IATA moves from Teletype onto Web

Delays are nothing new in the airline industry. But by the time the International Air Transport Association was able to get some much-needed information to the airlines it serves, the data was too old to be of much use.

So the Montreal-based IATA, a trade association of 280 airlines, turned to Information Builders Inc. (IBI) to help it build a new container messaging system.

IATA needed a new way to help its airlines keep track of their cargo containers, which can be worth anywhere from $1,000 to $35,000. At any given point, about five per cent of those containers are in the hands of other airlines or a third party, such as a post office. If one airline has another airline’s containers for more than five days, they pay a rental fee. If an airline’s container isn’t returned within six months, then it’s considered lost and must be paid for by the carrier who last had it in its possession.

“That gets ugly when a carrier loses control. So you get a carrier that’s been accumulating other people’s equipment but not reporting it back, then you pay a lot of money,” said Ted McEvoy, manager of cargo business planning at IATA in Montreal.

The problem was that IATA’s existing system was a teletype system, and although the airlines were reporting into the organization whose containers they had in their possession 24 x 7, IATA was only able to report the information back to the appropriate airlines on a weekly basis. But for an airline trying to find its equipment, getting a report that was a week old, wasn’t of much use.

“It’s like reading yesterday’s newspaper,” McEvoy said.

Also, those in the field who needed the information most weren’t necessarily the ones getting the information. Now, anyone with a password can access the Web-based system that IATA built with the help of Information Builder’s WebFOCUS business intelligence solution. IATA already had a relationship with IBI -company had already helped IATA transition from a mainframe-based operation to a PC-based LAN.

Now that the process is Web based, the reports can be generated and sent out as the information is received.

“We were able to provide them access to the data so they could get data relatively real time,” said Jim Ivers, director of business strategy for IBI in New York.

Because language was a barrier – only about a third of the members have English as their first language – IATA created a very tight messaging system. So, with the older system, if a message wasn’t formatted correctly, the machine would kick it back, but not to the person who sent the message.

McEvoy’s assistant would get the message – and if it was a simple error, she could fix it herself – if not, then the message would have to be sent back to the airline. The problem was, because IATA was dealing with airlines all over the world operating in all of the different time zones, if an incorrect message was sent at 5:05 p.m. EST on a Friday, no one would see it until Monday morning, which could delay the information even more. With the new solution, a message is sent back instantly to the originator if an error occurs.

But because IATA deals with airlines all over the world, some of them with very limited resources, it needs to keep the legacy Teletype system up and running as well. Although not all of IATA’s members will be using the Web route, the new system will allow third parties, such as post offices, to input information. The Teletype system was available only to airlines, but containers could often disappear into post offices for days.

“What we are looking for now is to add these other non-airline clients, so we can fill the holes in the picture,” McEvoy said.

He also hopes eventually to bring other transport systems, such as railways and ships, into the system.