Amadeus opens up on Qantas outages

Amadeus, an airline IT systems and transactions company, today talked freely about the system failures that threw Qantas into disarray for several hours over the last year.
Written by Colin Ho, Contributor on

Amadeus, an airline IT systems and transactions company, today talked freely about the system failures that threw Qantas into disarray for several hours over the last year.

Qantas plane

Qantas plane (Qantas 747-300 image
by planegeezer, CC2.0)

The Amadeus outages that affected Qantas and other carriers, forcing them to check in manually, occurred early this year and in November last year. In January, Qantas flights had been delayed by up to an hour.

The departing chief of Amadeus, David V. Jones did not go into the technical details of the system failures, but told journalists that it was an unanticipated event triggered by an unexpected piece of "new" data, separate from Qantas and originating from "somewhere else in the world", caused by one or two internal processes that needed to be "tightened" up.

"They're extremely complex systems, we're talking about processing 15,000 transactions per second — masses and masses of data, very complex algorithms, so from time to time things will go wrong," said Jones.

"While you can get really close, you're never going to get 100 per cent," said Jones, claiming that the reliability of its systems and processes was "99.999" per cent.

Jones revealed that the company had reached a private agreement with Qantas following the system failures, and had its systems "re-audited" by the Australian airline.

"All I can say is that we reached an agreement with Qantas that both parties were able to accept," said Jones, refusing to delve into the agreement details.

According to Jones, the relationship between the company hasn't suffered from the technical hitches.

"We've learned a few lessons and since then our record with Qantas has been, touch wood, spectacularly good," said Jones, punctuating his comment with a knock.

He asserted that Qantas is currently "very happy" with Amadeus and said that he was confident with the company's reputation and performance.

"We have no doubt that in terms of reliability and the quality of our datacentre that we are absolutely world class. That's just me asserting it but I am pretty confident that our customers would say the same thing," he added.

However, the relationship with Qantas' budget subsidiary Jetstar, has not been "satisfactory".

"We do have a distribution agreement with Jetstar, but we do not have what we would call a satisfactory distribution agreement — one that is satisfactory for our customers in the sense that they get access to an adequate range of the inventory and fares," said Jones, referring to Jetstar's indirect fare and transaction processing.

"What we are working on is improving their distribution quality with us. That's the discussion and the debate."

Jones remarked that the cost of standardised, global ticketing booking and processing systems to handle queries across multiple carriers was a barrier for low-budget airlines. Though he believed that low-cost carriers were increasingly beginning to see the appeal in adopting these systems.

According to Amadeus, it is currently working with Virgin Blue and over 40 other low cost carriers.

The discussion was part of a roundtable to discuss positive financial results for the fourth quarter of 2009, despite volcanic eruptions and financial crises. Amadeus reported growth in market share and transactions processed for 2009.

Jones will be succeeded in January 2011 by current deputy chief Luis Maroto.

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