A major step forward on NDC from ATPCO and SITA

The drive to change the way airlines price and sell tickets took a significant step forward this week. IATA’s New Distribution Capability (NDC) mandate is poised to upset the way fares are filed and ancillary products are sold as part of a trip. But it is also complicated and a massive change from the legacy airline pricing models. That is it coming is no surprise; we are several years down this path. But NDC is complicated and global distribution of these new fares has been terribly limited. That is now changing thanks to NDC Exchange, a new platform delivered by ATPCO and SITA.


ATPCO is a company that you probably know very little about but, if you ever buy plane tickets, it has an outsized impact on your experience. It is the primary repository for fare data and the clearinghouse used by (and owned by!) airlines to distribute pricing around the globe. And, as of this week, it offers an NDC option that will ease airline adoption.

Partnering with ATPCO on this effort is SITA, the airline-owned communications and IT solution provider that transforms air travel through technology for airlines, at airports and on aircraft. Because it is 100% owned by the airlines SITA’s efforts realize near instant credibility and significance.

How it works

NDC Exchange will facilitate the real-time exchange of pricing, shopping and ancillary messages between airlines, travel agents and aggregators. It will normalize messages that use various versions of the NDC schemas. In addition, it will translate messages that are based on non-NDC schemas such as the Open Travel Alliance (OTA) XML schema. In doing this, ATPCO and SITA will support accelerated industry implementation of APIs and NDC while creating interoperability between the existing distribution model and NDC. This will reduce the overall cost to connect to, and support, multiple schema versions.

ATPCO recognized the growing demand for simple, cost-effective API connectivity some time ago. In our partnership with SITA, we have developed this solution to enhance the complex distribution landscape, giving everyone a clear path to incorporate all methods of distribution. – Rolf Purzer, President & CEO, ATPCO

In short, the system that airlines are familiar with today for fare filings will expose additional capabilities in the NDC world. Airlines can file fares and extras under the new structure or the old and the NDC Express will handle translating between the two. That’s a big step forward, especially for airlines that want to adopt in a more limited trial capacity.

NDC can be very disruptive for airline distribution. While it offers exciting new opportunities in the marketplace, it also presents new business and technical challenges for airlines. SITA is teaming with ATPCO to provide an air transport community solution that will facilitate NDC adoption by reducing the complexity for airlines to establish and maintain direct connections with travel agencies and travel management companies. -Ilya Gutlin, SITA President, Air Transport Solutions

I remain skeptical of the value to travelers of the NDC proposition in general. I want to believe there is good that will come from custom fare products that can know I get free checked bags on one airline and not on another based on elite status, airline policies and other factors. That aspect of NDC should be good for passengers. But there’s another side of the operation which is the reduction in transparency of fare offerings. If the published fare structure becomes a truly opaque black box then the ability for airlines to bias fares against individuals is much greater. And as of right now the only assurances the industry has offered on that front is a suggestion that consumers trust them to do no harm. That’s a mighty big ask.

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Header image courtesy of SITA

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. I read the article, and I can’t figure out the answer to the most important question of all: will this new system make mistake fares more or less likely?

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