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Summary – In this article, we’ll discuss the challenges faced by the airline industry due to legacy software, emphasizing the need for modernizing software as a safer and more sustainable approach to achieving digital transformation. Examples from airlines such as United Airlines and Air France are provided, highlighting the benefits of modernizing systems through cloud-based databases, advanced decision support tools, and web-based architectures.

We’ve all heard of the major disruptions at Southwest Airlines last winter, during one of the busiest travel times of the year.  But it’s not only Southwest, many other airlines experienced flight delays, cancellations and major frustrations for travelers and workers alike – and many issues continue to impact travel. I recently wrote about it in a Forbes Technology Council post. While there are many issues that contribute to the perfect storm of travel woes, the major problem is legacy software that has not been modernized.  

The air transportation industry realizes that there’s no escaping an eventual need for full digital transformation, but the question remains: how is it accomplished with the least risk and minimal disruption? Instead of taking a rip and replace approach, software modernization can breathe life into older systems more safely and sustainably.   

Airlines, such as United Airlines, Air France and others, are modernizing systems, with advanced cloud-based databases, or adding advanced decision support tools that enable them to make better decisions about optimal flight and aircraft assignments. Building new solutions on top of its platforms, or transitioning core applications to the cloud enable these companies to leverage and integrate their data to ensure that they are meeting customer needs for reliable service.  

Software modernization also can help boost the traveler and employee experience with improved services across the board. One such example is our work with a leading provider of baggage handling systems. It first came to us for help integrating its systems to share data across operations – from ticketing and customer service, to external systems. We helped it move its legacy solution to a web-based one to address the integration needs, as well as to address re-flighting needs when bags are diverted because of missed flights. The app, which is integrated across key operations, can communicate and share data in real time to get bags to where they need to be.  

Modernizing existing software by shifting from a terminal-based approach to a SaaS, web-based architecture has enabled the aviation provider to ensure that bags get from point A to point B regardless of route changes and makes it easier for employees to accomplish this without a complete rip and replace of the system. 


In the article, I shared some of the ways airlines and those that serve them can begin the task of modernizing systems without ripping and replacing their tried and true systems. Below are four of them:

Secure stakeholder buy-in: One of the toughest challenges is getting everyone on-board with the upgrade – from investors to IT departments and the C-suite. It’s important to communicate the costs and resources needed for the modernization, and the expected ROI.

Establish a product roadmap: This can help to define key goals, break them down into actionable steps, identify roadblocks and assign the appropriate staff.

Build out APIs: Leveraging new Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), companies can add new functionality and features to existing solutions, allowing them to take advantage of emerging new technologies while reusing proven business logic and data.

Consider a hybrid cloud: Many air transportation providers continue to leverage mainframe technology through hybrid cloud models, with core systems residing in the mainframe, and APIs providing users with access to cloud and web-based  solutions or mobile apps. 

There’s no question that eventually, all legacy systems within airlines and all those involved with air transportation will need to perform a complete digital transformation. But it doesn’t have to happen overnight. Software modernization can go a long way to rapidly provide new features and functionality that boost the customer and employee experience without a complete rip and replace.

Modernizing Airline Industry Software: A Gradual Approach

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