Airbus taps Google’s ITA for A380 flight search engine

Airbus has beta-launched, a search engine powered by Google’s ITA Software which prioritises flights on the A380 superjumbo.

The announcement, which came at last month’s Farnborough Air Show, was made in the context of Airbus cutting back production of its A380 aircraft to one unit a month.  In the aircraft manufacturing world, big planes are out of favour – Boeing might stop making its own iconic jumbo the 747, and both manufacturers’ growth will come from smaller double aisle and single aisle planes.

Listening to Passengers

The curated social media conversations about the A380 which appear on the home page of IFlyA380 are not only decorative. They are, in fact, what gave Airbus the idea to create an aircraft-specific search engine in the first place.

“Social media was at the heart of the project from the very start,” says Katia Street – head of audience experience and social media at Airbus. “The public sentiment we were seeing about the A380 on a daily basis really inspired us. We thought that was central to our approach here. We didn’t just want to project a promise of the passenger experience but also show how it is that passengers actually live the experience of the product in the real world.”

Before ‘IFlyA380’ came to be, Airbus launched a website called ‘A380 Love’ which included a social sharing wall. It was from seeing the enthusiastic posts from A380 fans, that the Airbus social team got the idea of creating a dedicated search engine which would help identify A380 flights.

The manufacturer’s social media team promoted the idea internally, and collaborated with Airbus’ start-up incubator, BizLab, to develop the project. Its digital transformation office also worked on the project.

“They listened to the idea and we went through a screening, they supported the project. This has enabled us to ideate around the concept and to go internally selling the proposition to various stakeholders at digital transformation, communication, or the A380 team in marketing and sales,” says Street.

“We were very happy to see that everybody got onboard and the buy-in was very good. It was taken up pretty rapidly internally, which allowed us to start the roadshow with the customers rapidly as well.”

The Roadshow

The new A380 dedicated search engine solves a problem for travellers who have a preference for this specific aircraft and who cannot find flights using traditional airline or OTA search filters.

But what do the airlines think about being grouped on a a comparison site by their aircraft manufacturer?

“They saw it as a good opportunity to showcase their onboard services; and also to drive traffic to their own sites. It was quite easy to convince them,” says Stephane Dupont, digitalisation manager  and the I Fly A380 project leader.

The A380 search engine is powered by  ITA Software by Google’s QPX pricing and shopping engine, and exclusively features A380 operators. Dupont says that when a city pair is unavailable on the A380,the system will display results from other aircraft types that the airline operates. In any case, A380 flights are always listed at the top of the search results.

The project went into beta release on July 14, and within the first two weeks had over 100,000 unique visitors and over 200,000 page views—and that’s without Airbus promoting it heavily to the general public.

For the time being, the project is under evaluation with updates to follow based on user comments. But Airbus intends to keep the search engine going with new improvements indefinitely.

The Long-Haul

Demand for the A380 from airlines may be soft right now, but Airbus believes that the growth of mega cities will require very large passenger planes to transport people more efficiently.

Whether or not I Fly A380 will have a material impact on the future of the airliner and its manufacturer remains to be seen, but the project raises questions about whether aircraft type should be a standard filter on flight searches.

As modern aircraft evolve, and passengers become more active on social media, the aircraft type could influence a booking decision.

It also highlights the importance for airlines of including social content as a brand reference, as an alternative or complement to search sites which offer customer reviews.

On the ground and in the air, people like being heard. Airbus is banking on it.

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Marisa Garcia

About the Writer :: Marisa Garcia

Marisa Garcia is the tnooz aviation analyst. She has covered travel technology, design, branding, and strategy for leading publications, including Aircraft Interiors International Magazine, APEX Magazine, AirlineTrends, and Travel+Leisure. She also shares industry insights on her site Flight Chic. Fly with her on Twitter.



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