Aeroflot made an emergency landing

Foreign booking systems disconnected the carrier from distribution.
The two largest systems for booking and selling air tickets - the American Saber and the Spanish Amadeus - have terminated their distribution relationship with Aeroflot. Now the company will have to sell tickets through other systems. Experts say a much bigger threat is the shutdown of inventory systems, which store all the data on the airline's operation, from schedules to fleet capacity. A similar move, feared by other carriers, would completely halt sales. Of the largest companies, only Utair is fully connected to domestic booking systems.

The decision of Saber and Amadeus to disconnect Aeroflot from their distribution systems (global distribution system, GDS) will not lead to critical consequences and only means the loss of one of the many ticket sales channels, market participants and experts say to Kommersant. The American Saber announced the termination of the distribution agreement with the Russian carrier on March 3. They emphasized that Saber will remove all information about Aeroflot flights from its GDS, marketplaces, travel agencies and travel portals "for making purchases, booking and servicing airline tickets." Amadeus circulated a similar message. Aeroflot stressed that they "will continue to provide transportation for passengers."

Most Russian carriers are connected to the three largest booking systems: Saber, Amadeus and Travelport (UK). Their GDS are the global distribution systems that each provider has. Most airlines in Russia work with Saber as a distribution channel, says Dmitry Krasnov, an independent expert and former vice president of SITA in Russia. The GDS systems of the three largest players, he explains, "are in serious competition for their share of the major international markets," which varies from country to country.

According to Mr. Krasnov, for Aeroflot and Rossiya the problem looks more significant than it would be for others, since these carriers also store all their data in the Saber inventory system.

“Any company strives to use the distribution system of the organization where it stores its resources, that is, it also uses the inventory system. So, if the carrier stores data in Saber, then it is cheaper to sell places through Saber, even if sales go through travel agencies,” the expert explains. According to Kommersant's source in the Transport Clearing House, the share of sales through the leading GDS systems accounted for from 30% for S7 to 50% for Aeroflot, and he gives similar data for other carriers. The rest is direct sales and other channels.

Since 2020, Pobeda has been using the new booking system of the Spanish Newshore, integrated with Navitaire (Amadeus structure), on which the carrier worked before. S7 and Ural Airlines are fully connected to Amadeus. 59 companies are connected to the Russian Leonardo booking system (the structure of the largest player Sirena Travel), of which only one major carrier, Utair, uses it as an inventory one. Other clients include NordWind, RedWings and Rossiya charter flights.

It is the shutdown of the inventory system, where information about the schedule, availability of seats, tariffs, aircraft capacities, can be fatal for carriers. “Simultaneous shutdown of inventory systems will be a fantastic loss and will actually stop the carrier's sales,” says Mr. Krasnov, noting that there have been no such precedents anywhere in the world so far. According to Kommersant's interlocutors in the aviation industry, Saber even works in Iran with special permission from the US Treasury. The only country in the world that does not have a GDS is North Korea.

Mikhail Poluboyarinov, CEO of Aeroflot, September 2, 2021:

“We are going according to plan - the transfer (of booking systems in the Russian Federation. - Kommersant) will be completed in October this year. In any case, the transfer process will not affect our work technically.”

“Domestic booking systems, obviously, did not satisfy the needs of Russian airlines until recent events - for example, the functionality necessary for working in the OneWorld alliances in the case of S7, and SkyTeam - with Aeroflot, was hardly supported there,” explains Mr. Krasnov, noting that now the relevance of the work of Russian airlines in alliances is "a big question."

According to Kommersant's sources, airlines fear that foreign booking systems will escalate and turn off inventory systems. The change of booking systems, according to interviewed experts and sources in the airlines, takes from a year to two and a half years. In the most stressful scenario, the transition is possible at least in a year, says one of Kommersant's interlocutors, noting that in this case, interruptions in work are possible.

The full cycle of S7 migration to Amadeus took about two and a half years. “One-time transfer of such data arrays will not work - this is a huge investment and amount of work,” continues Dmitry Krasnov. “In addition, the functionality of the systems also differs - Amadeus and Saber have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in their software. The airlines are also not sure whether domestic booking systems will be able to provide the same high level of functionality.”

So far, all known suspensions of flights to foreign countries occur due to the risk of withdrawal of aircraft.

Some market participants attribute this to the decision of S7 Airlines on February 25 to cancel flights to a number of countries: on March 3, the company expanded the list of closed destinations, including, in particular, Thailand and Egypt.

S7's official statement says that "the company was forced to partially reduce the flight program due to the restrictions imposed," while flights to Dubai and Antalya remain.

A Kommersant source in one of the airlines claims that against this background, the carriers received a telegram from the authorities demanding "not to make decisions to suspend aircraft flights without confirmation from the Federal Air Transport Agency." However, according to Kommersant, at least two more carriers are going to stop flying to some countries from March 4, as they received a demand to return the aircraft from European lessors.