Q: We’re at an inflection point in the way we’re connected. Is this happening in the air as much as on the ground?
Five years ago you wouldn’t choose a car depending on how well it connects with your phone. You wouldn’t expect to wake up in the morning and find your car has completely changed thanks to an overnight software upgrade.
In its ability to leverage technology, bring new services and new propositions, where the car is going today, we believe air transport goes tomorrow. All of the major motoring brands are on to this: the connected car is there. Now it’s our turn. Real connectivity is coming to the aircraft.
It’s great news for us because, as pioneers, we believe we have all the assets already in place to help the connected aircraft become a concrete reality. We’re leading the way in this young market. It’s a huge opportunity for the air transport community to embrace digital transformation and the associated business benefits.
Success requires that we collaborate with many partners. That’s why last year we grouped all of SITA’s capabilities in this area into one team: SITAONAIR. We already have a very strong footprint thanks to our cockpit business (aircraft services, including AIRCOM) and we’ve been pioneering connectivity in the passenger cabin, not only in response to passenger demand, but even in the early days before expectations were there.
We’ve extended our capabilities further to provide complete nose-to-tail connectivity – whether for passengers, cabin, cockpit – and now including air traffic navigation, maintenance, airline operation centers.
All of these areas have previously largely kept to themselves, perpetuating the risk of silo mentalities between industry players’ departments and data. We can make the aircraft a live technology and data platform within the air transport eco-system. It’s a revolution in the way aircraft are managed and the way people and systems communicate onboard.
Q: Is this enabled in part by the introduction of new satellites?
The introduction at the end of last year of Inmarsat’s new Global Xpress (GX) constellation, formed of three Ka-band, high-speed mobile broadband satellites, is pivotal. It opens the door to global high-speed broadband at up to 50Mbps, well beyond previous offers.
This will allow us to introduce a new generation of passenger and cabin services. For the first time, all over the world there’ll be nearly no difference between being in the air and being on the ground: the onboard Wi-Fi will reflect what most people are used to in their office or at home.
Singapore Airlines and an undisclosed Middle East airline have already committed to upgrading their services in line with the new capabilities. That’s great news for passengers and we expect more airlines to follow in the months ahead, both for upgrades and as new customers.
But it’s not only about connectivity in the air. In many ways it’s more important to think of it as an open channel that allows airlines to make the most effective use of the opportunities for digital services and transformation provided by the technology in new generation aircraft.
Unless you have the expertise and infrastructure in place to manage the complex aircraft data sets, and feed the smart systems and enable associated business benefits, then you’re wasting resource.
So nose-to-tail connectivity and digital transformation are as much a principle, a way of working, as they are about the technology and business transformation that makes it happen. That’s why we were so pleased at the end of last year to agree a new end-to-end aircraft data management service with Rolls-Royce.
This will create a Dropbox-kind of service for aircraft data, making it easier both to download and then to access the mass of useful data produced by the engine onboard new generation aircraft and power optimized engine operations.
Q: What are your portfolio priorities for 2016?
First, from our experience and relationship with airlines we can see that they want to embrace this digital transformation, especially on board. That touches passengers, retail processes, customer care, re-accommodation and so on.
So we need to continue to build capabilities in our applications and services to support the airlines in unleashing the full potential of that transformation.
Second, we will continue to innovate in the area of end-to-end aircraft data management. We believe this is a key industry topic and one that is well suited to SITA’s DNA – enabling people who work around the aircraft to communicate together, to share information in a controlled and secure manner, and hence invent new and more efficient ways of working.
To do that, we must leverage the adoption of broadband satellite technology. So we’ll put a lot of effort this year into securing delivery and market entry with those products.
And third, looking at the other element of the portfolio, the flight deck, we will continue to work with the market in enabling the next generation of airline operations and air traffic control.
To succeed in all of those areas, we’ll be relying on and leveraging SITA’s air-transport dedicated infrastructure services, especially the ATI Cloud, as well as airport wireless services. It’s a unique asset that enables very strong synergy between SITA’s infrastructure and our aircraft portfolio for the benefit of our customers.
Q: You talked about value propositions. Can you elaborate?
We believe that, on top of innovative passenger services, operational efficiency is increasingly what will make the difference for many airlines in their approach to financial return. Through better management of data and technologies, the operating costs of the airline can be improved.
The efficiency of the turnaround can be improved. Fuel can be saved. There are new developments in the market and this is where we can leverage our partnerships through arrangements such as that mentioned with Rolls-Royce.
Airlines also have obvious business concerns in trying to manage more traffic, to add greater density to their operations, while maintaining safety. That’s a big topic of focus for airlines and it’s an area where our nose-to-tail connectivity approach and digital transformation can definitively help.
Q: What do you need to do to achieve your ambitions?
In the cockpit, we’ll continue to expand beyond our traditional customer base while also leveraging and up-selling our applications portfolio.
In the cabin, we’re seizing the opportunity provided by the introduction of Inmarsat’s GX broadband service. It’s a complete game-changer and will stimulate demand from passengers and crew alike.
We’ll continue leading innovation with the provision and handling of aircraft data through end-to-end data management. This includes reaching out to OEMs and aircraft systems manufacturers as well as airlines.
Our approach for every element of our work is to focus on what the community needs as a whole, rather than any individual airlines and their operating partners. The result is always better for everyone.
And this approach is essential if we’re going to develop the kind of open platform that is so essential to achieving genuine nose-to-tail connectivity and adoption of innovative digital transformation practices.
Speed is also critical. It used to take years to bring new ideas to fruition. Now we’re trying to bring to maturity in months. It adds an extra dimension to our approach and it’s an exciting journey to be on.