İbrahim Sünnetçi: Founded in 1994 by two female executives Hitit is today positioned as Türkiye’s first airline and travel technology company and the 3rd largest Passenger Service Systems (PSS) provider in the world. Can we please start with an analysis of 2023’s first 9 months from Hitit’s perspective? Could you elaborate on [the] major milestones [that] you achieved during this period?
Nevra Onursal Karaağaç: First of all, thank you for an engaging conversation. As I reflect on Q4 2023, my leading emotion is one of deep satisfaction. We have really made the most of this year and it has been one of significant milestones for Hitit. Turning our attention to our expanding partner ecosystem, it is worth noting that we also made critical acquisitions both in Türkiye and abroad during 2023.
Hitit now serves 47 countries, and we have 67 partners. One of the most important achievements of this year was the agreement we made with the AJet, a Turkish Airlines brand. It was an agreement for the use of Hitit's software solutions, especially the Passenger Service System (PSS). AJet is one of the few airlines, still using their own in house system and we are excited to start a journey with a subsidiary of our flag carrier in their digital transformation. In addition to AJet, we extended our agreement with Pakistan International Airlines for another five years. We also achieved significant success in the America’s by entering Canada and expanding in middle and south America and continue to grow in Europe and Africa.
Certainly, these successful partner acquisitions naturally had a positive impact on our financial reports. We achieved sales revenue of USD$12.5 million in Q2, 2023, and increased sales revenues by 59% in the first half of 2023, and number of passengers served, which forms the basis of SaaS revenues, increased by 59%.
Incidentally, Hitit's departure control system, which exchanges data with 84 countries’ border and customs systems worldwide, is currently being used in over 700 airports. Last year, the sales volume realized by airlines and travel companies through Hitit’s infrastructure reached USD$4.5Bn.
Another striking aspect of 2023 is that it stands out as the year in which we won the most awards annually, both in Türkiye and internationally. The extensive scope of these awards signifies that others have recognized our accomplishments at Hitit on multiple fronts: firstly, as an aviation technology company, then as a publicly traded entity, as a champion of gender equality, and finally – but no less importantly, as a company that is dedicated to social responsibility.
• Best IPO in CEE Mid-Market of 2022
• "Best Team to Join" in the technology category
• Silver Award for Pioneering Digital Transformation in Airline IT Sector.
We also won awards that were rightfully earned by the entire Hitit team, although they were formally presented to specific individuals. Personally, I was honored with this year's prestigious Leadership in Sales Award (LiSA). Nur Gökman, Chairwoman of the Board of Directors and CEO of Hitit, was awarded the Special Jury Award in the Category – Inspiring Role Model for her contributions to the aviation industry, at IATA's Diversity and Inclusion Awards. Additionally, Ms. Gökman was listed among the Fortune Türkiye's 50 Most Powerful Women.
Also, “Rackets Up” – Our CSR project – received the "Creating Wonders with Optimum Budget for Sustainability and CSR" Award at The Hammers Awards.
İbrahim Sünnetçi: How is the balance of legacy carrier and low-cost carrier working at Hitit’s global airline industry portfolio? Do you see changes in this balance in the near future?
Karaağaç: At Hitit, our primary advantage and distinguishing factor within the industry lies in our ability to serve to airline companies of any size and business model. Presently, we maintain a consistent standard of service for major flag carriers, well-established legacy airlines, and emerging start-ups and low-cost carriers LCCs. Furthermore, it's worth noting that some companies, as they expand in size, find conventional business models inadequate.
With the increasing diversification of needs and capabilities, we are witnessing the emergence of various business models, ranging from ultra-low-cost carriers (ULCCs) to full-service carriers (FSCs) and hybrid carriers. Throughout this differentiation, all our Partner airlines also share a common goal: To become and then stay dynamic, continuously transforming their businesses and keep one step ahead of their peers. This inevitably pushes both ULCCs and FSCs towards the agility and dynamism of the hybrid airline model, for which Hitit is the world’s leading technology provider.
Returning to the essence of your query, we can assert that the traditional differentiation between legacy carriers and low-cost carriers has blurred over the past decade due to the growing prevalence of the hybrid model. In recent times, we have observed a growing number of airlines adopting what we term the hybrid model. To be honest, we at Hitit have always been big proponents of the “hybrid” airline approach, the blurring of the lines between full-service and low-cost business models, as this allows airlines great leeway in how and when they want to introduce new ideas or change their existing practices.
I take pride in affirming that Hitit fulfils a crucial role by offering cost-effective, cutting-edge solutions that can seamlessly adjust to the distinctive needs of each airline, granting them the flexibility to align with their chosen business model.
İbrahim Sünnetçi: What are Hitit’s core capabilities and technologies that are focused on the global airline technology market?
Karaağaç: In fact, our story is widely known, but it's worth revisiting. Our first step into the sector started with the Crane FF (Frequent Flyer) product. Over time, our Crane FF software has evolved and expanded, eventually becoming the most widely used loyalty system in the world as of 2012. In parallel with this success, we have established a strong global presence through our PSS solutions and made advancements in various areas that even many major corporations have yet to explore.
Our suite of software solutions – Crane - has grown over the years. Hitit's renowned and award-winning solutions - Passenger Service Systems - encompass all the essential components required by airlines. These include Reservations and Passenger Service (Crane PAX); Internet Booking Engine (Crane IBE); Mobile Application (Crane MA); Allotment Manager (Crane ALM); Departure Control System (Crane DCS); Weight & Balance (Crane WB); Baggage Reconciliation Itinerary (Crane BRI) and Loyalty Layer (Crane LL). These solutions – all scalable – are available both as stand-alone and as a complete suite.
Crane PSS has been designed to fill the gap between traditional airline practices and the latest digital trends and capabilities. This makes it possible for Crane to easily adapt to an airline’s business model or market specific needs.
In addition to Hitit’s Crane PSS solutions, Hitit also provides operational functions which cover the entire crew and airline operations management – from rostering to both manual and automatic pairing, crew tracking, schedule and capacity planning, strategic planning and operations control. Furthermore, it is important to highlight that we also provide solutions for accounting, merchandising, travel services, and air cargo. Currently, there is no other airline technology company globally that offers such an extensive range of software solutions.
İbrahim Sünnetçi: Can you briefly inform our readers of the major local and international programs that are keeping Hitit busy these days?
Karaağaç: I can summarize some key areas that have been keeping us busy recently, such as better customer experience, operational excellence, revenue increasing activities, and Artificial Intelligence (AI). We have transferred our experience in the field of AI to other investments. To switch to dynamic pricing, we have integrated with two different AI suppliers apart from our own solution, and two of our Partners switched to dynamic pricing using different methodologies. I would also like to bring up our efforts related to the Offer & Order Management System (OOMS).
The initial phase of the OOMS solution has been finished. This phase was designed using the latest IATA data standards, utilizing Hitit's market analysis. The system is expected to play a crucial role alongside PSS in the global market soon. Further phases have also received a favorable opinion from the airline consortium headed by IATA, consisting of 27 airlines, including the world's 10 largest carriers. This demonstrates how important a role Hitit will play in shaping aviation’s future trends.
İbrahim Sünnetçi: Demand for air travel is rebounding after Covid-19, but there are disruptions, flight cancellations and delays, and chaos at airports across Europe. How can this happen? Did the industry fail to forecast the right traffic recovery or fail to properly prepare?
Karaağaç: Disruptions and irregular operations continue to be a worrying problem in the industry. This is an undeniable fact and, unfortunately, it is likely that we will continue to face such undesirable disruptions in the foreseeable future. Therefore, instead of focusing on the reasons, it is essential that we foster a spirit of cooperation in all areas of the aviation industry. To navigate these challenges effectively, seamless collaboration and cooperation among airlines, airports, and government authorities are the keys to unlock a viable solution. Moreover, I have to emphasise the importance of preparedness in addressing irregular operations. Aviation professionals must be well-equipped to respond effectively during disruptions. Also, effective communication is essential in providing passengers with clear and timely information, reducing their frustration and uncertainty – that could otherwise adversely impact their loyalty to a given carrier.
As a representative of a technology company, it's essential for me to underscore the significant role that technology plays as a critical element in the quest for solutions. Proactive measures, empowered by AI-driven solutions, have the potential to avert disruptions and streamline operations when those disruptions occur. At Hitit, we are also focusing on exploring how AI and optimization technology can elevate both airport operations’ predictability and efficiency. We are actively advancing significant technological innovations for our partner Pegasus in this domain.
İbrahim Sünnetçi: Thank you for sparing your valuable time to our readers