APEX TECH attendees in the Ray Dolby Ballroom, Los Angeles, California. Images: Greg Verville

Day Two of APEX TECH was filled with updates on specifications, guidelines and recommendations on technology within the airline industry. The need for collaboration and information sharing was identified by all presenters as they described the benefits that can be achieved when the industry comes together on cybersecurity, file standards, accessible in-flight entertainment, wireless technology and more.

Read the key updates from each of the speakers below.

Dennis-Tierney-APEX-TECHOneworld’s Digital Journey and Rounded Strategy 

With 14 airlines and 30 affiliated carriers, oneworld is the smallest of airline alliances in terms of membership. However, counting American Airlines and other large carriers among its members, it rivals SkyTeam and Star Alliance in its scope. Leading the alliance on its digital journey, Dennis Tierney, vice-president, Membership and Customer Experience, told APEX TECH delegates that, generally, “technology experts advocate an Uber-style disruption in the airline industry.” But he noted that “there’s not going to be a single disrupter, there’s disruption taking place in everything we’re doing … and also, the airline business is a tad more complex than the taxicab business.” Tierney explains that oneworld’s approach will involve building a digital tool kit to support the varied use cases its members have, rather than come forward with agreed use cases. He also announced that oneworld CTOs and CIOs would be in attendance at this year’s APEX EXPO.

BX2A7526Closed Captioning: Taking a Hint from Netflix

Bryan Rusenko and Michael Childers, who represent APEX on the Department of Transportation’s Accessible Air Transportation (ACCESS) Advisory Committee, provided a closed captioning update for APEX TECH attendees. ACCESS is pursuing a negotiated regulation process, in which an advisory group is established and stakeholders attempt to reach consensus on closed captioning and descriptive audio rules. Childers highlighted the importance of understanding that “IFE systems are not the same as consumer electronics.” Rusenko explained how the APEX Closed Captioning Working Group is “trying to move forward in harmony with what the rest of the world [e.g. Netflix] is doing.” Find more info here.

BX2A7582Data Storage and Personal Entertainment

“We’re going to have more storage capacity available for anything in the not too distant future – and that’s good because we’re going to need it,” said Tom Coughlin, founder of Coughlin Associates, during his presentation on data storage. With more connected devices – including wearables, home appliances, cars and more – more storage and more power will be needed to communicate within the Internet of Things. “I think the answer is there’s got to be some sort of balance of the storage … and we don’t know where it’s going to go, so that flexibility needs to be built in,” he said. “Because of latency and connectivity issues (particularly in airplanes) content may be kept in a cloud library and downloaded to the local network or individual device storage, but likely cannot be streamed directly from the cloud.” He noted that the move toward head-mounted virtual reality with devices will be popular because of low costs and sufficient resolution and will increase demand of resolution to 8K in the near future. Find more info here.

BX2A7661Mobile Pay Is Here to Stay

“Mobile proximity payments account for 0.02 percent of today’s retail transactions, but,” insists Sean Gately, Samsung Pay’s director of Merchant Programs, “mobile wallets are here to stay so the airline industry needs to be prepared to accept them.” According to Gately, Samsung Pay is currently accepted at 19 million points of sale in the US — compared to two million for other mobile payment technologies — because it uses Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST), meaning that it acts like a credit card. The main challenge facing Samsung Pay is changing customer attitudes and behaviour. “Apple Pay and Android Pay aren’t really our competition, plastic is,” said Gately. While WestJet is still in the early stages of adopting mobile payment technologies, “what makes it attractive is that it renders you easy to do business with, which is one of our mantras at WestJet,” explained Mike Gromek, the airline’s technology advisor. Read more on payment technology.

BX2A7705FAA on In-Flight Connectivity and Cybersecurity

Pete Skaves, chief scientific and technical advisor of Advanced Avionics at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), shared some insight into how the US national aviation authority examines and regulates cybersecurity, taking a primary focus on in-flight entertainment systems. “We think the biggest threat electronically, of course, is access points to the airplane,” he explained. Protecting aviation networks must make sense economically – which, Skaves said, means accepting the realities of the connected aircraft. Besides economic motivation, Wi-Fi is shared between in-flight entertainment and other aircraft domains for moving map information, live TV, power supply and more. “We have to do things for economy benefit, but partition them in such a way so there’s no harm caused.” Potential risks being assessed by the FAA include everything from erroneous maintenance messages to malware infecting an aircraft system. Read more about cybersecurity.

Joe-Leader-APEX-TECHAPEX Introduces Global Connectivity Roadmap

APEX CEO Joe Leader introduced the APEX Global Connectivity Roadmap, which is meant to accelerate airline adoption of Wi-FI technology. While 78 percent of US airlines are equipped with in-flight Wi-Fi, only 24 percent of non-US airlines are connected. One of the reasons is that airlines are receiving different messages from one vendor to another. “The number one comment I’ve heard from airlines regarding in-flight connectivity is ‘we’re worried about making the wrong decision,’” said Leader. “We need to provide our member airlines with a clear, unified roadmap that’s been validated by the industry.” APEX has reached out to 31 aircraft connectivity companies for information, including speed, features and unique selling attributes. The APEX Global Connectivity Roadmap is set to be unveiled at the IATA World Passenger Symposium in Dubai and APEX EXPO in Singapore, which are taking place back-to-back in October. Read more on in-flight connectivity.

APEX TECHWhat Makes In-Flight Gaming Tick

In back-to-back presentations, Jörg Schiffmann, Sales and Marketing, GUE Tech, and Patrick Larocque, vice-president  of Sales and Software, Global Eagle Entertainment, presented insights on in-flight gaming. “Games are underrepresented in in-flight entertainment (IFE) today,” Schiffmann said, noting that the total global revenue for the gaming industry on the ground now outpaces the movie industry. “The demographics of gamers very much matches the demographics of passengers on board,” Schiffmann explained after sharing that the average gamer is 31 years old and that there are more gamers over the age of 50 than under the age of 18. Both Schiffmann and Larocque pointed out that licensing games is much more cost effective than licensing movies for IFE. They also agreed that games need to be customized for IFE use and that passengers are looking for top brands along with classics like sudoku and crosswords. Larocque asserted that bringing games directly on the system still makes sense: “Even when the games are hidden within the graphical user interface, we still see an eight to 10 percent usage rate for games, which is pretty good when you consider how much it costs.” 

APEX TECHEncoding and Encryption Technologies Update

Pierre Schuberth, senior manager, Systems Engineering, Thales Avionics and chair of the APEX Encoding & Encryption Technologies Working Group, introduced APEX specification 0415 during his update on encoding and encryption technologies. Called the Media & Device IFE Ecosystem Specification, it describes minimum safety requirements, outlines format constraints and makes workflow recommendations for delivery and distribution of next generation IFEC content to passengers. After reviewing version three of the previous APEX 0403 specification (MPEG Content Specification & Content Security Requirements for Airline In-Flight Entertainment and Connectivity Systems), APEX TECH attendees voted to adopt the spec, with no one opposed.

APEX TECHUpdate on Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem and Common Format

Closing the conference, Albert Koval, VP of Implementer Relations at UltraViolet DECE, delivered an update on Common Format based on an Implementer’s Workshop held in May with APEX, DECE, Blu-ray Disc Association and The Secure Content Storage Association. “CF is a mature, well-tested format that brings many standards together in a practical, end-to-end solution,” Koval explained as a main takeaway. “A single format would be more efficient for content providers, streaming services and player implementations,” he added. Read the specifications for Common Format here, and find out more about Common Media Application Format here.