The Connected Aircraft, The Connected Passenger, and More From Singapore

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The top global mega-trends in airline travel clearly define the present and future of aviation travel today and a few of the changing keywords and phrases are defining terminology that drove the Singapore APEX show: Connectivity, Innovation, Individual Empowerment, and Productivity are just a few of the terms that stood out to us. Another way to put it is basically travelers are using technology to improve their travel experience, lifestyles, and their world in general. Makes sense! In fact, “Connected” was probably the most commonly used word and we heard and saw it in action all over the show, in the city offices/buildings/shops, and in travel – folks have their smartphones and tablets out everywhere and find them more interesting than just about anything around them. But more importantly, this connected, informational lifestyle change has affected the future of travel locally and internationally. You had better believe folks like the airlines, retailers, and Google see that connectivity is the future.

CONNECTIVITY & TRAVELING TODAY

The APEX Conference in Singapore clearly demonstrated that connectivity is the heart of travel by Millennials and the rest of the device focused population.  Interestingly, some 40% of passengers carry all 3 devices – laptop, smartphone and tablet – and, yes, we did the same! One expert noted that some 83% of passengers carry a smartphone onboard while over 50% of passengers value onboard Wi-Fi as a key criteria in airline choice. This certainly explains the unofficial show focus on the subject of travel connectivity. It is what is needed and so it is what’s happening.

Mobile services are becoming a big deal: an amazing 57% of travelers are using self-service for check-in and some 89% are aiming to implement mobile check in and boarding by the end of 2016. And there is no end to the airline apps that provide utility and reward for uploading. One technical meeting even tried to sort out all the data communication and ticketing communication issues that exist because every airline and ticket information collection effort is different and standards are in need of development.

Make no mistake, connectivity is a big deal today but it is about to get even bigger. Presently, some 4,982 airplanes are “connected” aircraft, but by 2025 there will be 16,560 connected aircraft, and when we refer to the connected aircraft we mean passenger connectivity and airline operations data as there are already connections to and from the flight deck for pilots and flight critical information. Further, reported digital ancillary revenues are tracking connectivity growth. For example, one speaker reported that in 2015 revenues were $40.5 Billion and by 2020 they are predicted to reach $130 Billion!

Today’s modern traveler, as one speaker stated, is “embracing connected platforms, living online, and discovering more through digital technology” and by just visiting an airport you will find that statement true. And, of course, Google sees a place (market) in pre-flight, in-flight, and post-flight, connectivity options – smart folks! As one industry panelist said: “The digital world enables the discovery of the real world!”

During APEX the IFExpress team talked to some 50 to 60 companies and we found a lot of real stories that we will deliver in the coming weeks; however, we thought that we would give our readers some hints, thoughts, views and temptations of what is to come in the next month or so.

WHAT WE SAW – SOME SURPRISES, SOME EXPECTATIONS

1) From a general perspective, companies were focusing on the end-to-end experience for the passenger. For example, enabling the airline to engage the passenger via the airline app after ticket purchase but before the date of flight. Continuing the engagement process through the airport, onto the aircraft and until the arrival at the hotel/home. This is mostly being implemented through software upgrades, software hooks, and data mining but there were some new products and services in the offering. Airlines want to be able to ‘engage’ their passengers more throughout the trip – providing a tailored experience even in drudge class.
2) This was a year where IFExpress saw more focus on software iterations vs. new hardware/technology developments. Mind you, this is a broad generalization as there were some updates to existing servers with larger SSD and one or two new technology applications being exhibited. However, on a whole we saw a focus on utilizing existing hardware with improved software to enable data acquisition to enhance the passenger experience and improve the real-time evaluation of aircraft operations all enhanced by increased memory. Both of these have been longtime goals either by the airlines, OEMs or both.

3) IFE vendors were also focusing on the ability to provide the airline with operations information real-time. For example, this will enable the airline to reduce down-time of aircraft, increase turnaround time when there is a mechanical issue. The benefits of real-time data acquisition will be achieved by utilizing the various methods of communication now available to the airlines – broadband (satellite), Wi-Fi, 3G/4G cellular, and gatelink. The method of transmission is determined by the critical nature of the data and the transmission environment. For example, if there was an engine issue, it could be transmitted real-time to the ground so a repair crew could meet the aircraft upon landing, facilitating a quicker turnaround of the aircraft and maybe even keeping the next flight’s departure on time, possibly through an existing non-engine data communication network. Obviously, certification of these and competitive solutions will greatly affect these connectivity solutions. But, all of this saves the airline money in the long run. Obviously this would work with more certainty for an IFE screen that was malfunctioning or a seat that was inoperable over a cabin connectivity ground-to-air link.

4) The aforementioned services also provide the vendors with the ability to offer the service of monitoring and evaluating other non critical (or not as critical) data to an airline – especially if the airline doesn’t want to analyze the data in house. This is a potentially new revenue stream for the vendors and possibly a field for new vendors.

5) Much of the software iterations we saw at the show allowed the airlines to tailor their GUI and media in house and real-time. As an example, airlines now have the capability to analyze whether movie “A” is being viewed as anticipated, if the viewing falls short of anticipated numbers the airline can switch it out with another option prior to the current media cycle being completed. This not only keeps the media fresh but allows the airline to get better value from their media expenditure. Also, the ease of using these software tools allows airlines to potentially have a smaller number of individuals working on media management. We should mention that with this approach to content monitoring the possibility of linked content loading is also an example of real-time performance monitoring.

6) With the advent of Wi-Fi, gatelink, etc. we are seeing faster media load times. We also saw the ability to load new content while the aircraft was in use as mentioned above. This all saves time for sure now, and money in the future.

7) Broadband solutions are finally coming online to make the aforementioned a reality by providing global coverage. Some vendors are investing heavily in either their own satellites or purchasing dedicated transponder space.

AND MORE OBSERVATIONS

8.) There were a few of 100+ airplane IFEC hardware deals pending (and done) that may be a surprise to some.

9.) There were a few new IFEC entrants comprised of young, technical developers who want a piece of the IFEC business and we will watch their growth. And yes, some of the troops were from the old school companies that have less to offer, or offer nothing at all new today.

10.) One company, and one company alone, offered a true Bluetooth in cabin wireless connectivity solution with both low data and high data solutions.

11.) USB – C is here and the folks from IFPL will have more to say about it in another story.

12.)  As Ka-Band connectivity makes the scene we might even see lower competitive data products, but that is, of course, a prediction.

13.) One company in the flight path mapping arena blew our minds with the way their ‘Silicon Valley’ Top Dog showed IFExpress his plans to deliver a planned and plotted solution to your travel plans, in the air AND ON THE GROUND.

14.) Some new entrants to the IFEC madness have a couple seemingly good ideas that we had never heard of and plan to surprise us all soon!

15.) It is always a surprise to visit a vendor that told us what was coming last year and we missed the big picture – only to get a personal awakening this year. ‘Passenger connectivity before, during, and after a flight’ is the subject and the folks at SITONAIR really had their act together about it.

16.) Happy 25th Birthday GoGo!

17.) There is no place better on earth to throw an outdoor reception than Singapore: The top of buildings provide a view unlike no other on this planet, and they feature the best of everything. Thank You Gogo, Panasonic, Thales, APEX and everyone else that provided an incredible list of evening entertainment and hosting – you folks are the best! Be sure to check out our flckr link for expo images!

OTHERS SAID
IFExpress talked to many attendees about the show and we decided to share some of their comments with our readers:

1) Attendance was noted: “I was surprised how well-attended it was, considering all the people from North America that I knew would not make the trip.”
2) “Education Day on Monday before the EXPO had some very good presentations – Hopefully they should all be posted on the APEX website soon (audio and PP slides).”
3)  We asked about technical/products announcements that made sense and one respondent noted: “FTS Technologies’ flight attendant app for the smartwatch was the best that I saw.”
4) Another area that really counts is networking and the value of getting together: “The networking was great – events were fun and talked with a lot of people.” We couldn’t agree more.
5) Industry news is always a big deal and we asked one news expert and she told IFExpress: “The biggest news had to be the Rockwell acquisition of BEA, depending on their strategy for ‘hands-off’ management vs integration into the Rockwell family. If RCI takes a hands off approach and lets BEA continue to operate on its own, then the news might be different. If RCI tries to integrate it into RCI operations or develop an IFE system to sell with seats as a package deal, then it’s possibly even bigger news!”
6) One vendor told IFExpress: “I don’t know if co-locating with AIX Asia and FTE really achieved any cross-over attendees that would not have gone to APEX anyway – every time I went down to see AIX and FTE the floor there it was really dead.”
7) Another IFE vendor told us; “Except for the wireless apps, no real standout technical or new product announcements that we saw.  Probably the next most interesting things were the VR experience by Neutral and the Immersive Glasses by Skylights.  Also, Ron Chapman’s Bluetooth text communications product working over Iridium is real interesting too.”
8) Another show goer told us we could also add a mention about the new APEX Awards and the fact that they were expanded from 2 to 8 categories this year. “It’s a step in the right direction since IFEC is too diverse a subject to shoehorn all the products and services into a couple categories.” And, we couldn’t agree more!

Lastly, we need to say that Joe Leader and his team of real experts did a great show job. Thank you for inviting us and keep up the good work!

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