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Driving change in aviation is a complex process, but IATA has decades of established leadership, setting industry standards and encouraging airline leaders to think of new ways to manage change. Now that digital has accelerated the pace of change around the world, IATA has turned to experts in Silicon Valley to help airlines keep up.

Leaders from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), with representatives of airlines and airline suppliers, recently visited Silicon Valley for a special Plug and Play event where they found fresh perspectives and inspiration to improve air travel.

The Plug and Play event and Silicon Valley was coordinated in support of IATA’s Simplifying the Business (StB) initiatives which include global passenger experience improvements.

“We wanted to be exposed to the startups and big corporations as well that have a big space in innovation and also understand from the venture capitalists where the trends are coming from,” Stephan Copart, Head of Strategy and StB, FDS Transformation at IATA explains.

“We contacted Plug and Play—which was just starting their travel and hospitality practice, so there was a common interest to build an event there—and they agreed to organize this innovation tour for IATA.”

Plug and Play selected a number of startups for IATA to meet with which matched the objectives of StB that IATA had shared, and organized tours and meetings with Google, IBM Labs, and others.

IATA was focused on technology trends which might address baggage handling and tracking, and streamlining identity management on the ground, including at immigration and security.

“There is a team in IATA today dedicated to finding ways to streamline that and build frameworks around bringing the trust framework around identity verification, and bringing the digital identity with the physical identity and eventually streamlining the process on the ground. Another areas is the payment space,” says Copart.

IATA also wanted the Plug and Play event to inform its B2C focus “how we can remove as much friction as possible for passengers to pay for their products or ancillaries,” Copart adds.

The group also looked at Open APIs to accelerate the time to market of the Association’s industry standards.

“It was really an eye opener, and really inspiring on what we could do and what we could learn from the space and our future initiatives,” Copart says.

For IATA this is about looking beyond incremental changes to what improvements technologies could make possible over the next three to 10 years.

“This year we said we’d like to start from a blank piece of paper again and see what could be the next game changer,” says Copart. “[We’re] trying to identify key things that could be driving our thinking process. The principle being, should we start an airline today—should we start this industry today—would we do it as we have it now? Probably not. Or, probably not in certain areas. Let’s not have a look at legacy, we want to have a look at the things [which could] transform the various areas.”

IATA was determined to have the Plug and Play event encourage industry collaboration and stakeholder buy-in on the idea of working beyond “legacy.”

To ensure this, the group attending the event included Airlines for America, various industry technology companies, and representatives from airlines and airports around the world; around 30 people in all.

“By facilitating collaboration between IATA and our startups, we hope to not only be able to move the needle in the industry, but truly set measurable milestones that could positively impact the future of the travel industry,” says Amir Amidi, Managing Partner of Plug and Play Travel.

The Plug and Play event is part of an ongoing program of passenger experience improvements and digital innovation IATA is spearheading through StB, and a dedicated Think Tank, which includes hosting dedicated Hackathons and the annual World Passenger Symposium.

“The World Passenger Symposium, is really driving the agenda of IATA—the agenda of the industry. It’s changing the debate but also accelerating the awareness and driving the change on those initiatives,” Copart says.

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Photo credit: Participants at IATA's brainstorming event at Plug and Play. Plug and Play

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