Air France is developing mobile applications that will allow passengers to receive real-time travel alerts, book flights, or download electronic newspapers on their mobile phones and tablets.
The move is essential if the airline is to remain an attractive proposition to its passengers, said Frederic Jacques, operations middleware manager at Air France.
Around 25 years ago, the main source of ticket sales was travel agencies, but that is not the case any more – now the main sales channel is the internet and the main method of access is mobile, he said.
“It’s important for us to have mobile services that are accessible to the user," said Jacques.
In addition to providing passengers with real-time information, the airline is using mobile devices to provide staff with up-to-the-minute information on passenger lists and flight preparation.
Air France has replaced the traditional pilot’s briefcase containing the flight manual with a lightweight iPad, which saves the airline fuel and provides the pilot with detailed information about the plane.
It has also equipped ground staff with mobile phones that help them check information such as fuel status as they prepare aircraft for take-off .
Connecting IT systems
The company is building its mobile services on top of its internally developed enterprise messaging system, based on Tibco technology.
Technology deployed by Air France
Air France uses a standards-based SOA framework composed of:
- Tibco Enterprise Message Service
- Tibco Hawk for Monitoring
- Tibco BusinessWorks
- Tibco BusinessEvents
The system also allows Air France to exchange data with its partner Delta Airlines, which operates on some of Air France's routes, enabling the airlines’ diverse IT systems to communicate and message each other.
The main reason for choosing Tibco technology, was the quality of service, said Jacques, given that IT failure could leave passengers stranded.
The company redeveloped its IT to sit around industry-standard technology, following its merger with KLM in 2004.
However, commercial pressures to develop new mobile and web services quickly are making it difficult to keep to standardisation, said Jacques.
"The business comes to us with the new partner and new supplier and says you must implement this web service with this supplier. And they don’t care if it is not standard. They want us to connect with them," he said.
Outsourcing app development
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"We want first to develop an application, and as soon as it’s operating correctly we want to open it to the internet, which will allow everyone to access those APIs and build their own application," said Jacques.
The company will tender for the technology that will allow it to open up its API's to third party developers.
"We are looking for less internal deployment. We are not an IT enterprise, so we are always a step behind," he said.
Air France is reluctant to move its core systems out of the company, however, and will instead develop a private cloud to host core applications.