Iata plans to have five New Distribution Capability pilots running by the end of this year having received interest from 18 firms in pioneering the new standard.
Speaking at yesterday’s OpenJaw t-retail Summit in Dublin, Iata NDC manager Andrei Grintchenko sought to assure delegates the move was about taking a pro-customer approach.
And he said this was an industry-wide standard that would be developed with all stakeholders and delivered by the industry.
NDC, which promises a much more sophisticated platform for merchandising air fares, has been met with suspicion, particularly by the GDSs who fear it will prevent comparison shopping.
However, Iata insists the new standard is an update of a system that is 40 years old and is outdated in a market in which airlines need to retail more than just the cost of seats in various cabin categories.
Grintchenko said: “It’s definitely a pro-consumer approach, because it’s ultimately giving more choice and value to the consumer and we also believe strongly it’s pro-competition.
“It will allow airlines to compete on the commodity sale of an airline seat and will provide an opportunity to differentiate and also allow more competition on the value rather than commodity.”
He added: “It’s going, I think, to allow new entrants to go into the aggregation space where it could stimulate some competition.”
Iata will not mandate the use of the new standard, Grintchenko said, and the pilots will start to give some idea on the return on the investment of adopting it.
“We do not have data about the costs of implementation. That’s something that the pilots are going to be helpful with.
“As far as the business case is concerned, everybody is going to decide for themselves as to whether it makes sense to implement in full or limited scope now or in 10 years time.”
Grintchenko said NDC would make more sense for airlines looking to connect with the wider industry in a standardised way and needing to interline with other carriers.
Lowcost carriers “in their own bubble”, not needing such wide interactions with the industry, probably had less drivers to adopt NDC, he said.
“If you want to talk to all bodies in the industry it’s one of the natural drivers [for adopting NDC] so you don’t have to do multiple implementations.”
One of the new entrants in to the world of airfare distribution that could benefit from NDC is Google, which launched Flight Search in the UK earlier this year.
Certainly the vision set out by Grintchenko saw the likes of Google, or even other major online retail players like Amazon, being able to use NDC to offer greater competition to the GDSs.
And speaking in an earlier session at the summit Nicola Simionato, EMEA and APAC general manager at Google’s ITA Software division that powers Flight Search, left little doubt that NDC would be a welcome development.
“It [Flight Search] was a response to the fact that users want more. If you search for flights on Google it’s not enough anymore to have a list of blue links because most of the time that does not answer the real question.
“Flight Search gives you a much more useful answer to that question, giving flight prices and equally importantly the possibility of deep linking to the provider who can fulfil that product.”
Simionato said future iterations of Flight Search would provide up-sell opportunities and offer users more detailed information from airlines and greater visibility of product information.
“We need to open up data as an industry. Airlines enjoy very solid, very reliable technology systems that support distribution, yet today these lack, in my view, flexibility and openness.
“We find it very hard when we talk to our partners to get information out of these systems – sometimes for technical reasons, sometimes cultural.
“The expectation, going back to the user, is that he does not care; he knows it’s a trip and the trip has to be fulfilled by an eco-system of providers and they are expected to talk to each other more and more effectively.”
Simionato likened Google’s approach to travel to a jigsaw, the search giant putting the pieces together to help travellers organise and plan their trips.
This meant the same information needed to be available in all relevant Google products like Maps and Hotel Finder so the whole picture can be put together.