APEX in Profile: Nancy Walker

Image: Vance Walstra

Nancy Walker
Chief Commercial Officer
SmartSky Networks

Nancy is an aviation industry veteran with a master’s degree in engineering management and a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. She most recently served as a senior portfolio manager for Leonardo DRS, acquiring programs for ruggedized network computing systems for US defense and international military customers. Previously, she held positions in technical, programmatic, leadership and business development areas at NASA, Harris, LiveTV and Thales.

Fast facts:
Location: MLB
Years in the industry: 30+
Brand of suitcase: Briggs and Riley
Passport stamp you wish you had: New Zealand
The future of flight will be: Pilotless

You became SmartSky Networks’ CCO last year. What’s that been like?
Crazy. I’ve got a great team but it’s very dispersed. One thing I’ve already been able to institute is meetings with the sales, marketing, product management and support teams every six weeks. I wanted us to be able to come together outside of tradeshows and more proactively collaborate so each team understands the pressures the other is under. The other thing I have been able to do is help drive execution and strengthen our focus in the marketplace.

When will the SmartSky Networks infrastructure be up and running?
We are well over 80 percent of the way through the active upfit stage of the cell towers and are working toward full deployment by mid-2019. We also recently announced at APEX TECH in Los Angeles that JetSuiteX will be the first commercial air carrier customer of our 4G air-to-ground connectivity, and we are looking forward to beginning operations with them by Q3 this year.

What’s a common misconception about in-flight connectivity?
That passengers are only interested in streaming videos and don’t want more, when actually they want to be able to do what they do every day in their home or office. And that the best way to measure in-flight connectivity is through speed tests. The Internet is a two-way communication. Everyone thinks that it is all about how much data you can push to the aircraft; what’s overlooked is the return link.

What’s the role of ATG connectivity when there are satellites?
We’re not saying you don’t need satellites, but I think we’re going to see the market move toward having multiple connectivity solutions on board. We can also help regional airlines that haven’t been able to make a satellite-based system work – economically, or from a space and cost perspective – on board the aircraft.

What do you think is the most overlooked aspect of the passenger experience?
Outside of connectivity, it’s information. Passengers need real-time information – arrival/departure time changes, gate changes, terminal information, etc. Unfortunately, what they have is often wrong and so they waste time searching for the right information.

Any tips for young women who want to work in the aviation industry?
Be relentless, persistent, be gracious and humble while being smart as hell and tough as nails. You won’t be bored in this field. It is also an industry where respect is gained by your ability to do the job.

If you weren’t doing your current job, what would you love to be doing?
This will sound trite, but I can’t imagine any job that I could love any more than this one. However, if I had to pick something, it would be a US senator. I love to fight for things I know are right and fix wrongs in the world. I am not afraid to speak up and challenge the ways things are and be creative in finding solutions.

Who’s your role model?
Red Adair. He was an entrepreneur, an innovator and wasn’t afraid to go where others wouldn’t dare to tread.

APEX in Profile: Nancy Walker was originally published in the 9.2 April/May issue of APEX Experience magazine.