At Lufthansa-owned Brussels Airlines, the successor carrier to Sabena, Chief Information Officer Simon Lamkin has combined leadership thrust with business-rich IT engagement to achieve digital takeoff during the past 12 months.

From a standing start, the mobile app the Brussels Airlines IT team introduced late in 2016 went through six iterations in 2017 and saw 350,000 downloads. After vastly outperforming its business plan, it now contributes a significant chunk of the airline's annual revenue. Likewise, a request-based process that took 48 hours to quote a price for a group booking has been turned into an instant online tool that has generated considerable revenue in its first six months of operation.

And it isn't just the mobile and web sales channels that have felt the uplift from the CIO function's initiatives. Flight crews too are now digitally equipped. At the start of 2017 all pilots had to physically print the flight plan for their shift (around 15 sides of A4 per short-haul flight, with an average of four flights per shift). The electronic version of the flight plan rolled out during the year may sound straightforward but it involved solving the sizeable problems of regulatory requirements and operational restrictions. It has been a massive success, with every pilot and first officer downloading their electronic flight folder to a Surface Pro, creating a fully integrated 100% paperless cockpit environment.

And as in the air, so on the ground. At the start of the year, the issue of specialist tools to engineers required paper-based sign-outs. By the end, the RFID tagging of all the key specialist tools allows the automatic logging of which technician has completed an airplane maintenance task and the exact tools they used for that job; the engineer is even alerted if a tool has not been returned, ensuring that nothing is left accidentally on the aircraft.

Having learned first-hand how powerful ground operations automation could be at easyJet, where he was head of IT for four years before moving to Brussels Airlines, Lamkin wanted to create something similar, but more portable and accessible to a large number of users without the need for specialist hardware. He started with an app that has helped ground staff manage bookings, add bags and special requests, take payments and move seats. It also spawned a range of new use-cases, the most notable of which was its underpinning of a remote bag drop facility at one of Belgium's biggest dance festivals. Lamkin's team created what looked like an airport bag-drop zone in the middle of a field over two consecutive weekends and checked in the bags of festival-goers returning to Brussels Airport.