Virgin Atlantic IT director: airlines should work together on open source apps

Virgin Atlantic’s IT director, David Bulman, has called upon the airline industry to work collaboratively on open source applications that create an emerging standard for re-use and allow passengers to avoid downloading multiple tools.

Computerworld UK spoke to Bulman at SITA’s Air Transport IT Summit in Brussels this week where he said that the development of technologies such as HTML5 provide an opportunity for airlines to develop a single app that can be used across carriers and airports.

“There are more things that airlines could co-operate on. If you look at the consumer apps, each airport has its own application.

Each airline has its own application. We need to interconnect these and we need to come up with open-source standards that can take a little bit of an app from Heathrow, a little bit of an app from Gatwick etc.” said Bulman.

He added: “This would allow us to create a very rich app that provides information about where my customer is going next time. Equally the airports should have an app that I can flow information into, and into British Airways’, for example.”

“Things aren’t like this today, but they can be, particularly if you are looking at the HML5 standards. Part of the problem is how to strip away the branding and create a vanilla interface that someone can slap a skin onto. But there’s ways of doing that, it’s not beyond the technology.”

Bulman explained that by doing this airlines and airports create a ‘better customer journey’ because passengers would no longer have to download separate apps for different cities and airlines, and they could also use location based services to guide people to their gates and through the airport on the app. He believes that the current system is ‘too messy’.

However, Bulman also said t this is not an easy task, as collaboration within the airline industry is rare and sharing information is even rarer. Despite this, he is speaking to other airlines that have similar-minded CIOs to drive the agenda.

“This could happen in a piecemeal fashion. If a few airlines and a few airports started working together you could create an emerging standard. Otherwise it will have to go through someone like the International Air Transport Association, which would take five years,” said Bulman.

“I’m certainly talking with airlines that we directly work with to see if we can start to create something. If we could create an emerging standard that would be great, but it’s going to take a few people like me to really push it. That’s my main plea to those attending the SITA conference today.”

Interestingly, SITA Lab has today announced that it has an API in development that would enable airlines and airports to create applications using a common standard. It plans to make several APIs available to developers, but is currently trialling one using SITA’s BagTrac technology, which exposes data on the location of individual checked bags as they are scanned during the journey.

Computerworld UK asked SITA’s CTO, Jim Peters, whether or not it was hoping that the release of the APIs would encourage industry-wide collaboration, similar to Bulman’s ambitions, but he was reluctant to predict how the market would play out.

“We will leave it to the market to decide. That’s kind of the point of leaving the API open,” said Peters.

“How the market configures and who writes the apps, we will stay out of it. However, I hope that they do what works best for the customer, rather than out of self-interest.”

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