Airlines face major technology challenges as the UK skies open following days of disruption caused by Icelandic volcanic ash, experts have warned.
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Potential IT issues could be found in areas such as infrastructure, customer-facing systems such as web sites and operations, said Juergen Koelle, senior director of portfolio marketing at Sita, a supplier to the aviation industry.
"Online systems, for example, will be under immense stress - normally you would have an immediate response [for web services such as bookings], but these things may take a while now due to the sheer volume of traffic," said Koelle.
"Passengers are using airline and airport websites to find information, but many of them have not catered for the increased capacity required, which has meant slow response times," he added.
Operators such as Eurostar and Ryanair are among the businesses reported to have suffered web downtime due to increasing passenger demands for information.
Enhancing web operations has been a major area of focus for IT at British Airways during recessionary times. The company has been employing agile development methodologies and tools such as service-oriented architecture to make the platform more resilient and to respond to market changes.
"BA.com is a very robust platform and is functioning as normal. We have not had any reports of any issues related to it so far," said a BA spokesman.
Sales and reservations systems are also under pressure, according to Koelle. As passengers seek to rebook flights, airlines' sales reservations systems are under more pressure than usual, particularly when it comes to re -issuing and re-pricing seats.
"However, it should be noted that the sales and reservations systems are typically better able to cope than the websites," he said.
As hundreds of thousands of passengers slowly return home, carriers also face challenges from a logistical perspective since planes and crew were also left stranded since UK airspace was closed last week.
According to Koelle, this will also mean flight and crew planning systems will be under pressure to ensure that operations staff has up-to-date, correct information on flights and on-board personnel.
However, there are lessons that can be learnt from volcanic ash situation that can be applied by IT leaders in the sector, says Koelle.
"Airlines are used to handling disruption, typically as a result of bad weather. The current situation is unprecedented in terms of the length of time involved, but there are some longer-term IT investments airlines can make to prepare for similar situations in future," he added.
Increased automation of flight and operations planning is one of the areas that deserve attention, according to Koelle, as well as increased use of passenger self-service, which can relieve pressure on staff during times of disruption.
Improved automation of passenger reservation and re-booking capabilities over the web are also part of the recommended areas of focus, as is better application of mobile technology to keep passengers informed in such situations.
According to Sita's passenger self-service survey, there has been a 20% increase in the adoption of self-service facilities across airlines worldwide.
There is also a customer appetite for such technologies. The study adds that passengers are also positive about mobile check-in and the majority of customers would welcome future usage of online capabilities such as modifying a reservation online, changing or selecting a seat or updating frequent flyer information.