Virgin Blue doesn’t think software is so Cute

Dirty play, or the hint of it, is enough reason for Australia’s budget airline Virgin Blue’s refusal to bow to Sydney Airport’s demand it uses its IT infrastructure.

The newly-purchased Sydney Airports Corporation Limited (SACL) and the no-frills airline are thrashing out solutions to a dispute concerning access to the 18-gate, former Ansett domestic terminal. At the center of the row is Sydney Airport’s insistence that Virgin Blue uses its Common User Terminal Emulation (Cute) IT network.

Virgin Blue uses Hewlett-Packard Co.’s Open Skies product, and has been, along with defunct carrier Impulse Airlines, using the system within the airport’s express terminal.

Nick Brant, head of IT for Virgin Blue, said: “We are not opposed to Cute, but what we don’t like is that we’ve been told we must use it. We don’t know much about it, (or whether) we can get it to work (with our system).”

“If we integrated Cute with Open Skies, we don’t know how it would fit with our processes and procedures. We don’t know how easy the integration would be as there is no test bed that we are aware of.”

Brant said Virgin Blue had been trying to contact Sydney Airport about the technical integration issues, but “they have not come back to us.”

He said Virgin Blue was also concerned about Cute’s security, because other airlines would be accessing the same system.

“What would be the log-on procedure? We don’t know how it would be maintained and what exposure we will have to security issues. (We don’t know whether) other airlines will be able to see our guest information.”

While Qantas and Ansett used their own infrastructure within the domestic terminal, since the demise of Ansett and the purchase of the terminal by Sydney Airport, this practice has come under review.

Michael del Vecchio, project engineer for Sydney Airport, said: “SACL is looking to replicate its existing SIT (Sydney International Terminal) systems into the domestic area.”

He said the company was looking at the existing infrastructure and “how it fits into our corporate goals.”

“Because we will be responsible for maintaining that. So we are trying to roll out our existing systems over there or maybe tailor the existing systems that are there.”

Del Vecchio said the airport was not yet sure which way IT would go on the matter, as it is “still in a process of development.”

A spokesperson for Australiawide Airlines, new owner of former Ansett regional subsidiaries, Hazelton Airlines and Kendall Airlines, which is also in discussions with Sydney Airport for terminal slots, said it had not been involved in any discussions about using Cute.

“We are reviewing whether to use Hazelton’s system or Kendall’s system or another third system. We are looking at our needs.”

A spokesperson for national airline Qantas said using Cute within its domestic terminal would not be an issue as its Qube (Qantas Universal Business Environment) system “can work” with the system. “It is compatible with our broader systems.”

Virgin Blue’s Brant said Cute is a “great system” suited to international airlines, but not so great for domestic carriers. “Cute is the common way of accessing information within international terminals.”

Brant said as most traditional carriers have a “piecemeal integration” with their phone and Internet reservation systems, using another system to relay passenger information to other international terminals around the world was not a problem.

“However, we have a fully integrated system. We have one database that connects with most CRSs (central reservation systems). Our customers’ check-in and departure information comes from the same database and this saves us costs.”

Brant said while there are some Open Skies’ carriers overseas using Cute, “they are not very happy with it.”