EyeforTravel Amsterdam 2018

November 2018, Amsterdam

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Air France-KLM: blockchain to be driven by ‘use case’ not tech

Pamela Whitby spoke to Air France-KLM’s head of blockchain programme about why and where this nascent technology could be poised for take off

Technological advances in recent years have spurred airlines to new heights and AirFrance-KLM is no exception. The airline has dedicated programmes for artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, and by late 2016 was already exploring the opportunities for blockchain.

According to Iris Taguet, Head of Blockchain Programme, Air France-KLM, who will be speaking at EyeforTravel Amsterdam, the first experimentations had already taken place by the end of 2017 within the engineering and maintenance business of the group’s at the MRO Lab in Singapore. However, it was still a little unclear as to whether it might be a bit too early to move, as there had still been few ‘official’ airline blockchain announcements.

Before officially launching a programme, and on request of the IT department, Air France-KLM first worked with the Boston Consulting Group to get an external view on the potential for a still nascent technology.

By May, explains EyeforTravel speaker Taguet, the ‘AFKL Blockchain Programme’ had green lit and a ten-strong team is now working across the group and all its businesses to convince people of viable use cases.

This is proving less difficult than expected, says Taguet, who has been with the group for 13 years, the past three years within its technology innovation arm.

“To spread awareness within the AFKL group we created a Blockchain 101 presentation to make it very easy and simple for people – especially non-technical people – to understand the key principles of blockchain. We use this presentation for our ideation/brainstorming session with the different businesses. Most of the time great ideas are identified, which is really cool. They go from knowing nothing about blockchain, aside from the buzzword, to coming up with [concrete] potential use cases,” she says.

Multiple use cases

In Taguet’s view, there are multiple use cases for blockchain in the airline industry; the main reason for this is that airlines do not work in isolation. Instead they operate in a world of multiple organisations - from the global distribution systems (GDSs) to IATA, travel agents, airports, government, suppliers and many more.

“In such an ecosystem the potential for blockchain is huge, and we are just at the very early stage of identifying some of them,” she says.

Air France-KLM has already identified numerous use cases across all three of its main business units – namely passengers, cargo and engineering and maintenance.

In such an ecosystem the potential for blockchain is huge, and we are just at the very early stage of identifying some of them

In all areas of the airline business, from passenger identity to cargo management and finance and settlement, one of the biggest issues is ‘trustability’. According to Taguet, blockchain’s ability to deliver trust at scale is something that one hears often at industry conferences like EyeforTravel Amsterdam. However, although experimentation shows that this is where blockchain really has power to deliver, she stresses that “at the experimentation level you need to find the right partners, the one’s you already trust, the ones you want to do business with”.  

On that note, it is still very early days, and Air France-KLM continues to explore viable use cases in two ways.

1. Working with in-house external partners

On the one hand, the ten-strong in-house team is working with external “blockchain tech partners” to experiment at the proof-of-concept level. In doing so, they are building the in-house team’s expertise.

2. Industry-wide collaboration

Through communication at various forums, like EyeforTravel Europe, by talking to SkyTeam Alliance partners, industry bodies such as IATA as well as other airlines and blockchain start-ups, Air France-KLM is proactively considering use cases.

In both cases, Taguet stresses that: “use cases have to be driven by business needs, and not by the technology”. Ultimately, the hope is that blockchain will help to revolutionise the way we transact, and that some changes could take place in the airline industry.

Not isolated

Air France-KLM is not alone in its blockchain efforts. Airlines like Lufthansa, arguably the most advanced, Brussels Airlines and Air New Zealand are already working with Winding Tree, a company building a ‘decentralised platform for travel’. Meanwhile IAG has already given endorsement to VChain, a blockchain-based start up, which it claims could revolutionise security check-in.

Having said all that, it does not begin and end with blockchain. And at Air France-KLM, the team is working closely with its artificial intelligence (AI) programme, as they believe that there is future potential for a project that combines AI, the Internet of Things and blockchain.

“We are not there yet, and it will be a bit complicated, but we do have some ideas. And we do have the technical knowledge to move forward, once we are ready for it,” she says.

Iris Taguet, Head of Blockchain Programme, Air France-KLM, will speaking at EyeforTravel Amsterdam (Nov 28-29)

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