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Airlines push new booking platform, IT firms wary

Visitors walk past aircrafts in the static display area during the Annual European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE) at Coin
Visitors walk past aircrafts in the static display area during the Annual European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE) at Coin

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - The airline industry is set to allow consumers to see more details of what they are booking using a new online reservation platform, a project that poses a threat to many travel technology firms working with older systems.

Almost two thirds of global tickets sales are made via travel agents, online travel agencies and travel management companies rather than the airlines themselves.

While many airline websites can show customers content such as no-frills or bundled offers, travel agents cannot access the same information and services in most cases because of outdated software that uses a computer language developed 40 years ago.

In many cases, passengers have no way of comparing different packages, meal prices or the size of seats.

An enhanced web platform could be widely available within two years if the world's airlines prevail, with a pilot demonstration with real transactions planned for October 2013 in Dublin at the World Passenger Summit.

The New Distribution Capability (NDC) standard aims to give consumers the same online experience regardless of how or where they do their travel shopping.

Members of IATA, the world airline industry organization, met in Cape Town this week, viewed a demonstration of the new standard and passed a resolution approving it.

"Airlines offer a rich customer-centric shopping experience on their own websites and we want travel agents to have similar capabilities," said Eric Leopold, a senior IATA official.

But not everyone was happy.

Some travel information technology companies, such as Sabre Holdings and Travelport, make their money from contracts linking airlines and agents via global distribution systems heavily reliant on the old technology.

They may stand to lose business if the NDC standard, which bypasses those older systems, eventually prevails.

Another, Amadeus IT Group, said IATA's resolution on NDC had addressed almost all of its concerns about the new standard, ranging from its compatibility with older systems to the privacy and ownership of data.

The Madrid-based company said it was waiting to see whether IATA followed through on the details of its resolution.

"To be completely clear, we have said that we cannot fully support resolution 787, which is effectively NDC in its current form," said Ben Hunt, a spokesman for Amadeus.

He said Amadeus had submitted concerns about NDC to U.S. transport authorities and was cautiously optimistic that IATA's resolution heralded a more collaborative approach.

(Reporting by Samantha Lee, Wendell Roelf and Tim Hepher; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer and Erica Billingham)

(This story was refiled to correct Amadeus comment in the last paragraph and its stance on the new standard in paragraphs 12, 13)

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