FlightX: A modern NDC API for flight bookings

In this article, I go through the first steps of FlightX, a brand new B2B IT product by TravelgateX.

Opening a new business line for the company

I initially joined TravelgateX, as Head of Innovation, with a clear mission of bringing some new ideas to our business and apply them with a fresh, entrepreneurship-style approach. We decided, but, that instead of trying the top-down way (i.e. cross-cover all departments and services at the same time from an upper, supervisor position) we would rather go for a more bottom-up, hands-on discipline. Hence, in order to do that, we needed a real project to work on, with a clear vision and objective, and with a proper team that would materialize the business model into a product for our customer base.

Now, the company had been focused on the hospitality part of the travel business — that is, accommodation booking between suppliers (hotels) and retailers (travel agencies, tour operators, channel managers, DMCs). But travel involves reaching destinations to visit or enjoy. Nowadays, most of the travelers reach their destinations by plane. And so far, TravelgateX‘s attempts to truly flourish in the flight reservation market had been brief and ended soon with no substantial benefits.

And this is why an opportunity to explore new horizons for the company lead me to gather together a team of traveltech and aviation enthusiasts inside TravelgateX and start working together, under the Innovation department, into our first project called FlightX: an aggregator of flight reservations for sellers, retailers in the travel space.

The power of open standards

Back in 2018, I was living in Germany, working as CTO for a startup born as a spin-off from a big electricity/energy utility that had a lot of stake in the business of public charging points for electric vehicles. The goal was to build some sort of blockchain-based platform to connect the two ends in the e-mobility charging marketplace: the EV (Electric Vehicle) driver and the CP (Charging Point).

The ecosystem was (and probably still is) fragmented with many different communication protocols and API implementations for the provisioning and management of the CP infrastructure, as well as methods of operating such points to provide energy to the vehicles around the world.

Challenges were diverse, and I guess one of the most critical and immediately painful was the roaming problem, where a customer of “Utility A” could not charge on a CP belonging to “Utility B” without previously become customer, a time-consuming process that is not an option for somebody that just needs to charge on their way home.

If only there was a common language for the interoperability of CPs and EVs… And of course, there was! The OCA (Open Charge Alliance) organization was a consortium of industry players that, together, worked on a suite of protocols, like the Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP). All we had to do is to follow the OCPP specifications and we could already reach a growing list of energy companies, carmakers, OEM manufacturers and Mobility Service Providers (MSP) to onboard them into our platform.

New Distribution Capacity (NDC)

In the aviation industry, a similar thing also exists: they call it NDC. Its maintainer is the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and since its origins, they have put a lot of effort in promoting this standard around the world, organizing symposiums, workshops, training sessions.

They have extensive documentation full of use case implementations, and they even provide official certifications for those who claim to be NDC-compliant (both airlines/suppliers and sellers/aggregators). To learn about NDC, visit the official website.

NDC’s adoption is growing fast, with an increasing number of carriers of all types (from flag carriers to low-cost companies) upgrading their systems in order to support it and expand their ways to merchandise their product.

On the side of the sellers or retailers, while it is more difficult to assess how many are integrating their systems to support NDC, we know of some important players already doing the homework as they see substantial benefits like rich content, real-time booking, etc.

Reshaping the game board

As a proposal coming from an aviation lobby, it is obvious that the intention of promoting such standard aims to bring control from Global Distribution Systems (GDS) back to the airlines, the real asset owners (i.e. the commercial aircraft and all the seats inside).

But apart of trying to guess who will win this battle of titans, there are other players that have a chance to re-position themselves in the ancillaries part of the booking offer. The industry wraps together as “ancillaries” things spanning services from the most common ones — like choosing seats or types or meals during the flight — to others such as loyalty program discounts or transfers from the airport to the final destination.

The NDC program and associated data transmission standard are not trivial to implement, and this is where FlightX will come into play. TravelgateX is already integrated with more than 30 airlines, including the three most important GDS (Amadeus, Travelport, and Sabre) so the challenge is offering an NDC API for our clients to seamlessly start purchasing flights.

A brief overview of FlightX

Our mission is to build the fastest, easiest, one-stop NDC API for flight shopping and booking. In order to achieve that, we want to provide all the tools and lower all the barriers possible so that any Online Travel Agency (OTA), tour operator, Travel Management Company (TMC) or, in general, what we call sellers or re-sellers, can connect to our NDC AP — whenever, wherever — and start trading.

One of the added value functionalities that few competitors sport is exposing GraphQL access for our API. This is a technology where TravelgateX excels for quite a time now (we are already using it on our Hotel-X product), and end-user application developers can take advantage of the way it operates in their front-end implementations. For the rest, the HTTP API will also exist, perhaps more convenient on a backend-to-backend communication scenario.

Another aspect where we will do our best is to create a set of tools to enable integrating the connectivity on different levels. At a low level, we will develop ports of the API as libraries for different programming languages and frameworks so that existing applications can include FlightX easily into their codebase.

And, on a let’s say mid-level, a Command-Line tool (CMD) will provide a headless interface for sysadmins and terminal lovers in general, to test endpoints and check request/responses quickly. Finally, because this is a marketplace, both suppliers and sellers will want to know how many transactions will happen on the system, so with the help of Graphical User Interfaces (GUI), everybody will check out statistics and produce reports of their operations/transactions.

Estimated time of arrival

Coming from more than 13 years developing an entrepreneurship career, both me and our Product Manager Eduardo de Andrade made a bold promise a have pinned an exact date to have, at least, a first beta of the API running with the first users; and that is next 4th of November 2019 at the World Travel Market show in London.

So if we meet there I hope I will be able to pitch you FlightX with a real demo in my hands, and onboard you properly through the product. In the meantime, if you have any questions or require more information, please drop us an email to info@xmltravelgate.com and I will personally write you back. Cheers!

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