CAPA Airline Leader Summit: A CEO Gathering 2017 – PART ONE

CAPA’s Airline Leader Summit rolled into Dublin last week on the 11th and 12th May. Hosted by Dublin Airport and Cork Airport, the event included a variety of high profile industry leaders discussing topical issues related to aviation.

Below is a summary of the key points raised during the event.


Skyscanner director business development Hugh Aitken, stated:

  • There is a scepticism of the value of data that is not directly generated by a business, but suggested they should be more open to securing complementary material to support their own findings. “There is no one area of truth”, he said. “We now have the ability to look at billions of lines of data. All this together delivers the final piece of information that will hopefully give us the answers we need”.


Farelogix president and CEO Jim Davidson, stated:

  • I urge airlines to “take back control” of their own data and stop others from having it and making money with it. “If enough airlines become the source and make folks come to you, then they will have better control”, he said “You become the single source of truth”. As it stands, he noted that airlines lack visibility of who is looking at their product and should have systems in place to react to things. “They can’t actually see what is happening and who is looking at the products”, developing a silo effect. “It’s out there but they can’t reach it”, he added.


Amadeus senior value engineer travel intelligence David Stoyle, stated:

  • That businesses should start looking for patterns with their data and stop being obsessed with the processes and collection. “It’s what you do with it, not how much you have of it”, he said. He also noted that to get the best benefit from the data it can take an awful long time to clean the material for relevant use. “Having it at the right place at the right time is also a big challenge”, he added. director partnerships EMEA Toni Raurich Marcet, stated:

  • All areas of a company should be given access to data, not just a single department that may not be aware of how it can be best and quickly used. As an example of quick transfer of data to delivery, uses weather information to modify its site. “When it starts raining in London we change the ranking of material we have on the site”, he said.

Troovo CEO:

Troovo CEO and ACTE president Kurt Knackstedt, stated:

  • that data has become the most valuable resource in the world, even more so than oil. The big question he said is “how do you mine it to make it more efficient”.

Malaysia Airlines:

Malaysia Airlines Group MD and CEO Peter Bellew, stated:

  • Around 50% of the airline’s bookings continue to be made via travel agencies. “I don’t see that changing quickly. All the application programming interfaces (APIs) in the world are not going to change that”.


IAG CEO Willie Walsh, stated:

  • That as an industry we need to “start making data better work for us and stop being fearful of making mistakes”. He highlighted that there is a lot we can’t do or simply don’t understand and we can therefore learn from others. “I’ve never had a problem in my organisation to try things and failing”, he added.


SAP GM and global head of travel and transportation Paul Pessutti, stated:

  • Airlines need to avoid any data disruption. They need to own the customer journey, leverage retail best practices, tie together the front, middle and back office functions, turn data insights into action and ultimately transform into a digital airline;
  • “digital transformation is driving fundamental change”. He said beyond distribution, commerce and finance an end-to-end process and platform has to be in place. He added that the cloud is the “biggest area of opportunity that airlines aren’t currently taking advantage of”.


easyJet group director strategy and network Cath Lynn, stated:

  • Data is “one of our most valuable assets” with material ranging from customer information, operational performance from aircraft and ground service providers helping to predict business trends such as predictive maintenance, network performance, customer relationship management etc. As well as its immediate uses she noted the need to “look after and store data” today as we may “not actually know how it will be used” tomorrow. “Individually all the data sets are gems of information. We don’t yet know how they can be put together to make a jewel. We need to hold it for use in the future”, she added.


Datalex CMO Ornagh Hoban, stated:

  • Digital transformation is a “boardroom decision” that needs to be made with a “very clear statement of intent to make change”. She said that the early adopters and innovators “have to make courageous moves” for the laggards to catch up and allow the processes of change to “develop at a pace”. Ms Hoban also said that airline brands will remain important despite third parties disrupting the sale of travel. “The airline is the service provider and provides the customer experience; that is not going to change whoever sells the itinerary”, she said. She also predicted a future that will deliver “a different supply chain and distribution model”, with consideration that airlines could ultimately in the future, in her own wishes, become retail channels.


CityJet executive chairman and CEO Patrick Byrne, stated:

  • Brands remain important in aviation due to the relationship with the customer and maintaining customer trust, but he noted that increasingly it could simply evolve to a price and time dominated decision-making process. “Even though larger carriers are asleep on the job, the sleeping giant will wake and react”, he said. In CityJet’s perspective he said brand is “irrelevant” as it grows its wet lease and third party work. “As a regional airline promoting our own brand is a futile exercise so we have actively been moving to wet lease flying to the big brands, now accounting for 80% of our operation”, he said.


Aeroflot deputy general director for strategy and alliances Giorgio Callegari, stated:

  • Brands are vital, citing the hotel industry as a good example of industry standing up against emerging disruptors. “Only a portfolio of brands allows them a competitive advantage”, he said. However, while he acknowledged that “big data can be a threat”, it remains “an important opportunity for traffic growth”;
  • The deciding factor of acquisition deals is execution. “The ability or ease we can execute the plan is the deciding factor”, he said. The industry has “found so many ways to circumvent” regulatory issues that he described them as “no longer an effective restriction”;
  • The recipe of success for an airline is to be “focused on doing your own business”. He described Lufthansa as a good example of operating “more efficiently” through its acquisitions and resultant synergies, but candidly described its strategy as “killing competition in Switzerland, killing competition in Austria and killing competition in Belgium” in the process.


CarTrawler CTO Bobby Healy, stated:

  • Googleis abusing its’ monopoly position in search and android to position itself between the consumer and the product at the expense of both the consumer, its competitors and partners”;
  • “The top of the trip planning funnel is a beachhead which – if Google controls it – will represent the biggest loss of control of distribution, and consequent rise in cost and margin erosion ever seen by the airline industry”;
  • Evolution with third parties selling travel and providing big data solutions is hitting airlines hard. “You’re doing all the hard work and everyone else is benefitting”, he said. However he believed that airlines can wrestle back some control. “If airlines acted like tech platforms they could take back control”;
  • Airlines need to be better aware of the growing influence of third party data and sales platforms. “If you think that paying USD5 or USD6 per booking is expensive wait until you are paying google USD50 per booking in the future”, he said. Airlines have provided Google with their inventory and pricing data and as such have created the “perfect storm”, a monopoly with “unprecedented access”. “Data is power, power is control. Customer access, insight, data, location. They know everything about your customer”, he warned airlines;
  • Be warned of “Google’s stealth attack on travel”, where it is “going through the value chain eating everyone – starting with top of funnel, reviews/experiences/content, to meta, to OTAs and finally to suppliers”;
  • Brand means absolutely nothing to a consumer when “a monopoly moves it from the display and promotes its own product” and in the process “wipes out meta search channels and pushes them back down the booking funnel”. “Don’t let Google have your data unless it is on your terms”, he warned airlines;
  • Google searches for select hardware products showed that most of the time, the leading ad atop search results was for products sold by Google or companies owned by Google parent Alphabet. “Google and its sister companies appeared in the most prominent spot in 91% of 25,000 recent searches related to such items. In 43% of the searches, the top two ads both were for Google-related products”, he said.