Watchdog plans digital flight-booking tool to support crisis repatriation

Civil Aviation Authority is looking to work with travel companies to create a site with data and booking process for commercial options and special rescue flights available in crisis zones

The UK’s air-travel regulator is planning to create a digital platform through which UK residents can easily arrange flights to be repatriated in the event of a crisis.

The Civil Aviation Authority – a public corporation and arm’s-length body of the Department for Transport –  is seeking to engage with potential suppliers that could help create such a platform. This is likely to encompass ATOL-licensed firms that already offer online travel-booking services, according to a recently published commercial notice.

The CAA intends that the digital service would enable those that need emergency travel back to the UK to scan and book a range of options – including commercial flights and any special rescue transport laid on by airlines. Although some flights may be arranged or funded by government, the system should also be able to take payments from those required to pay some or all of  their own fare.

“In a crisis situation, where consumers abroad may need emergency repatriation back to the UK, there is currently no service provision immediately available whereby, under certain business rules, a consumer can arrange their own flights back to the UK using existing scheduled services and charter services arranged by the CAA,” the notice said. “The CAA is therefore seeking interested parties who may be able to design, build , test and implement an efficient and cost-effective flight booking service in which a consumer is able to book their own repatriation fights back to the UK under certain business rules.”

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It added: “The service will need to offer consumers all fares available on the GDS (Global Distribution System), and additional rescue fares offered by various airlines during the period of the crisis. The service solution will need to be able to offer online flight ticketing and manage any changes to ticketing under certain business rules.  Where a financial flight contribution is required from the consumer, the service solution will need to be able to collect and reconcile card payments made by the consumer and have an audit function capable of tracking and all payments made.”

Given the proposed system’s role in responding to emergency situations, the CAA will require any potential supplier to offer round-the-clock support during an ongoing crisis “with further reduced support during the post repatriation phase”.

The digital platform should initially be able to store all relevant data to enable authorities to confirm users’ entitlement to repatriation support. The longer-term plan is that information will be stored by in the CAA’s “central repatriation database” and submitted to and from the flight-booking service via an API.

The regulator is inviting potential suppliers to express an interest by the end of this month, ahead of the planned launch of a procurement process in March.

Last year, the Ministry of Defence revealed plans to establish IT system that could be used to register thousands of people eligible to be evacuated from crisis zones and track their progress to a safe place thereafter.

Sam Trendall

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