In February, I was discussing NDC in a meeting in London alongside a senior IATA executive and some very experienced representatives of the corporate travel world.
In the usual back-and-forth of debate we touched on something which, on the surface, seemed like an obscure - almost theological - point on the merits of something called “16.1” and “17.2.”
As eyes inevitably glazed over I explained that these refer to versions of IATA’s NDC technical standard, with “16.1” meaning the first version it rolled out in 2016 and “17.2” the second one in 2017.
Why, I hear you ask, does all this matter? Surely these are all basically the same, aren’t they?
Well, yes and no.
They are all, of course, standards which enable airlines to connect directly to other organizations to sell their full range of inventory. That is the whole point of NDC.
The standards have been in place for a few years already and thousands of NDC-enabled bookings have been made - many with the five airlines now deploying NDC on Travelport’s platform.
But, just as a 1920s Ford Model T car can still perform the basic function of driving on a highway on four wheels, you would not want to use it except for sentimental reasons.
It’s the same with NDC. The 16.1 standard will only get you so far. You can just about book an airline seat with it. But not much else. So it is not much use to anybody.
That is why, from March 2019, IATA will only certify NDC connections based on its 17.2 and subsequent versions. That means every connection will need to be sufficiently compatible to enable air offer shopping and ordering as a minimum.
Also from March, IATA has introduced NDC Level 4 “Full Offer/Order Management” for airlines.
This can now support full servicing, including voluntary and importantly involuntary changes such as schedule changes. These are critical functions for users of the intermediary channel.
It is great news for the industry that such standards are advancing as we enter this new era. It means there will be even stronger standards of compatibility underpinning the NDC era.
The recent change has highlighted how the pace of implementation of NDC has been affected by the slow rate of adoption of the more up-to-date NDC standards by many airlines in the past two years or so.
It hampered progress towards the “20/20/20” IATA goal of 20% of content from 20% of carriers to be distributed through NDC by 2020.
Many of the carriers - even among NDC’s strongest supporters - were slow to adapt to the new 17.2 standard. But now at last they have.
It illustrates the very complicated nature of creating a thriving NDC ecosystem. Each component has to be compatible with each other. Unlike the Model T, no two NDC connections will be the same.
NDC continues what we’ve always done at Travelport: providing choice to our customers through relevant, bookable content from whichever distribution method a supplier chooses to connect to us.
That is why we say 2019, as the is a year of delivery, will be a hard but rewarding time.
We are working with dozens of airlines already on plugging into their systems, many of them still under construction, and connecting them with agility to the wider world in a seamless and compatible chain.