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E-enabling the fleet

by David Stewart, ICF International
E-enabling the fleet

We’re at the beginning of a rapid change in the technologies of aircraft. Not only will air travel grow by roughly 4% through 2023, but there’ll be huge growth of new-generation IP-enabled aircraft – to the tune of 42%.

In real numbers, that’s 31,000 total aircraft compared to 22,000 today. How many of these will be IP-enabled? About 11,300, from 400 today.

Extend the view another decade, and the numbers get even more daunting: 38,000 total planes; 29,000 of them IP-enabled. That’s over 75% increase.

This rapid ramp-up of new gen aircraft will accelerate the demand for new e-enabled services.


With this demand come new opportunities for airlines to change the way they do things. New technologies will drive greater operational efficiency and facilitate better schedule reliability and enhanced passenger services.

These opportunities will be especially critical in the areas of flight management, operations control, and passenger service.

Flight management

New technologies and data analytics will be combined with existing capabilities to be interoperable, providing significant savings on flight times, operations and fuel costs.

Fuel represents 40-50% of an airline’s operating costs. In some regions of the world, just a 1-2% improvement represents a significant difference in cost. Imagine the savings by avoiding turn-backs, for example. The potential is significant.

Operations control

Operations control is the part of the airline where the rubber hits the road, so to speak. The coordination of crews, planes, maintenance, ground handling, food services, and so on. If we can get information that coordinates all of these areas we can better protect aircraft and schedule integrity.

The data and analytics we get will lead to better onboard and off-board decision-making – with obvious benefits to the passenger: fewer delays, and shorter delays when they do occur.

Passenger service

Better information management and data analytics will impact how we manage passenger connections. It will enable us to improve services to passengers onboard and off-board. For instance, wouldn’t it be nice to order your drink before you board the plane, via your mobile device?

Maintenance side

Opportunities abound on the maintenance side too. Today, airlines spend US$ 70bn on maintenance. That’s a significant controllable cost.

From line maintenance and maintenance planning to health management, supply chain management and technical document management, the opportunities for functional improvements provided by new technologies are multiple and material.

Line maintenance represents 17% of an airline’s Maintenance and Repair Operations (MRO) spend. With handheld devices for ground and maintenance staff, significant time savings are being accomplished.

For example, mechanics accessing critical information while they’re working on the aircraft instead of having to stop what they’re doing and go somewhere else to locate the necessary information and parts.

With maintenance planning, system updates and the interaction between systems will be substantially improved by mobile technology, electronic task cards and XML.

These are just a few examples of how e-enabled technologies will improve the maintenance side.

Passenger side

For passengers there are a hotbed of IP-enabled opportunities. They include the creation of a seamless passenger experience from ticketing to arrival.

There are opportunities for easy-to-use systems consistent with people’s systems at home and elsewhere, the ability for passengers to use their personal devices at all times, streamlined security and other previous bottlenecks, and power and recharging availability.

Is embedded in-flight entertainment on its way out? Airlines will cease to be hardware providers and start to be connectivity providers, allowing passengers to use their own devices to access movies, music, the Internet and email.

All of these improvements are possible as long as the equipment suppliers, the airlines and their partners offer reliable, capable and affordable IP-connectivity throughout the flight.

Can we do it?

Expectations are high. Passengers want to be connected in the air the same way they’re connected on the ground. They want the latest and greatest features and apps at an affordable price. That’s the crux. Can we make it affordable?

The challenge is there, for sure. But so is the opportunity.

Learn more on SITA's YouTube channel and the ICF website.

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