The future of distribution and merchandising hog the majority of column inches and blogs posts when it comes to coverage of the airlines business. However, Darren Rickey, Sabre Airline Solutions Vice President of AirVision Solutions (that’s all the stuff that helps airline with their commercial planning operations) insists airlines need to be paying just as much attention to their overall strategic approach to operations.

The straight-talking Australian was speaking to more than 300 airline executives at the Sabre AirVision conference in Vienna last week about how technology allows carriers to become more efficient and more profitable – if they find the right balance.

“There are a number of key departments within an airline – schedules, revenue management and analysis, sales, marketing, loyalty and network planning – and each has a distinct business process,” he said.

“You have to think about how to bring them all around the table so that data flow and processes work as efficiently as possible.”

Each of the keynote speakers at the Vienna meeting acknowledged the airline industry is in the midst of an unprecedented pace of change. Rickey said commercial operations professionals had to react quickly to fast-evolving trends.

He insisted that the need to manage demand capacity called for superior network planning and scheduling to drive efficiency and profitability. He also suggested “insight” would be key.

“Data provides insight into diverse passengers across disparate markets, allowing airlines to better segment customers to maximize top-line revenue. Targeting micro-segments in diverse markets with competitively priced offerings, which could include ancillaries, greatly enhance revenue opportunities.”

Rickey’s overriding message to delegates was that achieving maximum operational balance and efficiency is the foundation of success. But knowing your customer intimately, understanding their buying behavior, and garnering actionable insight is what will set the great airlines apart from the crowd.