SITA plans to develop a new passenger reservations system based on service-oriented architecture that will offer a complete suite of reservations, inventory, ticketing and departure control systems.

The new, as-yet unnamed system will be the "final installment" of SITA's Horizon portfolio of passenger management solutions. SITA said it will result in "the retirement of today's mainframe technology following a well-managed migration to new applications."

SITA recently migrated 120 airlines from a legacy mainframe environment to its air fare pricing applications suite. Richard Stokes, senior vice president of passenger travel solutions, said the company is targeting large second-tier carriers in the range of 20 million annual passenger boardings. It also will market the system to some smaller, more innovative low-cost carriers, he said. It expects to be in competition with Amadeus, which offers the Altéa platform, and with ITA Software, which is building a new system for Air Canada. SITA will invest in the neighborhood of $100 million in the project over the next five years, its largest-ever single investment in passenger management.

SITA is "aiming at providing a community-type model," Stokes said, in which the cost of development is shared by all users. It would, however, be open to building customized functionality for individual airlines under varying commercial terms.

Ian Ryder, senior director business transformation, said the new system is likely to be delivered in "waves" on a yearly cycle. "We're taking an incremental approach," he said, rather than a "big bang" rollout, and the new functionality will work alongside existing applications.

The first piece, slated for delivery within the next 12 to 18 months, will be a "customer journey record," which Ryder described as a customer-centric version of the traditional PNR. It will provide a single view of the customer across all channels, including the carrier's Web site and call centers. "It's about knowing the customer as an individual," Ryder said, "and it will enable the carrier to handle capabilities beyond just the flight content," such as ancillary revenue opportunities.

A major area of focus is the capacity to control and optimize distribution, he said, "and we are looking to extend the reach of direct distribution." The goal is not primarily to circumvent GDS segment fees, he said. "We will continue to support traditional channels, but direct distribution is simpler and more flexible, with more creative opportunities."

The new system's "marketplace" concept also will allow airlines to charge miscellaneous fees effectively, incorporate non-air content and carry out "unbundling" of fares, Ryder said. "There are some traditional ways to achieve some of this, but it's often only in the e-commerce space. We are looking to achieve it through all touch points, such as call centers and kiosks."

Later "waves" will include a free-standing DCS weight and balance system, revenue management innovations and new features built around SITA's existing calendar pricing availability service.

SITA does not yet have a launch customer for the new system, but it expects its existing airline customers to be interested. "We are keeping them abreast," Stokes said, and SITA plans to provide more details at a user group meeting in Lisbon next month. "Many airlines still have in-house mainframe systems," he said.

He said Lufthansa Systems' decision to drop its Future Airline Core Environment project was not a factor in SITA's plans or in the timing of its announcement. "We've had this program going for quite some time," he said.