All images: Greg Verville

Michael Childers, Technology Committee Chair & APEX Board Member, opened the June 2018 APEX TECH conference by first introducing the members of the APEX Technical Committee, and then by welcoming all attendees. In what’s become a tradition at APEX TECH, the mic was passed around to everyone for personal introductions.

HIGH EXPECTATIONS

The connectivity experience that passengers have on the ground sets up an expectation for the level of connectivity that will be available in the air, explained Gustavo Nader, vice-president of strategy, Thales Avionics, in the keynote address at APEX TECH. “Thales believes that there are four pillars to an optimized experience – connectivity, cybersecurity, big data, and artificial intelligence,” said Nadar. For the passenger, the IFE experience should be about personalization and service convenience, he added.

INVEST IN THE GUEST

Bobby Schroeder, Spirit Airlines at APEX TECH

“We’ve invested in the guest,” said Bobby Schroeter, vice-president of sales and marketing at Spirit Airlines, outlining the strategy used by the airline to enhance the passenger experience. “Wi-Fi is a big part of our guest experience. They don’t just want it, they need it,” said Schroeter. “We believe connectivity will be an incredible move forward in terms of how we connect our guests with personalization, and how we connect our guests with the world, while in the air.” Installations of Spirit’s new Thales FlytLIVE Wi-Fi IFEC system will begin this November, with fleet completion by Summer 2019.

CONSUMER ELECTRONIC TRENDS IN AVIATION

Mike Bergman, Consumer Technology Association at APEX TECH

“There are consumer electronic trends that color the expectations of the consumer as they become a passenger,” said Mike Bergman of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). As biometric recognition matures, along with voice interaction, artificial intelligence (AI) systems and digital assistants, the relationship with the consumer is becoming more natural and comfortable. “We’re seeing a lot more technology that recognizes the person. The challenge is to adapt the user interfaces in the sky to the changing and evolving consumer expectations on the ground,” said Bergman. He explained that advances in High Dynamic Range (HDR) monitors may enhance the in-flight viewing experience. “With a sunlight problem, HDR is a much better bet, and requires far less data than 4K.”

SKY HIGH ECONOMICS: PART II

Sky High Economics Report Panel at APEX TECH

The second instalment of the London School of Economics and Political Science’s Sky High Economics report was unveiled at APEX TECH. The independently-researched report, commissioned by Inmarsat Aviation, was presented by Frederik van Essen, senior vice-president, Market and Business Development, Inmarsat Aviation, and LSE’s Professor Alexander Grous. The report suggests that the move towards connected aircraft will transform airline operations and safety into a strategic asset, generating a total of $15 billion in annual airline operational savings by 2035.

AIR CHINA ON PAXEX AND WI-FI

Air China's Dr. Zhihang Chi, PhD from Air China at APEX TECH

“We ran our first test flight of a connected aircraft in July 2013. And five years later, we still don’t have Wi-Fi. It’s very frustrating,” admitted Dr. Zhihang Chi, PhD, VP & general manager, North America, for Air China. “Our struggle appears to be not uncommon among carriers.” Dr. Zhihang outlined some of the challenges Air China is facing in implementing IFEC in China, including corporate return on investment, regulatory constraints, and technical issues including satellite footprint and bandwidth. “In today’s world, everyone wants to stay connected,” said Dr. Zhihang.

CLOUD-BASED WI-FI NETWORK OPTIMIZATION

Richard McKinney, President of US Operations at RebelRoam during APEX TECH

“Travelers no longer accept bad Wi-Fi. More bandwidth is a temporary solution, at best. Just as more highways lead to more development, more bandwidth increases usage, which in turn creates congestion.” said Richard McKinney, president, US Operations, for RebelRoam. “Demand for bandwidth is as old as the internet itself. But bandwidth is only part of the solution, control of [data] traffic is critical.” McKinney outlined the RebelRocket Onboard Wi-Fi Traffic Optimization cloud-based technology that currently controls data traffic to 30 transportation companies operating in 38 countries, connecting motor coaches and railways. The company is looking to expand into the airborne IFEC sector with their service that’s completely independent of the IFC service provider and the onboard hardware, and can be implemented in minutes.

CONNECTIVITY WORKING GROUP: STATUS UPDATE AND GROUP ACHIEVEMENT HIGHLIGHTS

Stephan Schulte, Connectivity Working Group Chair at APEX TECH

Stephan Schulte, chair of the APEX Technology Committee’s Connectivity Working Group (CWG) provided an update of the ongoing work being done by the CWG. Schulte presented the results of a survey of airlines, vendors and other stakeholders that was commissioned by the CWG. “We have one goal – we need to talk!” said Schulte. The survey showed major differences in airlines’ and vendors’ perspectives, including the measurement of the Quality of Service against Service Level Agreements; importance of bandwidth; and the onboard performance of a variety of apps by passengers. As an outcome of the survey, Schulte said that the CWG has an action item to determine a basic set of parameters that allow for derivation of all service-level Key Performance Indicators (KPI).

FUTURE OUTLOOK: THE MARKET VALUE OF THE CABIN SCENE AFTER CONNECTIVITY

Yong Li, CEO of TD Link and BlueFocus IFEC at APEX TECH

Yong Li, founder and CEO of TD Link and BlueFocus IFEC, shared his insights from the Chinese market, focusing on the connected cabin. “China has already become the second largest passenger air transport market in the world and is set to be the largest by 2035,” said Yong, through an interpreter. “Over the past several years, there’s one resounding theme from airlines – is there going to be return on the investment for connectivity?” explained Yong. “In China the answer is very clear. The passengers are not willing to pay for the service, but businesses are willing to foot the bill. There is huge potential here.”

REQUIREMENTS TO FULLY CAPTURE METRICS FOR IN-FLIGHT CONNECTIVITY

Bernd Knobe, P3 aero systems, at APEX TECH

Bernd Knobe, managing director, P3 aero systems, covered his observations of the major pain points surrounding the challenge of connectivity, with reference to the APEX Connectivity Working Group’s survey that was presented earlier at APEX TECH. “Today’s Service Level Agreements (SLA) are focused on the aircraft cabin and connectivity throughput,” said Knobe. “But passenger connectivity is more ambitious.” Knobe outlined the importance of fully capturing metrics for in-flight connectivity, which will lead to an improved IFEC passenger experience.

Click here for more takeaways from day 2.