As the trade association for the world’s airlines, the International Air Transport Association (better known as IATA) serves and represents the airline industry. With a focus on advocacy, standards, and services, IATA builds common processes for activities throughout the travel cycle. IATA offers resolutions and recommended practices to nearly 300 airlines in over 50 countries around the world.
Headquartered in Canada and Switzerland, and representing more than 82% of global air traffic, IATA is truly an international company.
The Growing Significance of APIs in the Airline Industry
To many in the airline industry, the term API might stand for Advance Passenger Information. But with aviation’s increased reliance on digital technology, a different type of API has gained prominence: application programming interfaces. These APIs have become the building blocks of digital transformation, making it easier for applications to communicate and share data.
APIs connect all the systems, applications, and data that makes the passenger journey more efficient, end to end. They’re used throughout the travel cycle – when you pay for your flights, hand over your passport at a government checkpoint, scan your boarding pass, pay for in-flight WiFi, and find which carousel your bag will (hopefully) arrive at. It’s no surprise that 70% of airlines and airports plan to, or already, provide open APIs to make the travel experience more straightforward.
According to Peter Sun, Industry Standards Manager, IATA , the expansion of APIs can lead to complications. “We see more and more APIs emerging from the industry,” he says. “But we don’t seem to have a consistent way or best practice to design APIs. The
role of IATA Standards Setting Group is to bring some best practices, or if you want, to bring some consistency to this API world.”
Consistency Can Spur Growth and Customer Satisfaction
The need for a consistent exchange of information is obvious in many parts of the travel cycle. To take one example: where’s your plane? The airport information board says it just landed
and it’s taxiing to the terminal. The airline’s app thinks the plane is at the gate, and you’re already boarding. A third-party flight-tracking webpage swears the plane is thousands of feet overhead, circling in a holding pattern. If these systems don’t talk to each other to provide the correct information, you’re going to miss your flight.
Matt McKinley, Senior Manager in Technology Standards at IATA, wants to improve the travel experience by reducing the complexity involved in APIs. “Integrating all these different platforms and carriers can be cumbersome,” he says. “If you think about 290 different APIs getting you to your destination, you start to highlight some fundamental challenges of interoperability.
One of the things we do at IATA is look at how can we make that experience a bit easier.”
One of Matt’s biggest challenges to accomplish this is to encourage API design consistency and solve the compliance to a common set of API standards – something much easier to talk about than to solve.
“If you're developing APIs, you want to make sure that it's as easy as possible for industry parties to adopt them,” he points out. “A big part of that is making sure developers don't have to go and relearn how
to use them. There are also challenges if an API is developed by one team rather than another team, as it may behave differently or use data differently.”
To address this industry challenge, IATA spearheaded the drive to open API standards and created the IATA Open Air program. Its goal is to facilitate the development of industry standards and best practices around data exchange, leveraging API technology The Open Air program allows airlines to exchange data in an open yet secure manner, while still retaining control over he data being accessed.
Foundational to IATA Open Air is the adoption and standardization of the OpenAPI Specification (formerly called Swagger). Having this common API standard, allows member airlines to build API specifications compliant with existing open standard technologies.
SwaggerHub Enables API Standardization and Governance
SwaggerHub has become part of IATA’s API strategy. It’s easier for member airlines to build APIs that adhere to industry standards, making it faster to exchange data and build innovative new services together.
With Swagger, SmartBear helped to define the OpenAPI specification, and today offers the broadest set of open source and commercial API lifecycle
products available. SwaggerHub provides organizations with a central collaboration platform built on the OpenAPI Specification (OAS) to guide API design and documentation.
Using SwaggerHub, IATA has a platform where all stakeholders of an API can go back and forth at the design phase, to get everybody into the loop as early as possible. This helps reduce the chance of expensive problems needing to be fixed after a lot of work has already been done, and supports activity among industry members, or the IATA team itself, when building industry-standard APIs.
According to Peter Sun, IATA Standards Manager, this collaboration feature of SwaggerHub is important to enabling IATA to successfully work with its members. "In IATA Open Air practice,
we use SwaggerHub as a collaboration tool within the industry working groups for standard setting activities. The group members, from IATA member airlines and strategic partners, use SwaggerHub to work on API spec design, and the whole group will be reviewing, raising comments, and providing feedback to the API spec.”
Now There’s a Single Source of Truth for APIs
In addition to the development of the APIs, SwaggerHub also acts as a central hub for API standards. Ensuring that underlying standards are created, discussed, and maintained goes
beyond programming and helps support the relationships of members and partners.
“Building standards in IATA working groups is based on the common agreement and mutual benefit of the IATA member airlines and strategic partners,” says Peter. “So each and every comment needs to be considered during the API design and standardization activities.”
“We are still in the beginning of the journey for API standardization,” Peter says. “Using SwaggerHub, we can easily standardize the API design and achieve the level of quality we expect, more efficiently and more easily. We think SwaggerHub is a good tool. It supports what we are trying to seek.”