Few industries have grown as fast or become as complex and inter-dependent as the global air transport industry. At SITA, as we commemorate 70 years at the heart of air transport, we are reminded of the company’s contributions to technological advances that are keeping ever-increasing numbers of passengers moving around the world.
During those seven decades, SITA has worked closely with airlines, airports, industry bodies and other industry ‘players’ to address the challenges faced by the community. Today, SITA technologies are underpinning the industry’s operations, creating a more seamless passenger journey – and making air travel easier than ever.
The backcloth to SITA’s evolution has been the extraordinary pace of growth in air transport. In the late 1940s, passenger numbers were less than 10 million a year. Today, more than 4.5 billion people travel by air every year. The air transport sector now supports 65.5 million jobs and generates US$2.7 trillion in global economic activity.
SITA’s story begins with innovation: a decision by 11 airlines in 1949 to share communications resources. Establishing SITA as a unique independent organization, the airlines became both ‘shareholder members’ and users.
The principle of shared technology remains as relevant today as it was to those founding airlines. Put simply, it makes sense to collaborate rather than compete in areas of common purpose. Where there is little or no competitive advantage to be gained by acting alone, there can be considerable advantage in acting together.
Thank you to our Members, who have been the crucial element in our successful 70 years at the heart of the air transport community. We were created by the industry, for the industry, and we will continue to learn, build and innovate collaboratively with our members and customers in the coming decades.
Founded and owned by the industry, SITA’s mandate was to deliver common benefits to the air transport community. To this day, SITA makes technologies and innovations available for the benefit of the entire global community, on a shared or common-use basis, reducing the total cost of ownership.
SITA’s technology now touches the lives of almost every passenger who travels by air. The company does business with nearly every airline and airport in the world. It is steered by more than 40 aviation IT industry leaders and experts, on the SITA Board and Council, and it represents air transport community interests through more than 430 members in all corners of the globe.
The pace of change has been relentless, often led by technology, with SITA frequently at the forefront. For example, the company created a nodal distributed network during the 1960s, three years before the US Department of Defense’s ARPA Network, which eventually led to the internet. And in 1971, SITA became the first to use a common carrier packet switched network to handle data traffic in real time, a technological leap for the evolving aviation industry.
During its first decades, long before the deregulation of telecoms, SITA’s global network became so vital to airline operations that, uniquely, it was permitted to operate in virtually every country recognized by the United Nations. That globality remains. Providing services across 200 countries and territories, some 140 nationalities are represented among SITA’s staff.
Through the years, the company’s focus broadened from airline communications to encompass IT and applications, as well as a growing customer base of airports, ground handlers, air navigation service providers, governments, industry bodies and other players.
As the new millennium approached, once again technology drove significant change. SITA led the industry’s adoption of IP as the communications infrastructure backbone of the industry and notched up many innovative firsts – early steps towards greater operational efficiency and a more seamless journey.
This included the introduction of common use check-in and kiosks as the latest generation of shared use solutions (1984); industry-leading air-ground communications (1992); the first ever website able to complete travel bookings as well as take payments in real time (1995); and the world’s first electronic visa system (for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games), leading to SITA’s position today as the world’s foremost border management provider.
Through all of this time, true to its original purpose, SITA has collaborated closely not only with customers, but also with industry bodies such as IATA, ACI, CANSO and ICAO to help drive the standards and services necessary for the safe and efficient operation of the aviation eco-system.
In the process, SITA has contributed to industry-wide programs to deliver billions of dollars of cost reductions across air transport operations. Key to this has been a strategic partnership with IATA – helping to realize major programs such as Simplifying the Business (StB) and Fast Travel, as well as the IATA/ACI Smart Security initiative and OneID.
The StB program, which helped spark the self-service revolution, changed air traveler behavior and expectations. SITA’s self-service capabilities played a large part, spanning all steps of the passenger journey – from booking and check-in to bag drop, boarding and border control. As the industry transforms digitally, the self-service revolution continues.
Innovation and collaboration continue apace. In its seventieth year, SITA today co-innovates with customers and industry bodies across a range of new and emerging technologies.
Focused on enhancing industry operations and the seamless passenger journey, they embrace identity management and biometrics, artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, blockchain, the Internet of Things (IoT), digital twins, mixed reality, robotics and more.
Examples include pioneering developments in predictive data analytics and AI to help airports resolve capacity constraints and flight delays. At the same time, in a major step towards the seamless journey, SITA’s industry-leading developments in biometric identity management for self-service check-in and automated boarding are being adopted by a growing number of the world’s airlines, airports and border agencies.
Driven by vast amounts of data and up-to-the-second intelligence and analysis, such technologies are transforming air transport. SITA is a vital link in that process – bridging as much as 60% of air transport data exchange among airlines, airports, aircraft and border agencies.
SITA is deeply involved in the industry’s digital transformation – which is seeing airlines and airports embarking on data-based digital infrastructure programs that will underpin operations and the seamless journey of tomorrow.
As we fast approach the next decade, SITA remains committed to developing and delivering the digital technologies that will make its vision of ‘Easy air travel, every step of the way’ a reality. As in the past 70 years, the approach will always involve close collaboration with the air transport community, to help move passengers smoothly and swiftly, wherever they may travel.
1 www.atag.org, October 2018
2 The 11 airlines who founded SITA in 1949 were: KLM, Air France, who are now both part of the same group; British European Airways Corporation (BEAC), British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), British South American Airways (BSAA) - which later merged to form British Airways; Swedish A.G. Aerotransport, Danish Det Danske Luftfartselskab A/S, Norwegian Det Norske Luftfartselskap - which later merged to form SAS; Sabena which became Brussels Airlines; Swissair which became Swiss; and TWA, which was acquired by American Airlines.