AC Says Move To Amadeus PSS System Will Benefit Agents, Pax

By Bruce Parkinson, Open Jaw

Duncan Bureau

Ilia Kostov

Air Canada has been flying for 80 years, and for the past 30 or so has relied on an in-house-built IBM mainframe platform to handle its passenger reservation and service processes. Three decades is an eternity in computer years, but an enterprise computer system is not an easy thing to replace, especially in a marketplace evolving at Internet speed.

AC underlined that point in 2009, when it suspended work on a replacement system from ITA Software called Polaris, taking a $67 million write-down in the process. The airline’s precarious financial situation at the time was blamed – it still faced at least $40 million in migration costs to finish the project.

But AC’s search for a modern replacement to its legacy system has continued over the past few years, growing in urgency as the ability to merchandise through multiple channels and personalize offers to passengers became key to unlocking billions of dollars in ancillary fees. 

As well, with Air Canada expanding rapidly – more than doubling its annual pax count to 45 million in the past 10 years – the airline badly needed a system that could better handle disruptions (IROPs), re-accommodation of pax, baggage movement, crew scheduling and more.

Late last week the airline announced its decision -- the Altéa Suite passenger services system PSS) from Amadeus, the Madrid-based CRS provider and travel tech giant. It will take two years to install and implement, but AC’s VP Global Sales Duncan Bureau says it will be worth the wait, improving the bottom line of the airline, service to passengers and ease of booking to travel agents.

“The PSS is the heart of the passenger booking and check-in system,” Bureau told Open Jaw. “The Amadeus system will modernize our ability to merchandise, handle ancillary sales and seamlessly manage PNRs across airlines within Star Alliance. It will give us the ability to do things we couldn’t and we estimate $100 million in total benefit. We’re excited.” 

The Altea Suite is a hot product in a narrow market. Travel tech website Skift reports that since 2010, Altea has doubled the volume of passengers it handles and now has a 45% global market share, compared to Sabre’s 20% share with its SabreSonic product.

Bureau says the system will make life easier for travel agents.

“Today, an agent has to leave our in-house PSS to get access to some of our ancillary revenue products, while with Altea all of our products will be available to the agent within the same workflow.” 

As well, with AC’s rapid international expansion and increasing reliance on international point of sale, Amadeus’s strength as a GDS player in markets outside North America will be a big plus, Bureau says. The two companies have been building a stronger partnership in recent years, and Amadeus already powers AC’s consumer website among other services.

“Amadeus is growing in North America, but it is very strong in other parts of the world. Using this system will put us in a much better position for international points of sale.”

Ilia Kostov, Amadeus’s Chief Commercial Officer, Airline IT for North America, says Air Canada’s struggle to come up with a replacement for its legacy PSS system is not unusual.

“What they are using served its purpose and worked well for a long time. It is a big project and it touches on many core parts of what an airline does. And with Altea Suite, Air Canada is not just replacing its current system, but introducing many new and beneficial capabilities.”

Kostov says the Altea Suite will give travel agents easy, efficient access to the most accurate inventory of AC flights, “the latest, greatest fares” and personalized offers based on client history.

“There are also big customer service benefits in the event of disruptions, as the airline knows when an agent makes changes and PNRs can be managed seamlessly across airlines within Star Alliance. With this technology re-accommodation of pax and movement of bags can be handled in a logical, efficient manner.”

Massive enterprise computer systems are wondrous things when they work, but the potential for disruptive “network issues” keeps airline execs awake at night. When they do occur – as in a recent incident with the Altea Suite that caused check-in delays at major airports – the repercussions are swift and painful. Competitive systems to Altea have experienced more and longer outages.

But Kostov says the advantages far outweigh the risks, and stresses that Amadeus has the hard-earned experience to minimize problems.

“Amadeus has done major implementations like this 200 times around the world. We have worked hard to perfect a delivery model that is on-time and done with quality. We love what Air Canada is doing as an airline and we believe our relationship is a natural, perfect fit.”

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