Airline-GDS battles in the US throw new light on European regulatory review
However, events in the distribution marketplace have now overtaken this evaluation. So will the Commission react or will it take a continuing passive role in regulation currently run through its Code of Conduct?
When the European Commission announced a review of the Code of Conduct in 2007, it had a number of options open to it as part of that review.
- Option 0: status quo
- Option 1: partial deregulation
- Option 2: full deregulation (abolition of the Code of Conduct).
After due consideration the commission essentially let the current rules stand, extending status quo. These became the 2009 regulations (formally: Regulation (EC) No 80/2009).
It hired UK firm Steer Davies Gleave to conduct a mid-term evaluation of “Regulation 80/2009 on a code of conduct for computerised reservation systems and repealing Council Regulation 2299/89”.
Whilst the draft report was published to the stakeholders (disclosure: the writer is one of these) in January 2012, it was not released to the public and has been held internally since then. It is now proposed that the report will be issued in the autumn of 2012.
Of course, during this time, the GDS marketplace in the US has come under much scrutiny as a direct result of the Department of Justice investigation of Sabre, of the lawsuits surrounding American Airlines (vs Travelport, Sabre and Orbitz), and of the US Airways vs Sabre lawsuit.
In addition, IATA has started a much publicized push to bring openness to the distribution environment, which has affected most airlines, IT providers and distributors.
The recent rulings of the US District Court of North Texas in allowing the re-filed complaints of American, the dismissal of the counter claims and the laying out the rules for the case, have reverberated around regulatory and legal circles on at least two continents.
It should be remembered that the US GDS market has been largely deregulated, yet oversight remains with both the Department of Transportation and the Department of Justice holding some sway in the matters arising from the GDS marketplace.
For Europe, where Amadeus holds significant market share, the rules regarding dominance (effectively any marketplace where a single player has more than 40% counts as having a dominant player) are clearer.
For the twin marketplaces of airline intermediary distribution and airline IT services, Amadeus clearly meets the dominance criteria.
In recent years Amadeus has de-emphasized its other businesses by selling off its interest in OTA Opodo to concentrate on airline distribution and IT services.
The European Commission for Mobility and Transport (under Siim Kallas) has in the past been the formal regulator in these matters.
However, as the size of the players reaches dominant status, jurisdiction now also has to be shared with the EC Competition Commission. In the past only potential mergers have been referred to the Competition Commission. Indeed, Amadeus is listed in seven such cases.
Clearly the EC will need to broaden its scope to look at the impact of the US regulatory investigation and federal and state civil anti-trust lawsuits.
While the Commission has in the past not followed the same lines as the USA, the impact of a controlled marketplace is something they abhor and thus it is highly likely that the whole Commission will be looking hard at the impact of these cases.
Stay tuned, folks. This is a war of which only the first battles have been fought.
NB: European flags image via Shutterstock.
Timothy O'Neil-Dunne is a contributing Node to Tnooz. He writes about travel, in particular aviation, technology, startups and innovation.
He has two day jobs: managing partner at travel consultancy firm T2Impact, where he serves as the lead for the airline, aviation and airport practice. He is also co-founder of VaultPAD, an accelerator devoted exclusively to travel and travel-related startup businesses. One of the first companies to emerge from the incubator is Air Black Box, a cloud-based software company providing Airline Connectivity Solutions.
Timothy was a founding management team member of the Expedia team, where he headed the international and ground transportation portfolios. He also spent time with Worldspan as head of technology, where he managed international technology services from infrastructure to product.
Timothy is also a permanent advisor to the World Economic Forum and writes as Professor Sabena. He sits on a number of advisory and executive boards.