IAG opens Hangar 51 accelerator to bring big data and digital services to the airline industry
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G-XLEA, British Airways' first Airbus A380, accompanied by the Red Arrows at 2013 Royal International Air Tattoo (CC BY-SA 2.0 Airwolfhound via Wikimedia Commons)

Accepting applications through November 6, this 10-week London program is looking to cut out turbulence from the air travel industry

International Airlines Group (IAG), the parent company of British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus, announced recently it would launch its own startup accelerator program, dubbed Hangar 51. They will try to capitalize on technology aimed at improving basic services in the air travel industry.

With an application deadline of November 6, this will be IAG’s first run at an in-house program. The program is backed by early-stage investor L Marks, which has managed accelerator projects for other brands like DPD, William Hill, and John Lewis.

“Passengers currently spend a lot of time navigating airport check-in, baggage drop-off, security as well as the physical building itself,” L Marks Digital Communications Officer Jessica Hale told Geektime in an email. “IAG are looking for technologies which can help their customers navigate the airport, finding services and facilities such as the airline lounge more easily, as well as speeding up the check-in process. In addition, technologies improving customer support, through apps or AI would also be beneficial to their customers.”

Along with British Airways, IAG also owns and operates Iberia out of Spain. Their empire also includes Spain-based Vueling Airlines, France-based OpenSkies, South Africa’s Cornair and Denmark’s SUN-AIR.

IAG confided in Geektime that they hope to attract a number of Israeli applications in the pile to enrich the program, taking to heart the reputation that precedes the Israeli ecosystem. Their team is likely to be on the lookout for Artificial Intelligence solutions among other advanced technologies. They might have a bit of competition, though.

Israel’s national airline El Al launched an accelerator in June through company innovation arm Cockpit, in conjunction with JetBlue Technology Ventures. That program will grant participating companies $50,000 apiece and is also backed by Microsoft Ventures. There are several other programs dedicated to the travel industry in general, not exclusive to air travel.

The 10-week program, based at London’s IAG headquarters, will focus on improving airport processes, digitizing business, incorporating data-driven decisions and anything else an applicant can successfully pitch as boosting customer service. Twenty-five startups will be invited to pitch on December 6 for five or six slots in the program before it takes off on January 9.

“IAG is aware of the positive effect of technologies such as machine learning and how IoT devices can be applied to help them make decisions about their business,” Hale continued. “Included in this category is also pricing, an area which traditionally has seen a lot of fluctuation in the practices used to provide customers with prices for their tickets.”

Mentors will include British Airways CEO Alex Cruz, IAG Cargo CEO Andrew Crawley and IAG Head of Digital Business Transformation Glenn Morgan.

“IAG wants to use data to build a best-practice model to help price their flights to ensure the best deals for their customers.”

The big boon for a small company? Hale says IAG will take no equity in return for a spot, though they might be hunting for it by the end of the 10-week session if they look to invest.

“Hangar 51 does not require equity in return for funding to join the programme. Instead, an agreement will be reached when startups are invited to join the programme on how much funding will be provided and how much equity will be taken at the end of the programme.”

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