Internet Testimonies

Dick Brennan held a succession of roles at Aer Lingus, TIMAS and Galileo Ireland, overseeing the introduction and expansion of online reservation services for travel agencies.

The travel trade established an extensive industry-specific network before the coming of the internet. Dick was involved with this initiative from its inception and remained active up to the years when travel companies adopted web technologies and explored e-commerce.

Back to the 1987-97 timeline

In 1979 I was appointed to a new position at Aer Lingus, where I had worked since 1961 in reservations control, sales and the introduction of automated ticket printing. General manager Martin Dully asked me to take responsibility for automated distribution in the marketing department. The briefing that I got from Martin was as follows: “The automation of travel agents in the USA and many European countries, including the UK, is growing fast and we have our ASTRAL terminals in a few agents competing against a multi-access system brought into Ireland by an English private company, Videcom. We have to devise a strategy for the automation of agents in Ireland for the future. I don’t know exactly what you need to do, but whatever it is you’d better do it”

The ASTRAL reservations and communications system would, for the future, have to be further developed into a distribution system. At this time there were four different types of system in operation in travel agencies around the world:

1. “Single host” systems, such as ASTRAL, which operated in many continental countries such as Germany, France, Belgium and Austria.

2. “Multi supplier” systems in which other airlines had to negotiate their level of displays in the Scandinavian Airlines reservations system. Non-airline systems connected to it as well.

3. “Multi access” systems, which provided a switch that allowed the agent to select the airline system and make a reservation with that airline directly. In theory, any airline that was prepared to pay the quoted rate could join these systems, which operated in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and six other countries. Travicom, the UK system, was owned by British Airways. Apart from paying the relevant fees, another airline had to reciprocate by offering a similar system to BA in its home market. For that reason Aer Lingus was blocked from joining the Travicom system, despite the fact that airlines like Lufthansa and Air France were on it.

4. Computer reservations systems (CRSs), such as American Airlines’ Sabre, United Airlines’ Apollo system and TWA’s PARS, operated in the USA only. Each CRS had a bias in favour of its host airline.

I started in my new role by carrying out worldwide research with airlines, system providers and travel agents. I needed to understand why different markets operated different systems and how the travel agents felt about the system that they were using, its effect on their business and the industry processes that lead to its introduction. Because of the purpose of my work the Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA) nominated a member to represent its agents and work with me to influence the outcome. That was Joe Tully, MD of Tully Travel in Carlow, who worked closely with me on a part-time basis.

Joe and I, on behalf of the ITAA and Aer Lingus, agreed on a proposal to set up a jointly held company which would take over Videcom‘s multi-access system in Ireland and develop it over time. Videcom was a privately owned IT development house that Travicom had commissioned to manufacture hardware and produce software for its system in the UK.

Scheduled airline reservations accounted for 55% of the retail agents’ business at that time, so we proposed expanding the system to support other services. For legal reasons the ITAA would have to set up a non-limited company to hold the shares in the new company. Eventually I got the proposal through Aer Lingus management and Joe got the agreement of the ITAA. This process took almost a year because approximately 350 individual travel agencies had to be convinced that it was the correct way to proceed.

One major modification was that Videcom’s parent company in the UK should retain a shareholding in the proposed company to ensure continuity of supply of hardware and software. After all the legal and financial processes were finalised the company, known as Travel Industry Multi Access System with the trading name TIMAS, was launched on 28 October 1982. Aer Lingus held 51% of the shares, ITAA held 26% through a company called Automation and Investments and Videcom UK held the remaining 23%. The board had three members from Aer Lingus, two from the ITAA and one from Videcom.

When TIMAS launched, the system was based on Videcom hardware and software operating on a central switch in Dublin with leased lines to two nodes in Cork and Limerick. It offered a reservations service for 21 retail agents to three airlines. Each agent paid for a leased data line to the nearest node and TIMAS paid for the trunk line from the node to the central switch. The network ran on a 6-bit proprietary communications protocol known as Videcom Interface Protocol (VIP), which was a version of the Sabre protocol developed by IBM to transport highly encoded airline inputs and outputs. VIP was not very suitable for non-airline hosts. The dumb user terminals were totally non programmable.

Dick in 1987, pictured when he became TIMAS general manager.
Photographer unknown. Source: Company brochure courtesy of Brian Dent.

For the next five years I worked in Aer Lingus marketing distribution with responsibility for the project management of TIMAS. The operational staffing was contracted from Cara Computing. During that time we implemented a number of developments on the system including the gradual replacement of the dumb terminals with a slightly more programmable version of Videcom terminal, the ability to support access from PCs – which were new and very expensive at that time – and allowing for access through Eirpac. Eirpac provided a cheaper alternative to a leased line, particularly for agents who were located 30 kilometers or more from the nearest node.

By 1987 the number of connected agents had increased to 136 and the number of airlines to 15. We had also connected with three tour operators and two sea ferry companies. Three new nodes had also been installed in Athlone, Kilkenny and Dundalk.

Meanwhile in the USA dissatisfaction was growing with the levels of display that the CRS operators offered to other airlines. Thirty-one carriers from across the globe established a group to investigate the possibility of setting up a competitor CRS in the USA to be known as Neutral Industry Booking System (NIBS). Aer Lingus nominated me as its representative on the NIBS group which held meetings every two weeks for a nine month period, until these were perceived as possible breaches of the US anti-trust legislation and the chairman received a threat of legal action. The NIBS meetings moved to Europe, where they were chaired by Mike Thorne of British Airways, and led to the formation of two new Europe-based GDSs: Galileo and Amadeus.

I was appointed as the general manager of TIMAS in May 1987. As this was now a full-time position, I left the airline. The next stage in the TIMAS story was a plan to convert the system to an open X.25 network, which would allow for the transmission of different protocols including full-colour videotex data. This network would support much greater transmission speeds, up to 64Kbps compared with the previous maximum of about 4800bps.

We contracted Datalex to develop software for this new network. This took much longer than expected and travel agents were encountering serious problems with the system. Aer Lingus had become a shareholder in the new Galileo GDS and decided to use TIMAS as the network through which Irish travel agents would access Galileo. In order to achieve this Aer Lingus bought out Videcom’s shareholding as all the planned new platform would not be based on its equipment or software. The TIMAS company was completely restructured with Jim Melley as the new CEO, and Brian Dent and Eoin Delaney as the new managers for technology and customer support. I was retained as general manager for marketing. The total staffing increased from six to 21.

How Galileo announced a major technology transition in 1995.
Photographer unknown. Source: Company brochure courtesy of Brian Dent.

Brian Dent and network manager Tom Coade led the design and implementation of a new digital ring network with nodes added in Galway, Sligo and Waterford. This topology allowed for dynamic rerouting of traffic to ensure a 99% uptime for users. A new pricing structure was introduced, including productivity rebates which brought the cost down for all agents. By mid 1992 we had 237 agents connected. By then TIMAS had also connected to a UK videotex network known as Fastlink, which provided access to a number of UK based travel and tourism services. The first booking on the new Galileo system was made by Jim Sharkey in Personal Travel in Santry on 22 August 1992.

TIMAS initially added Galileo as another host on its network, but over a period of time all airline traffic was migrated to Galileo. This migration was completed in December 1994, when the multi-access airline switch was cut off. TIMAS then operated under the trading name of Galileo Ireland. It continued to grow and by mid 1995 had 314 agents connected.

I became aware of internet service providers (ISPs) by 1997 or perhaps 1996. Galileo Ireland certainly had internet email addresses in 1996 and I would have accessed the web at work around that time. I had dial-up access at home which was very slow and expensive.

The business development group at Galileo Ireland in 1995 (l-r): Margaret Heraty, Mark Moloney, Dick Brennan and Niall Clyne.
Photographer unknown. Source: Company brochure courtesy of Brian Dent.

By this time I had had my second cardiac procedure so I had to reduce my involvement in Galileo Ireland. In 1997 I was forced to retire on medical grounds following which I had my third cardiac procedure. During this operation it was discovered that I had earlier picked up a rare infection known as “Q fever” which had caused all my cardiac problems. This infection could be treated and contained but not eradicated. By late 1998 I was feeling much better.

Michael Giblin, the managing director of a company in Santry called Icarus e-Com, approached me in 1999. Icarus was providing internet access and online commerce applications to retail cargo agents in Ireland but this was a very limited market. Offering web site development with e-commerce applications to travel agents would greatly expand the potential, but the company had little knowledge of the passenger travel industry. I was perceived to be in a position to fill that gap and agreed to do so on a consultancy basis.

By 2001 we were providing ISP services to 30 travel agents and needed to add online commerce applications. At that time the leisure market was looking for holiday services that allowed for self-customized arrangements as well as traditional packaged tours. With this service, known as “dynamic packaging”, the individual traveller could select items from a menu of services for his/her own packaged holiday.

At the time there were two such systems available, one in Germany and one in England, which were selling for around €100,000. The Irish travel agent would have difficulty in justifying that level of expenditure for a software package. I wrote an outline specification for such a system and carried out some research in the agency community. I was satisfied that there was a sufficient market potential for a package costing less than €30,000 and proposed to Icarus that their software engineers should develop one. This was not accepted by Icarus management.

I set up my own company, IT4U and set about having the system developed by a software company in Pune in India. IT4U generated its first income by offering ISP services from our office in Clontarf to general business and not just travel agents. All the necessary software was written in Pune, where our servers were housed, and backed up in California.

When IT4U reached a customer base of 25 clients in 2004 we began development work on the dynamic packaging system. It was installed by one tour operator in Ireland in August 2005. Then my health deteriorated and I decided to sell the system to a Manchester based company. The sale went through in January 2006 following which I had another cardiac procedure. After I recovered I did volunteer work for Age Action, teaching people of my own generation how to use computers. I received the Silver Surfer award for my work in Malahide Library. Following this I undertook some general office work in my son’s architectural company from which I retired in 2016.

Last edit: July 2019

© Dick Brennan 2019