After a rocky and controversial start, IATA’s New Distribution Capability (NDC) standard is gradually starting to see the light of day in the computer programs that agents use every day.

Across the breadth of the industry, companies are going through IATA’s certification process, which ensures that airlines, agents, aggregators and vendors have the capability to send and receive NDC messages. A few have already completed the process.

Elsewhere, airlines, GDSs and technology companies are working to deploy the NDC standard to offer agents the chance to sell ancillary products, such as seat upgrades. Within the GDSs, travel agents often see no difference between products available to them because of NDC technology and other products, causing minimal, if any, interruptions in their workflow.

Last fall, IATA announced a certification program available to several groups: airlines that deploy an NDC application program interface (API); agents and aggregators that use the APIs; and vendors that offer NDC products or services to airlines and distributors. Certification is awarded at three levels — NDC Level 1, 2 and 3 — based on the company’s capabilities and offerings.

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Yanik Hoyles, the director of the NDC program at IATA, said certification is important to ensure that companies’ products are compliant with the NDC standard.

“Certification, it’s simply about being transparent,” he said. All certified companies will be listed on IATA’s website, he said, so that visitors to the site “will be able to see those partners with whom it will be particularly easy to connect.”

While IATA will not release a list of certified companies until the summer, some have already announced their certifications. TPConnects, a technology company that offers a variety of solutions such as merchandising and booking engines, announced in late December that it had become the first supplier to receive dual NDC Level 3 certification as both a vendor and an aggregator.

Kristine Fernandez, TPConnects’ director of business development, said the certification “provides transparency, credibility, as well as validates the capability of our solution.”

Phocuswright analyst Bob Offutt said certification is necessary because it ensures a company’s NDC messages are properly tagged according to NDC specifications.

Analyst Henry Harteveldt of Atmosphere Research Group said that a company’s NDC certification should give travel partners a level of comfort in working with them.

“Of course, a lot depends on the company and their own business reputation with agents,” he said. “NDC certification alone isn’t enough … to make a questionable vendor stand out as good. But if the company is well-run, if it’s respected, if its agency clients feel [the company is] doing a good job, this certification further adds to its credibility and improves its appeal within the marketplace.”

Meanwhile, other travel companies are in the process of getting certified but have been working with NDC for some time.

Farelogix, a technology company that is currently seeking certification, donated the first NDC schema to IATA years ago. Today, CEO Jim Davidson said the company offers a handful of products, including NDC-Xpress, the platform on which Farelogix builds APIs for the airlines, which then set pricing and merchandising and distribute the NDC API to travel sellers.

Farelogix is working with several airlines and GDSs. For example, Davidson said, the company worked with Sabre so the GDS could accept an American Airlines API that enabled agents to sell upgraded seats. Davidson called that a “huge” milestone in the history of NDC deployment.

Additionally, Farelogix recently announced a partnership with the Airline Tariff Publishing Co. (ATPCO). The two will create the Ancillary Offer Engine, which will enable airlines to distribute merchandising offers across multiple channels using NDC messaging standards.

Amadeus also offers travel agents the ability to sell ancillary products that airlines have enabled in the GDS, such as United’s Economy Plus extra-legroom seats.

Scott Alvis, Amadeus’ chief marketing officer in North America, said airlines have a variety of ways to connect to the GDS, but regardless of what type of connection they use, NDC included — travel agents likely won’t notice much difference in their workflow.

For example, with seat upgrades: “Now, on the seat map, they just see a different designation for seats,” Alvis said. “They see some that are chargeable and some that are not chargeable. Previously, none of them were chargeable.”

Each implementation, he said, can take years’ worth of programmer-hours to develop. “But by the time it hits the travel agency stream, we’ve tried to make it extremely simple.”

That simplicity, in fact, is the whole idea behind NDC, according to Harteveldt.

“The intention of NDC is for everything to be integrated into the workflows that agents use so that, frankly, it doesn’t add much time,” he said. “If anything, I think it will help them save time because they won’t have to go to so many different resources and go through so many steps to book and process buying ancillary products for their clients.”


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