From build to buy: American Airlines changes modernization course midflight

By Robert L. Mitchell and Johanna Ambrosio, Computerworld |  IT Management

American also deployed a new flight-following tool. Users, primarily dispatchers and the operations towers at some airports, "have the ability to talk to our airplanes in the air and report more efficiently any information regarding specific weather situations or something where they need to alert more than one aircraft," Hassell explains.

In some cases American has been able to buy instead of build, with little or no customization required. One example is ACARS. Previously, those functions were written entirely on the mainframe in a proprietary language called SabreTalk. With the new software architecture, Hassell says, "We were able to deploy [new functionality] much faster and take advantage of the new technology."

American's partners, its Oneworld carriers, will also benefit from enhanced operational information sharing, as will their customers. "We are able to help them have a seamless experience," Hassell says, by doing development work to make sure American can share detailed flight information with each Oneworld airline's systems.

A matter of timing

American continues to chip away at both projects, one application at a time, with the ultimate goal of creating a more flexible and dynamic set of core systems and associated applications that can help the airline innovate. "The new systems are designed to fundamentally improve both the customer and the employee experience, which will lead to increased loyalty and revenue," Leibman says.

While work is progressing, American has no firm date for moving completely off the Sabre system and shutting off the mainframe. As new applications are added, "we pull things out of the mainframe," Hassell says. The airline can slow down or speed up development as resources -- especially money -- allow.

For American, it's a slow, deliberate and very collaborative process with the business that focuses on both business process change and the trade-offs involved when moving from a highly customized, homegrown system to buying off-the-shelf software. Collaboration with all stakeholders is essential, says Hassell. "That partnership is what makes us more effective."

Robert L. Mitchell is a national correspondent for Computerworld. Follow him on Twitter at, or email him at Johanna Ambrosio is managing editor for technologies at Computerworld. Follow her on Twitter at, or email her at

Originally published on Computerworld |  Click here to read the original story.
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