Air India: The 'Maharajah' Of Technology Users

by Hinesh Jethwani    Jun 07, 2004

A common adage is that automation can revolutionize any business by delivering ’wings to fly’. In the case of India’s national flag carrier - Air India - technology is more likely to be defined as the wind beneath the wings. CXOtoday decided to find out the degree of automation being used in arguably one of the biggest, most powerful users of technology in the country.

Speaking exclusively to CXOtoday, S. Mukherji, IT-Head, Air India, said, “Air India supports a global network for all its offices and airports. In India, the network utilizes leased lines and is based on open architecture, using protocols like TCP/IP, FR, X.25, etc. Access from locations abroad to central servers at Mumbai is supported through SITA, the airline network service provider. The outstation network is a mix of open and airline specific architectures.”

“Air India’s central computing resources setup consists of UNISYS series 2200 mainframes and several servers on open platforms. The mainframes run on proprietary OS, which supports a Transaction Interface Processing (TIP) environment for its mission critical applications such as passenger reservations, ticketing, advance seat reservations, departure control and freight management. These environments have rugged resource management facilities to ensure that there are no single points of failure. This is achieved by unit duplexing (OS level) and TIP duplexing (environment level) to provide for mirroring and hence redundancy of database. The open systems, either on UNIX or on WIN 2000 OS, are enabled for application High Availability (HA) feature,” added Mukherji.

The distribution channels that Air India uses are either direct - i.e. its own traditional booking offices, or through travel agents, using a Global Distribution Systems (GDS). Another alternate channel that is gaining acceptance steadily, is the online booking facility made available to Internet users from Air India’s website, according to Mukherji.

Describing the use of technology for facilitating the working of internal departments, Mukherji explained, “For our internal users, online systems are in use for Finance, Inventory and M&E applications. DSS applications, Data marts and an Executive Dashboard are also in place. All important offices in India and abroad are networked on our Intranet, called CLICK.”

So what kind of a client server environment does Air India function on? Mukherji replied, “In addition to a PAX reservation system, we have a departure control services application that supports passenger check-in, load planning, boarding pass, baggage tag printing and baggage reconciliation, at 15 airports across the network. In other AI online stations, local Ground Handling Agency (GHA) systems provide these functionalities. Additionally, the AI DCS server is used to provide hosting services for various other airlines at several Indian airports. The freight management software provides for cargo booking, space and terminal control and airway bill creation for AI’s Cargo operations. This system also provides warehouse management for various airlines in the cargo warehouse of Airport Authority of India in Mumbai.”

A new Cargo consignment tracking service has also been initiated through the Internet from Air India’s website.

In addition to the above mission critical applications, a proprietary ERP application for maintenance and engineering has been implemented at Air India. The ERP functions with an in-house developed online revenue and expenditure accounting system, and works in conjunction with the company’s portal for internal users on the Intranet as well as Internet. There are various decision support systems in place, like revenue management, and trend analysis through uplifted coupon data. These applications are based on client server architecture and are accessed globally. Different flavors of client server architecture, such as thin and thick clients, 3-tier and 2-tier systems, are in use today at Air India.

So how does Air India rate itself in comparison with different airlines across the globe, as far as IT usage is concerned? “Air India can be rated to be among the top twenty airlines in the world in terms of the level of IT awareness among users and the level of IT usage,” replied Mukherji.

Recollecting significant IT decisions that completely revolutionized work processes at Air India, Mukherji said, “While there have not been any magic wand solutions, the automation of passenger reservations and airport functions, implementation of online inventory and finance applications, the company intranet and MPLS based IP networking were some of our most path breaking efforts.”

Being the national carrier, Air India cannot afford information leaks or system downtime, and therefore gives top priority to securing its network. “Initially, Air India supported a private closed user group network running on legacy protocols. The database of the mission critical applications based on legacy architecture has inherent security features built in. With the advent of Internet and open protocols, the network is no more closed and access is provided through public network to various applications running on open platforms as well as to legacy mission critical applications. Consequently, Air India has put in an effective network security system in position to guard against external and internal attacks and intrusions such as, hacking, virus, worms etc. Some of the products that we have deployed are Check Point firewalls, a specialized Intrusion Detection System, Internet anti-virus gateway and Content filtering with user access control policy,” informed Mukherji.

Detailing the future roadmap, Mukherji explained, “The current projects on the anvil are an E-Ticketing initiative, enhancement of our web site, setting up of in-house call centers for both international and domestic customers, and building the IT infrastructure for our latest low cost subsidiary airline project.”

Air-India operates flights from 12 Indian cities, with its worldwide network covering more than 44 destinations through its own fleet of 33 aircraft, as well as code-shared flights.

Tags: Air India