APEX in Profile: Ian Walberg

Ian Walberg, Co-Founder, airfree

Image: Ian Walberg

Ian Walberg
CEO, Founder and Owner
Airborne Interactive

Before starting embedded software development company Airborne Interactive in 1998, Ian worked with GEC-Marconi, Virgin Atlantic, Inflight Productions and Interactive Entertainment on everything from the launch of the Boeing 777 to developing gaming software for airlines. Based in Orange County, California, and with a development center in the UK, Airborne has been enabling applications and services on IFEC systems for the past 20 years.

Years in the industry: 25+
Frequent flight: Los Angeles–London (around 200 round trips!)
Brand of suitcase: TravelPro
Frequent Flyer Program: Virgin Atlantic Gold and British Airways/OneWorld Gold
Passport stamp you wish you had: Outer space and the moon

Airborne Interactive is celebrating its 20th anniversary! How has your business evolved in that time?  Surprisingly little. The technology changes often, but understanding what the passenger needs and what the airline wants to offer, and how the current in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) platform can support that, has always been the problem we have been asked to solve. 

What’s one thing you’ve found to be a constant in that time?
Airlines believing IFEC suppliers’ over-optimistic promises and then being disappointed with what can be supported. This comes down to suppliers saying that systems fitted to aircraft can be close to consumer devices, but there are enough differences to make development and deployment more difficult than pushing out a new title or update to ground-based users.

What are some pain points in airline software that you see regularly and how can we get better at this?
The current systems are, in practice, proprietary closed platforms, which makes application development difficult. Moving to an open-style development environment would make a huge difference. This also needs to be accompanied by a clear separation of the hardware and software platforms and development support agreements.

How has connectivity affected what you do?
Positively – it has expanded the systems and solutions we have been asked to work on. It can also enable functionality that was not possible when aircraft weren’t online. It has also helped me personally: I do not miss the result of the Formula 1 while traveling.

Best career advice you’ve ever received?
Nothing ever happens as quickly as you would hope. This is of course the optimism of youth rather than specific career advice. However, it is especially true for the IFEC systems, where there are many hurdles to get applications/content in front of airline passengers.

If you weren’t doing your current job, what would you love to be doing?
A travel guide: It’s always a pleasure helping people learn about new destinations and giving them the confidence to explore.

How long has Airborne Interactive been part of APEX and how has the association benefited you?
Twenty years, and it has been an excellent source of industry contacts, sales leads and friends, as well as allowing me to visit some interesting cities around the world. I was an APEX board member for two years, and my first APEX (WAEA) EXPO was in Montreal in 1994.

What will the IFEC system of the future look like?
I believe in the future we will see seatback, overhead and bulkhead displays as well as personal electronic devices (PEDs) on all aircraft. As cost and weight continue to reduce, the seatback, overhead and bulkhead displays will become standard, functioning as an information platform for airlines to communicate with passengers. Video content and the moving map will still be used by passengers, but PEDs will hold their personal details. 

“APEX in Profile: Ian Walberg” was originally published in the 8.4 August/September issue of APEX Experience magazine.