At Last Call For DOT Comments, Amadeus Raises A Glass To NDC

Global distribution system operator Amadeus in a filing with the U.S. Department of Transportation "in general" lent its support to the International Transport Association's New Distribution Capability. That's a divergent view from a number of travel agencies, travel technology trade advocates and fellow GDS operator Sabre.

Even before DOT on Thursday published the Amadeus filing, dated May 1, the official deadline for public comments, IATA on its NDC blog highlighted that "Amadeus in its filing to DOT expressed 'support for the objectives of NDC including airlines' ability to differentiate and merchandize their offer', and it has also expressed 'support for attempts to standardize processes.' "

The full filing is more nuanced, as Amadeus also expressed concerns and suggested changes to the IATA resolution guiding NDC. For example, Amadeus asked for assurances that IATA's standard would be optional for airline members (as per IATA's stated intentions), and clarification on "privacy issues" regarding new data sets airlines would collect to personalize offers.

Amadeus also asked for provisions to enable content comparison and removal of "references discouraging backwards compatibility"__in other words, communications with pre-existing systems.

Additionally, Amadeus sought further clarification on data ownership, noting IATA's proposal states that each airline distributing products "is the owner of its own content."

"While that statement might seem innocuous, there is a risk that it could create limitations on the usage of data, which currently do not exist, or raise legal concerns like privacy issues," according to the Amadeus filing, signed by vice president of industry affairs Svend Leirvaag. "Indeed, several IATA working documents extend the understanding of content ownership to passenger name record ownership. This concept of content ownership (including PNR ownership) has no functional or technical justification that would promote the stated objectives of the resolution."

Amadeus since May 2012 has been witness to IATA's development of NDC through attendance at IATA meetings and participation in various work groups. "While Amadeus has not been involved in IATA's decision making process, Amadeus has engaged with IATA, airlines, travel agents and other parties to provide constructive feedback on the initiative," according to the filing. "Indeed, Amadeus has shared its own XML schema with IATA and is increasingly involved" in developing NDC standards.

A Different Take

Comments filed by The Travel Technology Association, a trade group representing online travel agencies and GDS operators Amadeus, Sabre and Travelport, are at odds with those from some of its members.

Travel Tech asked DOT to deny IATA's application, alleging the effort would obfuscate "the true cost of flying" and derive no public benefit.

Contrast that with the stance of Amadeus, as well as pronouncements from Travelport. Though the latter expressed concerns about NDC and criticized the selection of the airline-controlled Open Axis schema as its basis, it also gave tacit support for airlines that elect to use the NDC standard for GDS connectivity.

Travelport did not file comments directly with DOT, but the company in a statement indicated that it seconded the comments filed "via our trade association," Travel Tech.

Sabre, meanwhile, in comments filed directly to DOT on May 1, aligned closely with the NDC opposition.

Sabre indicated that it "fully supports the development and implementation of technology standards that drive value and make the process work even better to meet the needs of both travel suppliers and buyers as they change over time." Yet, it also claimed that Resolution 787 "is a not about new technology standards. It instead sets forth in detail a proposed new, opaque and carrier-agreed business model for the pricing and sale of airline tickets."

Sabre took issue with IATA's "assertion" that "new technical standards, to be jointly agreed and jointly controlled by airlines under the auspices of IATA, are needed because, it is claimed, GDSs such as Sabre will not otherwise be able to support efforts by airlines to highlight their amenities and services and to make 'personalized' offers to consumers."

To the contrary, Sabre's filing claimed the company "is committed to and fully capable of enabling airlines to effectively and efficiently merchandize their products, including personalized offers."

Amadeus and Travelport have touted similar capabilities.

Next Steps

With the comment period now closed, DOT will review IATA's application and public comments. A DOT official said "there is no further schedule at this point."

But does IATA even need DOT's blessing to move forward? Not really, according to the airline association, which "believes it already held the authority to proceed with the development of this standard under an already-approved resolution." Still, IATA said that it "decided in the interest of transparency to file Resolution 787, which will also give interested parties the right to comment."

In other words, the IATA application__which has drawn more than 120 comments from airlines, travel agencies, trade groups and others__seems to be more for show than substance. More than anything, IATA wants "DOT's imprimatur by approval" as an "impetus to and confidence in" the NDC effort, and to "restrain those who might otherwise seek to obstruct those efforts by threatening adverse legal or regulatory actions."