APEXEXPO: What could onboard connectivity power by 2025?

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Passengers watching live TV via Panasonic Avionics.Passengers watching live TV via Panasonic Avionics onboard connectivity.
Passengers watching live TV via Panasonic Avionics’ onboard connectivity.

Future Travel Experience recently recruited a number of experts to co-create the Onboard Connectivity 2025 Think Tank vision. This project explores how airlines and their partners could harness the full potential of the connectivity pipeline between now and 2025.

A summary of the Think Tank vision and industry recommendations were presented for the first time in Asia at the APEX educational conference in Singapore, on the eve of the EXPO proper.

But what did it reveal?

The Think Tank team comprised:

  • David Bruner – VP Global Communications Services, Panasonic Avionic Corporation
  • Stephen Call – Connectivity Manager, The Boeing Company
  • Max Coppin – Partner, Development Manager, Google
  • Dante Dionne, PhD (c) – Senior IT Manager, Innovation Technology Development Center (ITDC), Korean Air
  • Ryan Ghee – Editor and Event Strategy Manager, Future Travel Experience
  • Joe Leader – CEO, APEX
  • Babar Rahman – Senior Manager, Corporate Sponsorships, CSR & Inflight Entertainment/Connectivity, Qatar Airways

These were their main findings.

Operational opportunities

Boeing’s Stephen Call said you only have to look at the “Internet of Things’ to see how things are developing.

“We see many, many opportunities for growth,” he said. “For example, airlines will be able to make better use of real-time weather data to drive efficiencies.

“It will also help crew deal with irregular operations, such as cancelled or delayed flights. The combination of technology and a human touch will ensure that all passengers receive a better service.

“The biggest challenge is sharing data. A lot of that data might be stored on an aircraft or in a back office, but by collating data from all aircraft we could have a game changer,” he said.

He added that OEMS could continuously monitor aircraft data and identify fault indicators. This could lead to increased prognostic maintenance, limiting aircraft on ground events for unscheduled maintenance.

But this will require a mindset change from airlines, allowing the wider industry to benefit from their operational data, rather than keeping it guarded for their own use.

The panel agreed that there are difficulties over who owns the data and issues over whether all the parties might be happy for it to be shared.

The FTE Think Tank recommended the development of a common, secure network architecture that could wirelessly capture operational data from all aircraft to a secure central ground data repository.

Panasonic’s Dave Bruner said: “An aircraft can currently generate an awful lot of data, but we have to decide how much of that data we need to see in real time via onboard connectivity, and how much could be downloaded once it is on the ground.”

Crew empowerment opportunities

Dave Bruner also looked at how equipping flight attendants with connected devices could create huge opportunities for airlines.

For example, crew would be able to transfer data back to the galley without leaving a passenger’s seat.

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Connected devices could also be able to control the aircraft environment (lighting and temperature). Sensors in the seats could also enable crew to monitor passenger health and well being.

“People are using wearables right now that can monitor passengers’ temperatures and heart rates, and this data could be communicated to the crew, but would they want to?” Bruner asked.

“There are security issues over these data and airlines wouldn’t want them to get into the wrong hands.”

Passenger empowerment and personalisation opportunities

GetConnected.aero mobile edition.In addition to allowing passengers to communicate with crew via their personal electronic devices (PED), the connected aircraft could bring a number of other benefits.

For example, a monitor on a passenger’s wrist could check if they were dehydrated or too cold and alert the crew. Airlines could allow passengers to control their own environment, letting them adjust their lighting or order their own food and drink.

Apex’s Joe Leader said: “Wi-Fi-based synchronisation between a smartphone and the IFE system will increasingly mean more passengers will be able to preview their IFE content before travelling, creating playlists and uploading them to the aircraft.”

Google’s Max Coppin said that emergence of a truly e-enabled aircraft with onboard connectivity will force airlines to rethink their onboard retail strategies. Inflight food and beverages, duty free, onward travel and destination activity could all be handled via a smartphone.

Knowing passengers’ digital browsing habits would also enable airlines and advertisers to tailor their experience.

The airport experience could also be streamlined.

“Any activity that involves needing to know your location offers up opportunities, such as easier navigation,” said Coppin.

Another recommendation was that the industry needs to develop a passenger-focused personalisation system that could be shared. Airlines and suppliers could collaborate on the development of a personalisation super-app.

Such an app would not only provide airlines with the most detailed view of passengers, but would remove the need for them to rely on passengers to download individual airline apps to make the most of the opportunities.

Babar Rahman said that he thought every airline thinks their app is the best.

“But one single app would make sense,” he said. “Perhaps we should start with the alliances – that would be the easiest route forward.”

The full results of the onboard connectivity 2025 Think Tank are planned to be released by Future Travel Experience in December 2016.

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