Pamela Whitby catches up with aviation innovator Duffel which is fully funded and focused on radical simplification
The storm around flight refunds and exchanges during the coronavirus pandemic is leading airlines to redouble their automation efforts in more ways than one. Looking to be at the forefront of this innovation when the industry begins to recover is aviation technology firm Duffel, which by the end of 2019 had raised $51-million and signed partnership agreements with 18 carriers including British Airways, Lufthansa Group, Cathay Pacific and American Airlines.
CEO Steve Domin, who sounds rather more sombre than when he spoke to EyeforTravel in October last year , says: "The last few months have been operationally challenging for everybody and we haven't been spared. But we are well capitalised and are really focused now on building out the product and improving its features."
Over the past six months, there have been many developments for Duffel both on the commercial and product side. While some of the innovation was already par for the course prior to Covid-19, the avalanche in demand for vouchers and refunds has dramatically accelerated the move to full automation. According to Domin, some airlines are innovating faster than others but "there is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to the servicing part".
New connections and opportunities
The recent appointment of Norberto Lopes as chief technology officer is part of Duffel's strategy to do things differently, and more efficiently in aviation. Domin and Lopes worked together at start-up GoCardless, which helped to create the digital 'pipes' needed to connect the fragmented payment sector -- a bit like what Duffel is now trying to do with aviation. As Domin explains, one of the firm's internal mantras is "facilitating the connection between different players of the industry".
What I think is probably necessary is a different approach, a more radical simplification
As an outsider, Lopes brings fresh eyes to an industry that has become victim of its own technological success. "What I think is probably necessary is a different approach, a more radical simplification," he says. Perhaps by asking the question: "How would we do this if we did not have all of this history [legacy systems] bringing us down?"
Among the opportunities that Duffel sees are to:
Lopes, who also brings his experience in the computing gaming industry to the table, says that what he learnt there was that it is possible to "put quality at the front, keep things simple and delight customers". He hopes to bring some of that innovation to travel industry too because he is "pretty sure people don't like to spend hours searching for a perfect flight."
With demand crippled to levels not seen since 2006, and schedules drastically reduced, Domin understands that the roadmap for recovery is highly unpredictable and dependent on numerous external factors. So in the short term, the fledgling firm with ambitious goals is focusing all its energy on building products that will help airlines and agents to cut costs and delight customers when the skies begin to brighten.
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