British Airways has broken a 30-year tradition of creating its own software by signing a £20m contract to overhaul the majority of its systems.
Spanish supplier Amadeus is to update the airline's flight booking, departure control, inventory and related systems and provide support.
In an effort to cut costs BA has agreed to give Amadeus a range of its own software, including its check-in system, to adapt and sell on to other companies. Amadeus will integrate BA's existing Babs reservations software into Amadeus Reservations.
Bryan Wilson, BA's director of information management, said customers' inquiries were becoming both more vague and more complex. For example, customers asked what flights were available to the US in the next three months for less than £200.
The existing Babs software, created in the 1960s, was unable to deal with such a broad request, and the cost of updating it would be huge, he said.
Amadeus has been able to afford to develop software this sophisticated through economies of scale - Amadeus Reservations and accompanying services have already been installed by 110 other airlines.
The airlines all use a single copy of Amadeus Reservations and a general database, but the system is segmented, allowing each company to have sole access to its data.
The new system can also provide more information than Babs on additional services, such as car rental.
The contract requires that Amadeus provides "at least as good a service" as BA's existing systems.
The new system will also enable BA to provide better information to customers via its Web site, the airline said.
Wilson said BA had spent what would amount today to £250m on creating and updating its own systems over the years.
"The airlines are ahead of their time because they have had to provide a service which is global and available 24/7 for 30 years," he said.