excellence awards on outstanding Air India employees as well as the best performing travel agencies and portals.
SITA’s CEO Francesco Violante received an Excellence Award in recognition of SITA's close partnership with Air India, as well as SITA’s contribution to the airline’s transformation – specifically Air India’s Star Alliance entry.
Picking up the award was SITA’s Maneesh Jaikrishna, Vice President Middle East, India and Africa, who says: “It’s a matter of great pride for SITA in India to be collecting this prestigious award bestowed upon Francesco Violante and SITA.
“It’s noteworthy that SITA was the sole service provider to receive an award from Air India’s management and the Ministry at this high profile event.”