Air Transport World

Increasing importance placed on CRS in international negotiations. (computer reservation systems)

Increasing importance placed on CRS in international negotiations

Routes, capacity, multiple designation, fares and now--electronic access. Computer reservations systems (CRS) have joined the big leagues of international negotiations. Debate over use of these systems and what they are worth in trade terms is now an established feature of bilateral and multilateral exchanges.

CRS is not new to negotiations. U.S. carriers have been complaining about bias in Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and other countries' reservations systems for years. There is even an example where inability to obtain a satisfactory CRS display led to a lawsuit and dominated bilateral talks. In 1985 the United States refused to permit Lufthansa to fly between Houston and Frankfurt until the display of transatlantic schedules in the West German CRS system, Start, satisfied U.S. carriers serving Germany.

Difficult transition

But the pace and intensity of discussions over electronic access have increased. There are several reasons for this. First, the systems are increasingly the most important way of competing. Second, there are more U.S. airlines abroad and foreign reservations bias is more harmful to them now. Third, increased U.S. airline competition means international carriers cannot depend on their former U.S. interline partners for behind-gateway traffic. Fourth, American and United are aggressively marketing their CRS systems to travel agents abroad which, to foreigners, equal the same problems on their home ground as small U.S. lines encounter domestically. Fifth, national airlines are under increased political pressure to compete all around the world. In Europe they are using the CRS issue to protect themselves from or get a leg up on one another--by using the U.S. as a convenient common foil.

But transition to the computer age is not easy. In retrospect disputes over traditional bargaining chips are child's play. When routes, capacity or change-of-gauge rights are traded, the results are easy to tabulate.

The high-technology world of CRS is far fuzzier, as the airline industry has so amply demonstrated already. No sooner does the government solve one problem, as in the case of U.S. CRS display bias in 1984 or of Lufthansa's Start displays, than it finds other problems. Software development and the creativity of free enterprise marketers far exceed the ability of the government's sleuths to keep up. That presumes the government wants to.

For example the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) in February launched an investigation into the latest batch of domestic CRS complaints. …

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