If we’re to seize the potential of nose-to-tail aircraft connectivity, we need to ensure that data is used effectively for the benefit of passengers and operations, while delivering a bottom line benefit across the industry.
“Only connect … live in fragments no longer,” wrote the novelist EM Forster in 1910. He was writing about social conventions, codes of conduct, and personal relationships in turn-of-the-century England. But he might just as well have been setting the ground rules for our new world of limitless data and the resources to leverage the data.
For years our industry has been talking of the need to get rid of silos, to foster collaboration, to work together. It was the essence of the invention of the World Wide Web.
But perhaps only now are we moving to a truly connected world – and it’s opening up extraordinary opportunities for improved operational efficiency and enhanced customer service.
Increasingly, we expect to be connected to our own particular world, wherever we are – at home, work, on the road, in the airport, and now in flight between two continents. We used to choose an airline based on a mix of price and loyalty.
Today our choice of airline and airport is increasingly impacted by our experience as a passenger. With an increasing proportion of the world economy dominated by services of all kinds, we’re more demanding of the services we’re offered.
And we expect information to be shared with us, even onboard the aircraft. After all, since we’re connected, there’s no technical reason why not.
That’s why the introduction of the connected aircraft is so game-changing and massive in its potential. There is now no reason why everyone cannot be connected, from airframe and engine manufacturers, through airports, caterers, ground staff, airlines, border authorities to passengers.
The only questions that each needs to broker is how much information is useful and where’s the balance between utility and cost?
Research from Inmarsat among European short/medium haul passengers reflects the expectancy of passengers: 83% expect all aircraft to offer connectivity within the next 5-10 years.
For 69% of respondents, in-flight connectivity is now impacting their airline selection and 67% say they would pay for in-flight Wi-Fi. They also found that if passengers were given a choice between free connected Wi-Fi or food and beverage, they went for Wi-Fi.
By 2025, the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) forecast that today’s on-the-ground experience will have become the in-flight baseline minimum, with aircraft connected at all attitudes and with every low-bandwidth connected device on every passenger automatically connected to the on-board IFE.
With the aircraft connected to ground services, incremental improvements to in-flight passenger service become possible – such as a personalized welcome as soon as passengers takes their seat, or confirmation that their baggage has been loaded, or confirmation that food allergies have been noted by the flight attendants.
And, of course, personalized messages concerning any delays, issues with connecting flights, transit times and so on.
Meanwhile, the value that derives from connectivity is already being experienced through capabilities such as the new generation of electronic flight bags (EFBs). Uploading live data, real-time weather updates, optimizing routes dynamically to deliver less fuel burn – these are all tangible benefits.
As are the time and cost savings of having maintenance crews equipped and ready to go for aircraft needing repair. As many as 50% of airlines have already made the switch away from paper-based charting and flight plans. Some are even connecting while airborne, to get updates to flight plans.
Connectivity is also allowing airframe and engine manufacturers to use the massive amounts of data – accessed through the Cloud – to look outside the pure maintenance envelope, including such areas as fuel optimization.
Connectivity is sometimes described simply as ‘receiving the right information at the right time’. In reality, it’s about receiving meaningful data ahead of time, allowing partners and collaborators more time to plan, process and evaluate.
The new generation of connected aircraft take this further, introducing full enterprise capability to the flight deck by means of a complete onboard network system, with high bandwidth low-cost ground and in-flight data links, onboard file servers, connected systems, advanced onboard maintenance systems, and separate wireless networks for crews and passengers.
As pioneers of aircraft connectivity, SITAONAIR is addressing the core business drivers: growing ancillary revenue, differentiating the passenger experience, improving air navigation safety and operational efficiency.
“But our focus goes beyond connectivity,” comments SITAONAIR’s CEO, David Lavorel. “It’s about how we digitally transform the airline, about better managing data and getting it to the right stakeholders.
“And it’s about understanding how we can use data to enhance the passenger journey, and connecting all parties so that the impact of multiple connections works to the benefit of everyone.”
It’s a digital transformation feat that demands a vendor-independent nose-to-tail approach to putting into place the appropriate technologies no matter what the aircraft.
Those technologies will include apps and more apps – across all platforms, including onboard, mobile and Cloud. Content will be everywhere.
“Everyone in the aircraft – pilot, crew and passengers – will have access to mobile apps, with broadband connectivity that will be achieved through a range of pipes and platforms,” adds Lavorel.
With such an explosion of data, there are questions to be asked and, crucially, answered. Who owns the data? Who can be trusted if it’s shared? Will that slow down innovation? How can it be kept secure from those wishing harm?
And then there are the interfaces that need to be easy and open if the integration of data is to deliver the expected benefits.
Without a focus on the end-to-end chain, those benefits will fail to materialize. And no one killer technology can deliver the benefits alone.
So while the opportunities and potential of nose-to-tail, door-to-door connectivity are grabbing the headlines, there’s still plenty of hard work to be done through collaboration, the use of standards and the development of trust.
The connected aircraft is a reality – the vital bit is to seize the potential to make it work as well, to the benefit of everyone involved in air travel.
SITAONAIR unlocks airline challenges and enables them to streamline cabin and cockpit operations, optimize maintenance and flight operation procedures, improve airline and passenger safety, as well as personalize the passenger experience and grow ancillary revenues.
To enable the digital transformation of aircraft, bringing them into the fold of the airline IT department, SITAONAIR offers a full service to passengers, crew, cockpit, aircraft, flight operations and air traffic control, providing complete connectivity on a nose-to-tail basis.
This gives airlines the ability to personalize the passenger experience, streamline cabin and cockpit operations, and optimize maintenance procedures.
The company is unique in looking at the big picture of how digital transformation is enabling airlines to benefit from connectivity, transforming the passenger experience and revolutionizing airline operations.