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Demand for seamless travel experiences is driving IT jobs in the aviation sector

While information technology (IT) has revolutionised the way most businesses are run, one of its greatest impacts has no doubt been on the aviation industry. IT jobs in the sector will remain in high demand, experts say.

With the number of international air passengers expected to rise by a whopping 31 per cent to 3.9 billion by 2017, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the competition amongst airlines is getting fierce.

Added to this, customer habits and expectations are placing increasing pressure on airlines to get it right and provide a seamless travel experience through innovative technology that delivers before the point of purchase, through to ticket purchasing, and even after sales. This is partly what is driving recruitment for IT staff in the industry.

Stanley Cheng, IT manager Pacific at British Airways, says more customers are using technology at every point of the travel-booking experience. "Increasingly, people are not only booking their tickets on but they are also interested in related services such as car rentals and hotel bookings. More people are also taking to their mobile phones to book and manage flights and review loyalty and reward programmes," he says.

"As customer habits change and technology becomes better, more and more of the aviation business is moving online … therefore, there will be more and more demand for knowledge and expertise in web and mobile development."

Bonnie Chan, manager of the IT division at recruitment firm Robert Walters, shares a similar view. "One of the major projects that airlines are expanding now is more mobile and web development," she says.

In fact, according to HeBS Digital, a hotel internet marketing firm, more than 40 per cent of travel queries today come from mobile devices. According to Mobiquity, a software company, tablets are preferred for booking future travel, and smartphones are used heavily on-the-go.

In fact, it is estimated that by 2016, 89 per cent of airlines will provide online purchases, while 70 per cent will have enabled online check-in, with new technologies being integrated further into airports to enhance the passenger experience.

"There is a need for more information and to provide more mobile applications for the end user, as well as more functions and services," Chan says. "This is one area that is in high demand."

Another area where IT staff are in demand is infrastructure planning. "The growth of data warehouses, data centres and cloud technology are also driving the demand," Chan says.

Given that IT in the aviation industry is such a niche sector in Hong Kong, previous experience in the sector is not necessary. In fact, airlines often have to look for candidates from other sectors such as banking or IT services to fill roles.

"Of course, people who have aviation experience have a big advantage as they understand the operation and the business, but it's not limited to that," Chan says.

Chan does note, however, that working on the IT side of the aviation industry can differ vastly from a back-office IT role in a small firm, where decisions that are made today can very well be executed tomorrow. Any change or execution in the aviation sector is a process which requires detailed planning, including identifying the issues, developing a business case, studying, and putting together a business proposal. As such, people with procedural experience and good communication skills are preferred.

Another area where the job can differ to IT roles in other sectors is that responsibilities tend to span many countries. Taking Cheng's role as an example, he handles IT support and projects for British Airways' passenger, cargo, airport and engineering departments in 10 markets across Asia-Pacific. He also provides in-person and remote assistance to users who encounter IT issues.

Cheng explains that from a day-to-day office perspective, an IT role in the aviation industry is much the same as other IT jobs - except for the need to be familiar with the many industry-specific systems such as check-in, departure controls and reservations.

"From a broader perspective, the aviation industry is highly customer-centric and one that runs on very fine margins," he says. "A few seconds here or there often makes a big difference, so time sensitivity, and ensuring everything runs smoothly for us to serve customers effectively, is an extremely important consideration when it comes to IT."

Another important skill for an IT role in the aviation sector is languages. Given the role has a global nature and international aviation operates in English, good English skills are imperative.

In terms of long-term career prospects, Cheng says that there are definite challenges in the job, but it is a rewarding career which offers lots of opportunities to meet people and make friends all over the world.

"The biggest challenge is understanding the different cultures in the different countries that I look after, such as the way the local IT suppliers work," Cheng says.