The Challenges of Replacing 50-Year-Old Passenger Service Systems

Industry Transformations3 minutes readOct 10th, 2017

By Donna Sundstrom, Travel and Transportation Solution Manager

The 1960s brought us long hair, psychedelic rock, countercultural revolution … and airline Passenger Service Systems. But while hair styles change every season, music groups rise and fall, and the next generation has a new set of beliefs to champion, the Passenger Service System (PSS) continues to exist, basically unchanged, over five decades later. Once classified as cutting-edge technology, the PSS is now a legacy system at the core of every airline.

It’s strange, in a way, to realize that 50-year-old technology runs our air transportation. After all, smartphones become obsolete almost as soon as you buy them. New applications come out every day to make our lives easier. The Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, biometrics, and more are constantly reminding us that technology is transforming the world at an almost incredible rate. So, why does the legacy PSS remain solidly in place – rather than being replaced?

The reason is simple: replacing the PSS is like doing a heart transplant. Like removing the foundation of a building while leaving the building intact. Whatever image you prefer, the point remains the same – replacing a PSS is unbelievably difficult and complicated.

In addition to the complexity involved in replacing a PSS, there are the cost considerations: airlines have invested huge amounts in their PSSs, and they don’t want to lose the value of those investments. Then there is the cost of a replacement system – another budget-breaking figure.

Yet the pressures airlines are experiencing are making the dreaded change inevitable. Customer expectations are increasing as travelers want instant communication, instant information, and instant interaction throughout the course of their journey. Mergers and acquisitions between airlines are placing tremendous strain on the PSSs involved. Industry initiatives such as new distribution capability (NDC) and ONE Order are requiring new IT resources. The pressures are mounting from every side.

Because a “rip and replace” approach to changing the PSS would cause every airline IT employee an unbearable amount of stress, many airlines instead choose a legacy PSS surround strategy. That is, they surround the core PSS system with new applications and new technology. While this is a helpful strategy, it ultimately can cause more problems. Integrating new apps and technology with the PSS can expose issues that were previously hidden in the depths of legacy code.

What is needed is a new solution – one that is neither “rip and replace” nor “surround strategy.” Such a solution would allow a gradual, seamless, and complete transition to a modern PSS. “Gradual” so that airlines can choose the timing of when to transition various parts of their PSS functionality. “Seamless” so that change could take place without disrupting daily business operations. And “complete” so that, in the end, the legacy PSS is entirely done away with and a new PSS is set in place.

With the capabilities of a modern – not legacy – PSS, airlines would be empowered to initiate major enhancements and strategic advances to serve passengers, increase efficiencies, and differentiate themselves in the marketplace. The new PSS would support business agility, helping airlines respond swiftly to changing conditions.

The world is moving on. Technology is moving on. Airlines will see their customers move on, too, if they don’t evolve their PSS strategy in this new digital age.

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