Unlocking New Digital Advantages: Q&A With Inmarsat Aviation President Philip Balaam


Image via Inmarsat

In a recent survey of almost 10,000 respondents conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic, satellite and connectivity operator Inmarsat revealed how people feel about the future of flying. In this Q&A, president of Inmarsat Aviation Philip Balaam delves into some of the findings and shares how digitalization is at the heart of aviation recovery. This article originally appeared in the Expo Daily Experience: Preview. Read the full issue and register for FTE APEX Virtual Expo.

Your recent Passenger Confidence Tracker study reveals that air travel passengers are most concerned, for instance, when visiting the toilet or when they are in close proximity to others. How does digitalization address these concerns? 

Philip Balaam, president of Inmarsat Aviation. Image via Inmarsat

The findings suggest that passengers feel most comfortable when they are able to maintain social distance. Staggered queuing at security, passport control and when boarding the plane has helped passengers feel more confident when moving around the airport. But those surveyed made it clear that they’d welcome other measures like contactless catering and payment, as well as real-time reallocation of empty seats and news and destination status alerts once on board. That’s where digital innovation comes in: helping passengers stay connected, informed and distracted, while enabling them to minimize contacts and reduce touchpoints.  

There are obvious interventions around health monitoring and telemedicine, but a lot of this seems to be about renormalizing the experience–transferring traditional services to digital, with the passenger’s mobile device acting as a remote control for their journey.

How has COVID-19 changed passenger expectations
around connectivity? 

The pandemic has changed the way we work, shop, entertain ourselves and connect with friends and family. New expectations on the ground will create new demands in the air. In our survey, 40 percent of global passengers said in-flight Wi-Fi is now more important to their flying experience than ever before. In Europe, we’re seeing take up rates for our EAN service that are three times higher than before the crisis. 

During recovery, as the battle for market share intensifies, digital services will become a critical brand differentiator. Carriers able to offer an in-the-air experience that resembles the one on-the-ground will be at a significant advantage.

And how will digitalization and connected technologies help the industry recover from COVID-19?

A sustainable economic recovery for airlines will only be achieved through a combination of increased operational agility, improved operational efficiency, enhanced competitiveness and unlocking new incremental revenue streams – all of which depend heavily on a spectrum of connected technologies, on and off the plane. Real-time aircraft operations data will be vital in enabling more accurate analysis and better-informed decision-making. Live data, streamed to and from the aircraft, will help reduce fuel use, minimize non-performance costs, enable effective aircraft health monitoring and facilitate cost-effective predictive maintenance programs. 

But connectivity also opens up opportunities to innovate and develop new revenue streams. Connected ancillaries – access fees, sponsorship, premium services, e-tail, affiliate sales and digital advertising – represent both the most significant, and the least-well exploited, opportunity. New in-flight digital media platforms will offer opportunities for premium personalized content, promotions and advertising. Airlines need to think like travel retailers and adopt a digital mindset.

What will attendees learn by tuning in to your panel at FTE APEX Virtual Expo?

They’ll learn about how high-quality, reliable connectivity underpins digital transformation on the aircraft – and how we’re helping our partners to realize this ambition through the adoption of connected services. We’ll also share how we can help them monetize connected services more effectively, how we plan to invest in breakthrough technology and about our long-term roadmap.  

Virtual Expo Connection – Event Agenda

Philip Balaam speaks on the panel: “Digitalisation of the inflight experience as an accelerator for recovery”.  

Dec. 8, 5:30 p.m. GMT