Airlines must take full advantage of the web to generate more sales if they are to weather the storm created by rising oil prices, according to the 10th SITA and Airline Business Airline IT Trends Survey.
The survey was released at the annual SITA Air Transport IT Summit. Paul Coby, SITA chairman, said, "Airlines were the first industry to fully automate all parts of their business. The air transport industry has now become the world's first truly web-enabled industry.
"IT enabled airlines to make both major savings and improve customer service after 9/11. But in these challenging times with oil at over £65 a barrel, there is now an even more urgent need to deploy technology to serve airline customers, save costs and to equip airline staff with effective technology to do their jobs better."
Among the record 121 airlines responding to this year's survey, the online sales average was only 24% generated from their own website, the survey found.
This varied from 43% in North America to just less than 10% in Africa and the Middle East.
Selling online has already massively helped to drive down distribution costs, saving airlines in the region of £1bn, Coby said.
"The adoption of new generation Web 2.0 technology can deliver greater sales and greater savings, and better returns from the £5.5bn invested in IT annually across the industry," he said.
Since the first Airline IT Trends survey in 1999, airlines have invested about £50bn in IT and communications. As a percentage of revenues, the average airline IT spend is now 2.2%.
At an industry level, this equates to about £5.5bn this year, which represents an increase of 5% on last year.
Top IT investment areas included passenger processing and services (63%), aircraft management and operations (44%), passenger security (34%), and employee security (21%).
Airlines are forecasting that although only 1% of passengers use mobile phones for check-in today, this will rise to 6% next year, by which time more than half of airlines will offer the service.
The following airline self-service initiatives are already in place: web check-in, 56% mobile phone check-in, 21% self-boarding kiosks, 21% online trip-change service, 25% and lost baggage self-service, 12%.
The majority of airlines expect to support at least one passenger onboard comms service within a three to four year time frame, covering SMS via mobile phone, GPRS for the Blackberry, voice calls via a mobile phone, or internet access via a laptop.
More than half of respondents say they are planning to charge for these services or to finance them through advertising.