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Fri 1 Jun 2007 12:00 AM

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Airline representative dismisses rival’s e-ticketing concerns

Middle East airlines that have criticised the e-ticketing deadline are worrying over nothing, according to Qatar Airways' Stephane Baudemont.

Middle East airlines that have criticised the e-ticketing deadline are worrying over nothing, according to Qatar Airways' Stephane Baudemont.

Industry body International Air Transport Association has given the region's carriers until December 31 to issue all tickets electronically. The ruling has sparked concern among airlines that say they will struggle to convert paper interline agreements to electronic ones by year-end.

To make the switch within the timeframe, carriers like Gulf Air plan to drop some interline agreements - which allow passengers to use multiple carriers on one journey.

But Baudemont believes most interline agreements generate poor returns for airlines. "We have about 200 interline agreements and some don't even generate a ticket per year, so there's no point keeping them," said QA's interline, tariff and distribution manager.

"It's a good opportunity for all airlines to look at their business and say, ‘I have 200 agreements and only 60 are generating 98% of my business'. It's like that for most airlines - you often find there are only a few agreements that generate most of the business."

Widespread concern led to IATA reconsidering the deadline during its annual general meeting this month. But the organisation's Dr Majdi Sabri insisted there were no plans to extend it. As it stands, QA will drop underperforming agreements and complete the electronic conversion before year-end, according to Baudemont. Emirates is also confident of meeting the December 31 deadline, but other carriers are still worried about making the switch.

"Interlining is giving and taking," said Lars Denlew, Gulf Air's head of distribution and e-commerce. "Some airlines will suffer tremendously because they are dependent on that large airline feeding traffic to their network and that will not be possible to do without an interline e-ticketing agreement."

Denlew believes Gulf Air will only convert 50 of its 200 agreements, forcing it to cancel more than 100 contracts with other carriers. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabian Airlines recently admitted it will struggle to change more than 70 of 200 paper interline agreements.

But Baudemont insists dropping low-return agreements and carrying out fewer tests following the switch to electronic ones will help. He said: "Testing involves issuing tickets and checking what they look like. With just basic testing, you can do a lot in a short period of time, but some airlines don't realise that. They still do heavy testing, which is completely useless. Some airlines insist on doing two months testing when in two hours it's done."

Baudemont also dismisses claims that converting to electronic agreements will cost airlines US$25,000 each. "We pay between $5300 and $9400 per implementation for each agreement," he said. "There's no point paying for a carrier with which you only interline once a year - it's not justified."

An IATA report revealed that the Middle East had the largest increase in electronic ticketing volumes during this year's opening quarter - climbing to 39% from 23%. Nevertheless, the region still lags behind the rest of the world.

It's understood that low internet usage in Middle East countries is an ongoing concern for the region's airlines. In reponse, Iranian carrier Mahan Air has already said it will continue issuing paper tickets for domestic routes after the e-ticketing deadline. "We feel that if we go totally electronic, it will probably harm our business," said Hossein Hosseini, director of marketing at Mahan Air. "I think within 2008 and probably the first half of 2009, we will have enterprises that will continue with the paper ticket," Hosseini added.

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