APEX TECH January 2018: Takeaways From Day Two


    All images: Greg Verville

    World Airways CEO Ed Wegel opened the second day of APEX TECH by presenting his vision for reviving the charter carrier brand as a millennial-friendly airline. Panels including representatives from San Jose International Airport, US Customs and Border Protection, the American Council of the Blind and Bluebox Aviation Systems addressed the integration of biometric technology at airports and APEX’s involvement in setting specifications for accessible IFE. APEX’s new Ad Delivery Working Group (ADWG), which will work on the technical requirements for the delivery of targeted in-flight advertising, was introduced. Startups in the fields of connectivity metrics, private aviation and airport security presented how their ideas could shape the future of air travel.  Zodiac Aerospace’s Thomas Lee wrapped up the sessions by entertaining the audience with stories about his experiences on five inaugural commercial airline flights, which have made him a world record holder.


    World Airways plans to launch in 2018 as a long-haul low-cost carrier that will embrace the increasing pace of technological change. “Where you want to be 10 years from now, why wait 10 years to be there? If it makes sense in 10 years, it probably makes sense now,” said Ed Wegel, World Airways CEO. He presented his vision for reviving the charter carrier brand as a millennial-friendly airline. “Future favors the bold,” he proclaimed.

    Wegel said passengers want to do at 35,000 feet what they do on their couch at home. “The future traveler is always switched on, connectivity is more important than legroom or meals for them,” he explained. “If airlines want to earn their loyalty, they must offer the best global in-flight Wi-Fi service.” On the topic of in-flight entertainment, Wegel said,”If a millennial is staring at a device all day, why do we need to provide one? We think BYOD is a powerful proposition.” He also said airlines will need to master artificial intelligence, which holds the promise of “reducing the number of decisions passengers will need to make in their journey.” Wegel also thinks cryptocurrencies in some form, will become the global currency over the next 10 years.


    “As we enter 2018, we are entering the age of the biometric airport,” said APEX CEO Joe Leader. Biometrics refers to the characteristics of our bodies – fingerprints, iris patterns, even the geometry of our faces – that can be used to identify passengers and create a stressless travel experience. With facial recognition technology, “passengers are going to be able to board without a boarding pass,” said Leader. “This technology already exists today. Your passport will become a backup document in the next ten years.”

    Using biometrics to streamline the entry and exit process for international passengers is a priority for California’s San Jose International Airport, according to Rebecca Baer, SJC’s deputy director of Innovation and Business Development. “We have a vision at San Jose to be a leading airport in technology, and what it means is that seamless, paperless, less stressful travel experience that passengers are really asking for.” SJC is partnering with the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to implement biometric-based entry and exit processes for international passengers.

    Facial recognition is the basis of technology being rolled out throughout the US, according to Dan Tanciar, CBP deputy executive director. “Why face? People know how to take pictures, so there’s no education. And we’ve got the pictures, they’re already taken as part of other travel processes.” Using biometrics, CBP’s goal is to confirm 97% of departing international air travelers over the next four years.


    Michael Childers, APEX Technology Committee chair, and Bryan Rusenko provided details on the latest progress made by the Accessible Interface Task Force. In November 2016, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) gave APEX a mandate to form a task force, including its members, to consult with disability organizations and develop recommendations on proposed specifications for an accessible user interface. This would enable passengers who are visually-impaired, blind, hearing-impaired or who have dexterity impairments to use in-flight entertainment and connectivity systems. The task force submitted 11 recommendations to the DOT in November, including that the software components of all IFEC systems use the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 as a baseline. It also recommended updates to legacy IFEC systems incorporate accessibility features.

    Rusenko said the DOT has not yet responded, adding that the Trump administration’s requirement that federal agencies remove two regulations for every new one enacted could slow down process. Childers said he believed it is in APEX members’ best interests to voluntarily implement the rules because it would be a benefit once the political climate changes and regulations are back in vogue.

    Anthony Stephens, director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs for the American Council of the Blind, who is a member of the task force, said, “Thank you for finding a solution to a problem that has been very significant for our community.” David Brown, Bluebox Aviation Systems’ director of Business Development, explained how his company developed an iPad-based accessible IFE solution for Virgin Atlantic. He said he became aware of accessibility requirements through an APEX presentation by Eric Lauzon, Air Canada’s manager of In-Flight Entertainment. Brown described the process of developing the accessible IFE solution as “the most humbling and enjoyable project any of us have ever worked on.”


    The potential to generate in-flight revenue through the personalized placement of IFE ads moved one step closer to reality today as Michael Childers, APEX Technical Committee chair, announced the official launch of APEX’s new Ad Delivery Working Group (ADWG), with long-time technical consultant Andy Rosen as chair. The ADWG will work on the technical requirements and specifications for the delivery of targeted advertising, working with the APEX Airline Advertising and Ancillary Revenue Committee (ARC), which will focus on the business issues.

    Traditional broadcast television is seeing a decrease in advertising revenue due to ongoing fragmentation from new digital services. The opportunity to extend the reach to an on-board captive audience in an attractive demographic is appealing to both advertisers and airlines seeking to generate ancillary revenue. During the interactive session, ADWG members and the audience discussed many of the issues surrounding this new initiative, including ad identification, delivery, placement, reporting and passenger privacy concerns. Childers invited APEX members to participate on the ADWG. “This is an extremely important area, and a significant new opportunity for us,” he said. “It’s time sensitive – we’ve got to be part of it or we’re going to be left behind.”


    Do connectivity metrics such as throughput and latency translate into meaningful comparisons in real-world use? Vijay Harikumar, founder and vice-president of Sales and Marketing at Alethea Communications Technologies, a startup that produces equipment for testing connectivity systems, doesn’t think so. Instead, Alethea stress tests networks using metrics such as video buffers during HD streaming and browser page load time “What we’ve learned over time is that application performance is key to a better quality of experience with Wi-Fi networks.”

    Vandad Espahbodi, co-founder of Starburst, an accelerator program that connects aviation and aerospace startups to stakeholders and venture funds, then presented two companies enrolled in the program, which he described as “relevant and disrupting.”

    Up first was Susan Sloan, CEO and founder of VolJet, an online platform for booking flights on private jets. “I spent 35 years in aerospace. I had the good fortunate to fly on a private jet. This is an amazing way to fly, so I thought ‘why isn’t it more accessible?'” she asked. Using VolJet, Sloan says customers can book in less than 60 seconds. “We have a plurality of operators and we’ve had good feedback from airlines and charter operators.”

    We may be moving toward a world of self-driving cars and machine learning, but some problems of the past have yet to be solved, said Adam Hoffman, CEO and founder of CheckTheQ. His company’s mission is to speed up the air travel experience by shortening wait times at airport security lines. CheckTheQ offers easy-to-install devices that are the size of a pack of cards. Using an accompanying software suite, TSA and airport management officials can respond in real-time to long security lines “We’re tracking the average amount of time it takes a person to get from one place to another.”


    Thomas Lee is passionate about aviation. As vice-president, product marketing for Zodiac Aerospace, he’s been involved in the design of cabins and interior amenities for commercial aircraft. That’s his day job. It might be more accurate to say that Lee is obsessed with aviation. He’s a world record holder, with five inaugural commercial airline flights, and is focused in his pursuit of these milestone AvGeek events.

    Lee entertained the audience, recounting his experiences of flying on such iconic aircraft as the Boeing 747, and more recent designs including the Airbus A380 and A350, the Boeing 787 and the Bombardier C-Series. “On these inaugural flights, nobody is sitting down,” said Lee. “Everybody’s up, walking around the plane – it’s a big party!” What’s the next first flight for Lee? “The Irkut MC-21 for Aeroflot in 2018, and the Comac C919 with Air China in 2019. I’m hoping to get on those flights. I have a good inside connection because Zodiac happens to do the interiors for both of those airplanes!”

    Click here for takeaways from Day 1.