How OAG has adapted data services for return to airline travel

Covid-19 led to radical changes across the travel sector. Despite lower passenger flows, global travel data provider OAG reworked its data offerings to prepare for a return to normal

OAG provides data to the travel industry. Its information services are used by airlines, airport operators and travel agents to understand passenger flows, and such information helps drive optimisation and new business opportunities.

But with massive reductions in airline travel during the pandemic, passenger numbers plummeted. The company had time to reassess its data services, building out new offerings to prepare for the time when passenger numbers begin returning to normal.

For some leaders in aviation, advanced analytics could help airlines and airports plot a path through the easing of restrictions as passengers start to return to foreign travel.

Reflecting on the impact of the pandemic on the airline industry, OAG’s CTO, Nick Dearden, says: “There has been a lot of financial propping up of the airlines and trimming down of operational staff force.”

He says that a lot of data is being shared bidirectionally with airport operators. Airports have remained operational during the pandemic, but clearly they have been operating at far less capacity. “All the same activities need to happen, just at a lesser level,” he adds.

According to Dearden, data is critical as the airline sector anticipates recovery. At OAG, he heads up and is responsible for the data and analytics platform the company provides to its customers. His role involves modernisation and selecting the appropriate technology to enable the business to drive innovation.

Surviving Covid-19

Dearden says that airlines, airports and associated industries such as online travel agents and insurance services for airports are all interested in the flow of people. This data helps such organisations determine business opportunities and improve operational efficiency. With the pandemic putting a blocker on international travel, OAG needed to assess how it would move forward.

“As soon as Covid came to Europe, we took early action to understand what we needed to do to survive as a business,” says Dearden. “We didn’t know what would happen to our customer base.”

OAG has been in existence since 1929 and has a vast amount of data about travel. Among the key challenges, says Dearden, was looking at how to make use of artificial intelligence (AI) to help customers answer new questions.

The company decided that a data platform would offer the best option for its customers, and so selected Snowflake. In November 2020, it joined forces with Snowflake, giving customers access to OAG’s Global Flight Schedules data directly from their Snowflake account.

In April 2021, the company introduced OAG Metis, an open platform powered by Microsoft Azure and Snowflake, which provides customers with access to a blended and configurable view of flight information, including airline schedules and flight status.

Metis is behind the company’s recently launched Flight Info API and Flight Info Direct, which is designed to expedite processing and allow flexible access to raw OAG data. “We have loads in the pipeline,” Dearden says. “The ability for people to be just notified of delays will be very important, as is having all the information in one place.”

According to Dearden, there are nearly 50 organisations trialling the OAG platform on the Snowflake Data Marketplace. “We have a lot of trials in the Snowflake marketplace, and there’s a lot of cross-pollination. We have converted some to paying customers.”

In February, OAG agreed a partnership with International Air Transport Association (IATA) to provide schedule and reference data via its new cloud platform.

The two companies said that the supply of reference and schedules data provided via the Snowflake platform will offer customers “the richest and freshest version of schedules data available in the market”.

At the time, Charles de Gheldere, director aviation data at IATA, said: “Covid-19’s ongoing impact on traffic volatility has made it critical to power our products with the most up-to-date data available.

“Our strengthened partnership with OAG supplies our airport customers with fresh and accurate data and a highly innovative, modern and flexible cloud-based platform. The combined IATA and OAG offerings enable airports to operate more intelligently and efficiently while navigating one of the most unpredictable periods in our industry’s lifetime.”

With regards to the IATA partnership, Dearden says: “IATA now has more efficient access to the data – our platform will continue to evolve with easier and easier data access.”

There is no doubt that easing coronavirus restrictions will lead to some people returning to foreign travel. What remains to be seen is how quickly families start booking summer holidays abroad and the extent to which business travel resumes.

Over the coming months airports, airlines and travel agents will no doubt be analysing passenger numbers. Dearden says OAG has prepared for the volatility in the travel market with new approaches to access the passenger data it collates.

It has also recently developed an alert system, where customers can receive alerts on changes to the data they are most interested in. “We have transformed our tech offering,” adds Dearden.

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