Clock ticking for airline paper

By Leon Engelbrecht, ITWeb senior writer
Johannesburg, 25 Feb 2008

Friday marked the start of a 100-day countdown for airlines affiliated with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to dump paper vouchers in favour of e-ticketing.

"In 100 days, the paper ticket gets put in a museum," IATA director-general and CEO Giovanni Bisignani said in Jakarta, Indonesia. "On 1 June, we will achieve 100% electronic ticketing."

IATA began the drive to e-ticketing as part of its "Simplifying the Business" programme in June 2004, with the dual goals of making travel and shipping more convenient and cost-efficient. IATA airlines and airport authorities have since been implementing a number of associated projects, including:

* Bar-coded boarding passes
* Common use kiosks for self-service
* Radio frequency identity devices for aviation
* E-ticketing
* E-freight

An IATA press statement says the five initiatives, combined, should save the global airline industry $6.5 billion (about R50 billion) a year. IATA's "Simplifying the Business" campaign has since expanded to include the self-service oriented "Fast Travel" project and an industry "Baggage Improvement Programme".

"E-ticketing is the flagship project of 'Simplifying the Business'," says Bisignani. "While a paper ticket costs $10 (R77) to process, e-ticketing reduces that cost to $1 (R7.70). The industry will save over $3 billion (R23 billion each year) by offering the passenger a better service. There is no better win-win proposition," he adds.

When the programme began in June 2004, only 18% of tickets issued globally were e-tickets. Today, e-ticketing penetration is over 93%. "It is an incredible industry success story. When we began, over 28 million paper tickets were issued each month. We have reduced that number to less than three million," says the IATA boss.

But challenges remain. E-ticketing penetration in Africa is only 83% and has reached 84% in Middle East and North Africa. Bisignani says Russia and the CIS is a real concern. E-ticketing take up there is just 54% due to a late start.

"Combined, these regions represent 8% of total volume. IATA's 150 experts are working with the airlines in these regions to close the gap quickly. If we can bring the convenience of e-ticketing even to small remote island airports with no electricity, I am confident that with some hard work in the final stretch we will be successful," he says.

IATA says consumers can anticipate more convenient travel in an electronic world. "100% ET" eliminates lost tickets, makes itinerary changes easy and enables an array of self-service options.

"We are entering a new age for air travel. The consumer has spoken. They love the convenience of e-ticketing and now want to combine it with self-service options to have more control over their journey," notes Bisignani.

"We are already seeing the ET effect. Online and kiosk check-in are at all time highs. Even newly-introduced mobile phone check-in is rapidly gaining popularity. IATA is pushing 'Simplifying the Business' to the next level with its 'Fast Travel' project [that] will bring a wide array of self-service options, in a streamlined process, from reservation to arrival."

Bisignani made his comments in Jakarta, Indonesia, where he is meeting local and national aviation officials on a range of issues. With e-ticketing at 95.5%, Indonesia is ahead of the global average and well positioned to meet the 100% deadline by 1 June.

The Airports Company of SA recently introduced self-service kiosks at a number of local airports.

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