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From build to buy: American Airlines changes modernization course midflight

By Robert L. Mitchell and Johanna Ambrosio, Computerworld
January 02, 2013 01:16 PM ET

Computerworld - American Airlines was well into a simultaneous revamp of its Passenger Services System (PSS) and Flight Operating System (FOS), its two most mission-critical families of applications, when the airline changed course last January.

The plan still calls for a gradual migration off of an inflexible and outdated mainframe architecture in favor of a modern, distributed computing platform. But while the FOS focus has always been buy rather than build whenever possible, the focus for the PSS project has turned sharply away from rewriting all of the applications that make up the system in house in favor of buying existing software whenever possible and modifying it as needed.

The ramifications of that decision are still playing out.

American mobilizes its forces

In addition to modernizing its back-end infrastructure and applications, American is providing flight crews, airport agents and maintenance staff with access to operational information from a range of new mobile devices. These devices provide new capabilities to different staff functions, including:

Flight attendants have been issued Samsung Galaxy Note tablets to access real-time customer information such as seat assignments, premium class food and beverage options, loyalty program status, connecting gate information, delay information and requests for special services.

Aviation maintenance technicians (AMTs) are using Samsung Galaxy Tab tablets to communicate with tech services, access technical information, receive and close tasks, and check maintenance history and parts availability -- all while working on the aircraft. Previously, AMTs had to return to their desktop computers or refer to manuals.

Airport agents use "Your Assistance Delivered Anywhere" mobile check-in devices to access current flight information, print boarding passes, check bags, print bag tags and perform other tasks. These devices are purpose-built, not off-the-shelf mobile hardware like tablets or smartphones.

Pilots will soon replace their flight bags with an electronic version that runs on an iPad. American estimates that eliminating the 35-lb bags from every cockpit will save the airline $1.2 million of fuel annually.

-- Robert L. Mitchell

For the last 47 years, both PSS and FOS have run on Sabre, a mainframe-based system that now lacks the flexibility and speed to market that the airline needs to compete. American began its modernization initiative with the launch of two projects several years ago.

The Jetstream project will replace the current PSS, which handles reservations and other customer-facing functions, while Horizon has already begun replacing many of the applications that make up the FOS, responsible for flight operations functions such as route planning and crew scheduling.

"Tackling these two important systems gives us the opportunity to rethink the customer experience as well as get away from massive, monolithic systems...that make it more difficult for us today to be responsive to customer needs in the marketplace," says Maya Leibman, American's CIO.

Originally published on www.computerworld.com. Click here to read the original story.

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