A road to revolution? NDC marks key milestones as Travelport concludes ‘first’ ticket sale and Skyscanner joins NDC Exchange

IATA’s New Distribution Capability (NDC) has been around now for some time, but this week it took a significant step forward after it emerged that Travelport passed a significant milestone in the process after the travel commerce platform managed the live booking of flights using the NDC technical standard. The company says it is the ‘first’ GDS operator to make such a booking, which was facilitated by its Smartpoint agency point of sale.


Summary:

  • IATA’s New Distribution Capability (NDC) has been around now for some time, but this week it took a significant step forward with its first flight booking;
  • The first transaction was made by British agency Meon Valley Travel for a short-haul low-cost flight from London to Milan issued by a major European carrier.
  • IATA’s NDC continues to be a focus for airlines and technology providers around the world, not to mention travel agency who are directly impacted by the technology.
  • in another landmark, Skyscanner has become the first travel search engine to join the NDC Exchange platform developed by ATPCO and SITA.

The first transaction was made by a British agency, Meon Valley Travel, on Friday 19 October for a short-haul low-cost flight from London to Milan issued by a major European carrier. Travelport declines to name the carrier involved in the transaction booked by the Petersfield, Hampshire-headquartered travel management company, but easyJet, Flybe and Ryanair all serve the European city pair.

IATA’s NDC continues to be a focus for airlines and technology providers around the world, not to mention travel agency who are directly impacted by the technology. According to IATA, the NDC Standard is designed to enhance the capability of communications between airlines and travel agents. In the example of Travelport’s Smartpoint system the new capability allows bookings to be made for any services on the airline without incurring a surcharge and is the first of a series of products the company says it is developing to accommodate changing airline distribution methods.

The airline industry has been developing NDC since 2012 with the aim of extending customisation to agents and establishing closer relationships between airlines and customers. The long time it has taken for progress has even seen many industry specialists describe it as ‘Old’ New Distribution Capability due to the ongoing development in technology.

NDC is a messaging protocol based on XML and has been described a little like the early days of the internet and will lay the foundation for technology companies to build sophisticated retailing capabilities on top of the NDC protocol that improve the travel experience.

Travelport published a roadmap for its initial range of NDC products in February this year, having been the first GDS operator in Dec-2017 to acquire Level 3 certification from IATA as an aggregator. This status is necessary for any organisation seeking to provide vital offer and order management functions.

Over the next few months the first version of the NDC capability launched this week will be used by a steadily increasing number of agencies and airlines as part of the NDC rollout, according to Travelport. It will also be followed by a series of product enhancements, including a version for online agents in 2019.

Given the complexity of the technology, Travelport has pledged to continue to develop these products in consultation with a wide range of agencies and airlines globally. Gordon Wilson, Travelport’s president and CEO, describes the flight transaction as “a landmark moment for airline distribution… bringing the NDC era to life.”

Meanwhile, in another landmark for NDC, Skyscanner has become the first travel search engine to join the NDC Exchange platform developed by the Airline Tariff Publishing Company (ATPCO) and SITA that simplifies the adoption of the NDC standard and which enables airline to connect directly to a new distribution ecosystem.

Hugh Aitken, senior commercial director of Skyscanner, says the platform will bring many benefits to its partners and help provide a consistent product offering across the entire travel distribution ecosystem. “We want to bring airline products on Skyscanner’s site as close to the direct experience as possible, with carriers controlling their products and brand while benefiting from our traffic, and audience, across a range of devices,” he adds.

The NDC Exchange community platform facilitates the real-time NDC connectivity between airlines and sellers (GDSs, travel agents, aggregators, OTAs, and TMCs) so that they can exchange NDC messages easily and cost effectively. In Aug-2018 Air Canada became the first global airline to process a NDC production transaction via the NDC Exchange. Recently, major airline brands such as British Airways, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, the carriers of the LATAM Airlines group and Finnair all also confirmed plans to participate in the community platform.