While each panel during the 2015 Global Connected Aircraft Summit delved into the nuances of the issues at hand, we noticed several common themes throughout the conference and have assembled them here.
Working on Them Pipes
Most agree that bigger pipes will only mean higher take-up rates and bigger bandwidth demands, but until they get here, the verdict on exactly how they will change things is still out. The industry awaits the promise of a more muscly connectivity infrastructure with anticipation. “You’re going to hear more from us in the future on this,” says Richard Nordstom, senior director, Global Marketing Air Transport Cabin Solutions, Rockwell Collins.
Ku, Ka, Kit and Caboodle
At the same time, over half of attendees agree that a combination communication channel makes sense, as reflected in a lunchtime poll conducted by Silvia Prickel, director, Connected Aircraft Programs, United Airlines. “We don’t see high-speed dominating everything,” says Honeywell Aerospace’s John Hajdukiewicz, director of Product Marketing for the Connected Aircraft. “We need to be flexible,” adds Debbie Lee, program manager, Inflight Wi-Fi and Entertainment, United Airlines: “The varied technologies makes sense for an airline.”
“Ku versus Ka doesn’t matter. Antenna efficiencies don’t matter. What matters is the experience you can deliver,” explains Meherwan Polad, director, Business Development for Exede Mobility Services, ViaSat. The airlines agree. “To a customer, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s one system or another – Ka or Ku – it matters that the system is working,” Azman Ahmad, general manger, Products Management of Saudia Airlines, says.
The Connectivity Catch 22
It’s no secret that passengers want Wi-Fi and they don’t want to pay for it – but it’s less clear as to why industry-wide take-up rates are so low. When United’s Prickel asked attendees what they think the average take-up rate is, more than half guestimated that it’s less than 10 percent. Why so low? Prickel speculates that passengers don’t trust connections yet or that the current quality doesn’t meet passenger standards. Attendees also repeatedly noted that a difficult authentication process is enough to deter potential users from getting online. “Frictionless service,” it turns out, is key in the hotel industry also. So, build it and they will come – but the catch: Leave the door open.
Locking It Down
Airlines may need to open up access to their passenger connectivity services, but in terms of cybersecurity, some holes still need to be locked down. “As the airplane becomes another computer on a network, how do we protect it?” asked Robby O’Dell, program manager, Advanced Cockpit Programs, Gulfstream. The collective response from experts on the “Cyber-Security: How Can a Connected Aircraft Manage This Threat” panel: We’re working on it. “There’s lot of work in front of us,” says Axel Jahn, managing director, VP Business Development Connectivity, Zodiac Aerospace. But, adds Andy Beers, director, Aeronautical Sales for the Americas, Cobham SATCOM, “We are being proactive already in developing systems and practices to address security threats in the future.”
Speaking About Proactivity…
“Proactivity” was definitely a buzzword among speakers this year, especially in terms of harnessing Big Data. Kicking off Day One with the opening keynote, Cisco’s senior vice president, Howard Charney noted the current shift in analytics from diagnostic to predictive. “People are moving from selling a feature to selling a result,” concurred Honeywell’s Hajdukiewicz later.
With all of this connectivity-enabled data being converted into intelligence, it’s time we start doing something with it. But hold your horses, cautions Ben Griffin, regional director, Middle East, Africa, Aviation for Inmarsat: “Making data available and improving [a pilot’s] situational awareness is great, but it’s important to strike a balance so there’s not too much noise and the pilot’s not too distracted.”
In It For the Long-Haul…
…but is there a business case for connected operations on the short-haul? An audience member from British Airways mused on the thought during the “Airlines Roundtable: Improving Operations Through Connectivity.” “I think when it comes to fuel efficiency I can agree with you regarding the short haul,” says Ashraf Hoseini, manager, Mobile Solutions/EFB Admin, Flight Operations, SAS. “At SAS we are focusing on the long-haul flights to optimize the flight plan and the cost saving for fuel.” Other panelists also agree that while there may not be a strong short-haul business case per se, there’s still a case to be made: “Having the ability to allow our pilots to see that weather… definitely provides us benefit. I can’t say that it’s paying for the entire system install and the use of it completely, but having it there provides more safety for our operations as an airline,” explains Jon Merritt, director of Flight Operations at United Airlines.
The Internet: It’s going to be big
“Connectivity in the next two years will be a given,” says Saudia’s Ahmad. “I don’t even think it will be an option not be connected,” United’s Prickel agrees. “It needs to be like water: You just turn it on,” gushes Brooks Martin, senior director, Mobile and Digital Guest Experiences, Marriott International. In business aviation, John Wade, executive vice president and general manager, Gogo, tells us: “Wi-Fi is becoming as important as the engines and the pilot.” And Nok Air’s CEO, Patee Sarasin divulges that the low cost carrier’s load factor went up 12 percent the week after it launched free Wi-Fi. The Internet: We think it’s going to be big.