Passenger Service Systems (PSS) form the core of any airline. They are the engine through which airlines earn their primary revenue – passenger sales. It is then no surprise that changing such a system is often compared to heart surgery. However, it doesn’t have to be.
This article explores the pain points of the PSS industry and sets out key considerations that airlines would find useful during the selection of a new PSS.
The PSS Market
The current PSS market is hotly contested by numerous suppliers across the globe. A Google Search for PSS systems returns 20+ products, which cater to the needs of different airline business models. A quick glance-over makes two points clear,
The market includes legacy PSSs which date back several decades and modern PSSs which have their roots in 21st-century technology
While legacy PSS providers naturally offer more experience in handling airlines of different sizes, modern PSSs are highly dynamic.
However, these considerations are missed by airline executives during the selection of a new PSS, and as a result, leads to painful system migrations and consequently a system that does not support the airline’s business model. Given the highly dynamic nature of the aviation industry, failure to have the correct PSS in place could prove fatal.
Legacy PSSs uses Older Technology
The fact that legacy PSSs use older technologies is a noted headache across the industry. Passenger Service Systems trace their origins back to the 1960s, as the requirements of airlines grew rapidly with the boom in air travel. Many PSSs evolved out of existing Global Distribution Systems, as these providers entered the market with airline reservation systems. Utilising the latest technologies, these systems proved to be quite revolutionary in their day. However as the requirements of airlines have evolved over the last 50+ years, the expectations from system providers have increased manyfold. The requirement of the day is a flexible system that can adapt to the unique requirements of different carriers who are each trying to carve out their share of the market utilising a range of differing strategies. Therefore systems are required to be able to support the addition of new features on a continuous basis, which calls for more agile development practices. This is where the legacy PSSs begin to fall short, as the development standards followed several decades back are very much less flexible than more modern practices, which embrace change.
The inflexibility of Legacy Systems
A similar issue is faced in customizing the system for each airline’s requirements, be it theme and languages in the B2C/B2B user interfaces or airline-specific workflows in the back-office/administration system. The inflexibility of legacy systems means those introduced more recently, especially from 2000 onward, have an edge in terms of complementing airline strategy through quicker time-to-market. Features could be added to modern PSSs within a few days or even hours, encompassing major airline commercial processes. Therefore when evaluating a new PSS, it is vital that airlines consider the overall architectural flexibility of systems.
“The requirement of the day is a flexible system that can adapt to the unique requirements of different carriers who are each trying to carve out their share of the market utilising a range of differing strategies.”
Obsolete UI technologies and UX workflows used by Legacy systems
Further to this, it is an accepted fact that well thought-out UI and UX ensure staff get their work completed faster. Once again, legacy systems fall behind here, not due to the fact that they simply have adopted obsolete design trends, but rather the fact that the technologies on which the systems are built on, do not provide much flexibility in their UI customization. It is worth noting that many legacy PSSs are command-based. Modern technologies provide a more straightforward approach for performing UI changes, meaning newer systems are therefore able to keep abreast of the latest UI and UX trends. Better UI/UX trickles down to more efficient interactions with the systems, greatly improving productivity and end user satisfaction. Legacy systems are falling behind in providing ubiquitous access through any device, be it desktop, tablet or mobile, at anytime without requiring special software to be pre-installed.
Modern PSSs require less Staff Training
Alongside the fact that modern PSSs are easier for the user, the simpler GUIs also make it simpler to train staff. There is no need for airline staff, travel agents and ground handlers to go through the painful process of memorizing commands. This greatly reduces training time and effort and leaves time during the training sessions for, for example, more focus on brainstorming which aspects of current airline processes need to be modified to better capitalise on the advantages of the new PSS. In addition, it is also possible for staff to use the system without having to sift through lengthy user manuals. Systems that are easier to learn are also less prone to resistance to change, ensuring that staff buy-in could be guaranteed. Seeing that many modern PSSs have unique power features, staff are immediately won over once they use the systems for just a few minutes. Considering that resistance can be a very tough challenge to overcome, every opportunity to reduce it is most welcome to any business, and especially airlines.
The challenge of Data Migration
A key challenge arising during the migration of systems is the sheer volume of data which airlines need to migrate into their new PSS, as well as setup. For this, airlines need vendors who have experience of multiple migrations. The database and other internal structures of PSSs could be completely different from one to the other, save for a few common standards in terms of schedules, inventory, fares and reporting. Thus seasoned professionals are a must from the vendor’s side when an airline is migrating between PSSs. Modern PSSs also need to support all IATA standards including e-ticketing and EMD, airline industry standards and best practices as well as market specific practices, as these would be critical for successful data migration in a short time span.
The challenge of Integration
Modern PSSs do not exist in isolation. Airlines have the flexibility to mix and match a variety of other systems and integrations with partners. These systems could range from specialist flight schedule planning, revenue management, revenue accounting systems to ERP systems and host to host messaging for network of airline operations, codeshare and interline operations in particular. Similarly, most airlines are connected with various payment gateways and banks for the convenience of passengers, as well as integrations with add-on service providers such as insurance, hotel and car rental. Thus, PSSs are required to support integrations flexibly, and this once again falls on the architecture of the system and technologies utilised. PSSs therefore need to provide an API platform meeting industry standards, those which are both legacy as well as modern; for seamless integrations with various heterogeneous systems for various needs, in short time to market.
It doesn’t have to be like heart surgery
This brings us to the end of our quick overview of the challenges in the current PSS industry. It is most obvious that modern PSSs seem to have an upper hand in terms of technological flexibility and time-to-market for customisations. This is supplemented by user-friendly GUIs and simple training, which makes the migration process more convenient. It comes down to the decision-making process of airline executives, who need to carefully weigh the offerings of each vendor impartially. Similarly, it is also the responsibility of PSS suppliers to keep their offerings competitive, while ensuring the entire industry moves forward hand-in-hand with industry initiatives including IATA NDC and ONE ORDER. PSSs need to be built with provisions to support ‘n’ number of feature additions and customizations as well as with industry standard APIs supporting heterogeneous integration paradigm, to better support the ever-changing and evolving aviation industry landscape.
Avtra is all in one integrated PSS platform with in-built schedules management, inventory and ancillary management, pricing management and booking management modules. AvtraSoft Limited itself is a specialist IT provider for the airline industry, providing end to end software solutions for airlines, airports and travel agents. Avtra was born out of the need identified in the aviation domain for innovative purpose-built IT solutions that could support modern carriers. Avtra’s Passenger Service System product is designed from the ground-up to support airlines of any size and operating model (LCC, FCC, Hybrid). Avtra also offers an intuitive Departure Control System (DCS), as well as a Frequent Flyer Programme (FFP) product, alongside ConnectOTA which is a platform for Online Travel Agents to offer services of many airlines and other service providers such as hotels and car rentals. Avtra’s team has a multitude of experience in the Asian, African and Middle East region, from previous engagement with airlines and other travel partners. Avtra’s differentiation stems from the fact that its products are professionally engineered and continuously being innovated upon, while the team accounts for years of experience in the industry and know-how of the market. Read more on Avtra’s products by taking a look at Our Products.
“I’m a Senior Project Manager at Avtra. I manage new implementations of existing products and development of new products for an international clientele in the Airline Passenger Service System domain. On a day-to-day basis, I handle clients from various regions of the world (MENA, Asia, Europe), while managing the development team in Sri Lanka and coordinating with third parties such as international Payment Gateway providers and other Airline IT Solution providers.”