Iata’s New Distribution Capability will take time to roll out. Ian Taylor reports

Amadeus has warned that Iata’s New Distribution Capability (NDC) requires a leap in scale to become workable and that “a lot” of issues with the technology have “barely been touched”.

Airlines and GDSs have hailed Iata NDC Level 3 certification as a stepping stone to widespread adoption of the NDC standard. Yet Clare de Bono, Amadeus UK head of product and innovation, described Level 3 certification as “basically a PR badge”.

She told attendees at The Travel Convention in Seville last week: “It means certification for just one booking and issued ticket. It’s not enough for you.”

Iata recently introduced Level 4 certification which extends to servicing offers and order management. De Bono said: “The next level will involve the scalability [of NDC], but Iata is still defining the criteria [for this].”

She said: “Being able to work at scale is crucial. We need to be able to do a minimum 9,000 transactions per second [with] 90% in a minimum response time of four seconds. We currently do 100,000 transactions a second [on the GDS].”

De Bono insisted: “NDC is a recognition of the importance of the indirect channel. Airlines want to communicate with you.”

She suggested NDC will “unify how airline content is distributed across all channels” and said: “NDC is just an API, just a new technical standard.” An API, or application programming interface, allows data transfer between IT systems.

However, de Bono said: “There is a lot that has barely been touched in the NDC schedule so far.”

Iata proposes 21 airlines will distribute 20% of their content through NDC by 2020. De Bono pointed out: “By 2020, 80% of [these airlines’] content will not be in NDC [and] we will be in a hybrid world. It is going to be a hybrid world for five to 10 years.”

She recalled the time it took Iata to phase out paper tickets, noting: “The last paper ticket was written in May this year.” Iata declared “100% electronic ticketing” in 2008 after adopting global e-ticketing standards in 1997. De Bono said: “That was just putting paper tickets in digital form. NDC is a lot bigger.”

NDC systems will differ markedly from GDS systems. De Bono explained: “The NDC world is stripped down to ‘shop, order, pay’. It will have ‘offers’ instead of fares and ‘orders’ instead of PNRs [passenger name records].”

She said: “There is mismatch between the GDS PNR and an NDC order. We explored multiple ways to integrate NDC. One option was to keep NDC separate, but that posed an integration and maintenance nightmare. A second was to hide NDC content behind GDS content. There would be a massive benefit in reduced disruption, but it would limit the potential of NDC and not be future proof.

“A third option was to hide GDS content behind NDC content. That involves a lot of changes but the unanimous feeling among agents was ‘better do it once and do it properly’.”

De Bono said: “The first bookings are happening now. This will go live in the next few weeks.” She promised “an industrial version next year” but said: “This is a big change. Performance has to be centre stage [and] it’s costing so much money.”

Cost of distribution

NDC is “all about airlines trying to reduce their cost of distribution”, according to Dnata Travel Europe chief executive John Bevan.

He told the Amadeus-sponsored discussion of NDC at Abta’s Travel Convention: “Airlines are trying to change the model. This is about airlines trying to reduce their cost of distribution.”

Bevan said Dnata is creating its own NDC solution “because we feel we have to, because a whole bunch of fares are not going be available through the GDS”.

He said: “British Airways is quite a long way down the line [with NDC]. Most of its European fares are available through NDC.”

Bevan insisted: “The airlines underestimate what you do for them. They can cope with one agency doing a few routes [via NDC], but they are going to need huge IT departments.”

Ken McLeod, SPAA president and Advantage Travel Partnership director for industry affairs, said: “The airlines have stated they have three aims. They want to sell more product. They want customers to be able to see product to differentiate, and they want to break the monopoly of the GDSs.

“My concern is we will spend all this money and some other technology will come out.”