US LCC JetBlue Airways is looking to team up with other players throughout the travel journey to offer a joint platform for innovation tests. JetBlue would use the network as an extended test platform for the startup projects that it is backing, to give them wider reach and exposure to the industry.

“We are looking partner with airports, airlines, hotels, ground transport providers to form a block of companies, to use as a broad group of partners for proof of concepts,” JetBlue Technology Ventures managing director Raj Singh said, speaking at Future Travel Experience Europe in Dublin.

He said aviation has failed to keep pace with innovation and push boundaries, compared with technology giants like Google and Facebook. To catch up, airlines are investing in startups, because they see that not everything can be achieved internally.

New York-based JetBlue itself has taken a venture capital approach, investing in projects that fit its business needs. “This has been going for two years. We can’t definitively say it’s the right strategy, but it’s the one we’re pursuing.”

Singh said JetBlue takes two approaches to its investments. For short-term projects, within the next 18 months, the airline works closely with its business units to identify problems and then goes out to find startups with relevant solutions.

“For those short-term problems, it is very much driven by the needs of the business units. We have a very robust discuss about what is needed. Is it a [bandage], or something longer term? We have a lot of [bandages] and that don’t help for the future,” he said.

“For longer-term, we don’t necessarily go to the business unit and look for their blessing, because their focus is immediate operations. Our goal for longer term is to give strategic options. We have a foothold. Most of them will be wrong, but if one or two are right, it will deliver benefits.”

Returning to JetBlue’s search for a network of proof-of-concept partners, Singh said cooperation will be key.

“If there isn’t [cooperation], our industry will be reduced to the lowest common denominator of literally being carriers; someone else will get the value,” he said. “If we collectively can’t improve what we’re doing, someone else will do the job for us.”

Victoria Moores