The Passenger Experience

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The Aircraft Interiors Expo is over for another year and we thought a report on what we observed and overheard might be useful for readers who did not get the chance to attend, as well as, serve as an update for those who manned their company booth. To that end, we plan to cover the events in at least three issues of IFExpress. Also, we thought you might like to hear from your favorite IFE personalities so we will intersperse their thoughts about the show in the next few editions of IFExpress as well. Lets start at the beginning, The Passenger Experience Conference (PEC), the day before AIX began.

Located off the show campus in a nearby convention center, PEC is a new feature of the AIX roster. In the past, the pre show activity was co-hosted with APEX and now that Reed and the Aircraft Interiors EXPO folks have gone their own way, the mini conference really rocks! Primarily sponsored by Teague, Gogo, BAE Systems, and DHL, the one day session is one NOT to miss in the future. Why? PEC featured some 36 top notch speakers and panelists and 2 plenary sessions plus we counted 19 meetings and optional cabin related choices of update seminars from catering to IFE. Next year, plan to attend this event as the organizers did a great job of selecting topics and speakers… not to mention the after work get-together. Two additional items: borrow, beg, or steal the Frost & Sullivan “Global In-Flight Entertainment market Assessment”, and keep checking the Aircraft Interiors website for the presentations. We asked Michael Planey, Meeting Moderator and he told IFExpress: “Reed said last week that the presentations would get posted online soon and that they would email a link to them. No word yet as to when they will be made available.”

“This year’s Hamburg Expo was tremendous.  There is exciting growth of Connectivity Delivery Systems with the expansion of Ku-Band platforms and the emergence of the Ka-Band platform.  These types of Satcom mobility technologies means many more opportunities for delivering content to the passenger.  The future is very bright.”- John Courtright

Aircraft Interiors EXPO

Over the next three days at the Messe in Hamburg the exhibition halls were abuzz with every aspect of the passenger experience – catering, seats, lighting, galleys and IFEC. This was a banner year for IFE and Connectivity and fully 25% of the show floor was dedicated to vendors who serve those markets. You can imagine the challenge of covering the exhibitors and we will do our best in the next few issues of IFExpress to impart the information we gathered, but if we missed you, let us know and we will try to get your story out next year. We asked a few attendees what they noticed about the show and got some interesting answers: “Boy, connectivity was all over the place!” –  “The two ‘big deals’ I remember were the OnAir/Saudia announcement  and the Thales/Gogo tie-up.” –  “I think it is interesting that we are now seeing new products and new companies in the IFEC space.”

From a trend point of view, there were enough to go around. If you were to guess, you would probably say that Connectivity and Wi-Fi were big at AIX, and you would be correct. From our perspective, those topics were even expanded from previous years. For example, aircraft Wi-Fi was associated with cockpit and aircraft monitoring efforts by some. Further, Wi-Fi projects were the topic at roughly 9 out of the 11 IFE vendors we visited… some were wireless only! Additionally, the “battle for eyeballs” is becoming evident as some vendors touted the value of double screening that is so pervasive in all our lives. We note; however, that pay-per-click is still not as big as it probably will be someday and only a couple of vendors extolled those virtues.

“The future of inflight connectivity is the Connected Aircraft 3.0. Communication is social, driven by new generation applications; it is relevant to users because it is location based and therefore provides local content; it is accessed through mobile devices – and, of course, by people who are traveling. It also goes beyond passengers to the cabin crew and the cockpit, providing connectivity for aircraft and airline operations.”  – Francois Rodriguez of OnAir

There is a belief by some that inflight Wi-Fi will replace embedded IFE but that thought is difficult to defend considering that today fully embedded systems represent 75% of in-flight entertainment hardware expenditures. While connectivity is growing at a rate some 2X that of IFE, it will take some time to dispel the belief that seatback video is the connection to the passenger. In a discussion with Paul Margis of Panasonic, he told IFExpress, “Seatback screens are the ‘last mile’ for the airlines and they ‘own’ the space, unlike personal devices where Google or whomever control the experience.” Airlines are beginning to realize that they are competing with PEDs and that there is money to be made directly via real sales and indirectly by click-thru’s. Yes, times are changing and AIX is a perfect stage for the preview.

It is pretty obvious that airlines are in a hurry to increase both load factors and passenger count to help raise revenues and there were quite a few seat solutions to aid that desire. Basically, airlines see thinner seats as a way to reduce seat pitch without passengers noticing the reduction in legroom and we found a  great article on the subject. The game here is to keep the belief that nothing has changed and from airlines testing the thinner seat concept, it seems to be working. We wonder if a newer IFE paradigm is needed to keep abreast?

“It seems that the simpler it needs to be for passengers to be connected, entertained, fed and watered, the more complex it has to be technically.  What a great challenge to keep us motivated.” – Claire Underwood of IFPL

Lastly, while there were trends aplenty, another was the relatively new in-between embedded or semi-embedded inseat IFE – the hybrid solution for in-flight entertainment. You may remember that the IMS (now Zodiac) seat solution includes an ‘almost’ portable seatback module and now the folks at digEcor introduced their own device, called GLIDE, that began as a portable too. These solutions are lightweight, sport individual content and processors, and are generally less expensive than embedded systems. In fact, there may be a case for no processors at the seat in the future. Check out where we think embedded IFE may go,at least, Jeff Bezos thinks so!

Next time, we will look at some of the vendor products form outline – Stay Tuned!

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