FTE & APEX Virtual Expo, News From PXCom, Gogo, and Boeing

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FTE & APEX Virtual Expo

The FTE & APEX Virtual Expo is under way and it is the first time the industry has been able to gather together to see the latest technological innovations and discuss how COVID-19 is being tackled. So far Biometrics and touchless solutions are hot topics. In the coming issues of IFExpress we will be delving into the virtual booth demonstrations and product reviews, as well as, highlight some of the APEX Tech Committee sessions and presentations from the 2 day conference.

In today’s issue, we will focus on the Opening Keynote interview of Akbar Al Baker, Group CEO, Qatar Airways who discusses how Qatar Airways has fought their way through the pandemic maze over the past 9 months. He is interviewed by Aaron Heslehurst who is a News Anchor & Presenter for the BBC World News.

Akbar Al Baker: First and foremost we are a resilient airline. We will always find a way to do business and serve our passengers. At the start of COVID-19 there were 100s of thousands of passengers that were stranded by airlines when they shut down and stopped flying. The airlines didn’t realize that there were people who were desperate to get home. We at Qatar Airways wanted to step in and at the time of these challenges and be an airline that would serve them and take them to their loved ones. In this we were very successful. We never reduced our destinations to less than 30 and continued to operate about 150 flights per week. Also did a lot of repatriation flights.

Aaron: You also didn’t reduce your inflight service during this time, while some airlines reduced their inflight meals, etc. Qatar Airways still offered their ‘Dine on Demand’ service. Again, how did you make that decision and how did you make it COVID safe?

Answer: There is always many ways to skin the cat. We started to pre-pack items, put everything on the tray to decrease the interaction between the crew and the passengers and in addition to this we also wanted to make sure that every thing was only served one time, making certain that the crews exposure was limited while not decreasing the level of service and maintaining the quality of the product for the passenger. An example is single use menu cards in business class and no menu card in economy class. This was made certain the passenger didn’t get contaminated by the pandemic in anyway.

Aaron: How have the many decisions Qatar has made during this pandemic to benefit their passengers come off?

Answer: Very well. Our decisions have shown passengers that Qatar Airways is not about extracting revenue during difficult times and taking advantage of people. Qatar allowed booking changes with no fee, change the continent, take cash for refunds – all at no fee. 600,000 refunds were given and we have extended tickets up to 2 years and/or provided vouchers. We have done everything to mitigate any anxiety that the customer might have when suddenly an airport was closed or the airline grounded their airplane. This is the time when you really reflect the standards and value of traveling on Qatar Airways. It put a lot of financial strain on an airline but at the end of the day it is the duty of the airline not to take advantage under these circumstances.

Aaron: Your employees have been working besides thousands upon thousands of travelers. How have you safeguarded and protected your employees with a very low infection rate?

Answer: At the very beginning we had a spike. And we as a small country had to take strict precautions: stop travel into the country, adopt a strict testing regime. Many places in the world have experienced a 2nd and/or 3rd wave, but in Qatar things are normal. By normal I mean the new normal: you have to wear a mask, you have to social distance, there are restricts on how many people can be in a restaurant, , there are restricts on how many people can be in a site of worship, there are restricts on how many people can be in a car. And through these measures we have kept a very tight lid on the pandemic. We have less than 150-200 cases per day. Qatar has been extremely transparent in reporting their cases and as of today Qatar has just 2,500 infected people. Getting the world’s highest quality of medical treatment regardless of nationality, your country of origin, whether you are a resident or not. And we have one of the lowest death rates.

Aaron: When do you think people will be able to have a proper visit or layover?

Answer: It depends on how quickly we can vaccinate our entire population. Qatar has been at the forefront of investing in companies that are developing vaccines. And we anticipate having the vaccine in stock by 1Q2021. Once there is enough vaccine to inoculate all of the residents of Qatar, restrictions will eventually be loosened and move towards the new normal.

Aaron: Your premium lounges and lounges during this time have been open and you managed to maintain the level of service. In fact, you kept the buffets open – even though they were touchless. Again, during a pandemic where this virus can spread like wildfire, why did you do it and how did you manage it?

Answer: It is very easy. First and foremost, everything in the buffet was served to you – anything you wanted was delivered to you by a chef. All the starters were pre-packed and all the bread was pre-packed. Again, when there is a will to do something whether it is providing a quality product on the ground or inflight, we found ways that where anything was touched it was handled by one of our professionals and if a passenger touched something that it was taken away with them. By adhering to these simple rules we made certain that there was nearly 0% risk coming back to our passengers.

Back to the lounges, we closed one of the large lounges because of the reduction in travelers. We are currently expanding the airport and opening new airport lounges that are designed with minimal contact between passengers both in the lounges and duty free area. We have taken advantage of the slow down in passengers to enhance our facilities.

Aaron: The role of innovation, what role will that play in your airline and the entire industry?

Answer: Innovation has never stopped at Qatar Airways and it is something that is always driving our industry as a whole. We have contactless check-in, boarding gates, entry/exit points. After Amsterdam, we were the next airport to deploy UV robots going through the entire airport to disinfect. We are one of the first airlines to deploy the Honeywell aircraft disinfecting systems. We are making certain that our staff is properly clad in masks, gloves and goggles. We have made certain the staff inside the airport is provided with PPE masks and following strict hygiene rules. All these new technologies, systems and processes have made certain that 99.998% of the travelers with Qatar Airways have not been exposed to the virus.

Aaron: Talking about Onboard, what about Premium Economy? Is this something you’ve hinted at? What is in store for 2021?

Answer: I have always mentioned we will never introduce a premium economy at Qatar Airways. Because the economy seat of Qatar Airways and the economy service is far ahead of premium economy. Actually, if you have used premium economy seats in airplanes, 99 out 100 of those products is very uncomfortable. In fact, in my opinion the airlines are pulling the wool over your eyes. They are giving the same level of services with just a little more food and beverage in a fancy glass or a larger tray. It is the same kind of amenities of someone paying half your fare. So why should we try to repackage something and call it premium economy.

Aaron: But didn’t you de-bundle some of your business class services? No lounge access, cannot pre-book a seat – so what was your thinking?

Answer: That is correct. Actually, we have bundled not only business class but economy class because there are a lot of things you don’t actually need. For example, in business class why do you need to select your seat? Or why do you need lounge access when you are only going to be in the airport 15 or 20 minutes prior to departure and are just going to be heading straight to the gate? So we offer our passengers the opportunity to save a little money if these features are not important to them.

Aaron: How has this been working for you? Has it been popular?

Answer: It has been very popular. People like flexibility. They like the concept of not having to pay for a service they are not going to use. The same with economy, we are giving the passenger the option of choosing the services and/or products they will use or want en route.

Aaron: Let me ask you this, across the industry the suppliers along with the airlines are deeply suffering. What words do you have for our supplier friends out there?

Answer: Good times will come back. The only thing is we will have to take the pain and it will be survival of the fittest. Even in civilization it has always been survival of the fittest of the civilized people. We will need to be very agile in these difficult times. And for the supply chain of the airlines and the aviation industry, I would request the governments that they stand with these supply chains because these are very highly advanced, technologically developed companies who need to be sustained because you will need them down the line when the industry starts to ramp up.

There will be more failures as we continue to move through this pandemic. People will become more relaxed and until everyone is vaccinated this will not be over. There are nearly 8 billion people around the world and this is not going to happen tomorrow. So people need to be prepared to be cautious – to help their people, their governments, and their country so we don’t face a severe third wave of the pandemic.

Aaron: In the past, you have had some tough love for the One World Alliance. Earlier this year Alaska Airlines announced its intent to join the alliance and there were talks about a Seattle to Doha flight. What does the addition of Alaska Airlines mean for One World and what additional steps will strengthen the alliance in the future?

Answer: Alaska is a very large airline in the western United States. One World, though it has a strong partner in American Airlines in the USA, we were not very strong in the western affluent part of the country. With the induction of Alaska Airlines we are filling the void we had in the western USA. Once we become an operator into Seattle and the alliance membership of Alaskan Airways into One World provides us with a very good platform into the West Coast. It will be our third in the West Coast.

Aaron: Were you involved in the courtship?

Answer: No, to be honest I was not. We need One World to keep growing and we want to be the largest alliance between the three. We were very displeased with One World with American challenging our government ownership, our growth in Europe – which had nothing to do with getting into the United States through the back door. This is now in the past and we have a very good relationship with American. We still have not the type of relationship I would like with Qantas and we have a very good relationship with everyone else. And I hope, a developing relationship with Delta Air Lines who has a relationship with one of the airlines we are an investor in, and that is LATAM in South America. So I now see the light at the end of the tunnel with our membership in the One World Alliance.

Aaron: Now about the code share partnership with Air Canada. Briefly, how did you forge a new partnership during the pandemic?

Answer: At the beginning of this I said to you that we will always find new ways to be innovative and develop our airline. I am a big believer in mutual benefit – a business relationship should never just be one way. Our business relationship with Air Canada, we found an opportunity in this difficult period to strike a deal that will benefit both our airlines. During these times, we need to take every dollar that is on the table. We need to forget about our ego and realize we are not invincible. This pandemic showed everybody that even the strongest are not invincible. Even the largest airlines went to their government with the begging bowl in hand and before this is over it will happen again.

Aaron: What is it IATA needs to do?

Answer: They need to restart our industry. They need to put regulations in place that is not mismatched by each government. IATA needs to let the governments know that they need to stand with IATA and the ICAO – they need to help kick start the industry on which millions of jobs depend, which contribute trillions of dollars to the GDP. IATA needs a strong leader to facilitate this in the coming months.

Aaron: How much worse is it going to get before it gets better? What are you expecting for 2021?

Answer: I hope we are not going to have to cut more people than we already have. It is the most difficult thing for me to tell people that have helped build this airline that they have to go. I have promised these people when we start ramping up again, we will approach them first. I am confident with the vaccine that the airline will gradually start ramping up. Even during the pandemic we have added 4 new destinations to our routes.

Aaron: And to end on a positive note, how is Qatar preparing for 2022 FIFA?

Answer: The planning is being done by the Supreme Committee and everything should be in place by the end of 2021. All will be ready for the fans and spectators to have the best time during their visit to our country.


PXCom

PXCom launches PX2GO.

Passengers can now benefit from a single entry-point to access a unique platform that encompasses communication, services and entertainment throughout their entire journey, from the moment they book their ticket until reaching final destination.

Thanks to a holistic approach, the passenger can access all the relevant information related to health and safety rules before, during, and upon arrival of the flight, useful information and services dedicated to their flight as to their destination, Duty-Free services, airport, transport, and catering offers. They can also enjoy a seamless and uninterrupted entertainment experience, from the lounges & boarding gates, and resume during the flight, as well as the luggage belt.

The portfolio of services and contents is automatically adapted to the stage of the journey, to provide the most relevant experience in the right context.

PX2GO can be white labeled and integrated both into the airline existing app and wireless IFE. Discussions are on the go with seatback screen manufacturers to extend the feature to long haul flights.

PX2GO cares about passengers’ concerns and expectations in regard to their data privacy usage. Hence, the platform provides transparency and full control of personal data, keeping highest digital confidence throughout their entire journey.

Open Platform

PX2GO has been designed to accept third-party apps & services, to ensure a one- stop-shop experience for the passenger.

Solutions such as Digital Health Passport, geo navigation in the airport, private transfer offerings…can easily be integrated within PX2GO.

The platform is also prepared to manage IoT-based experience such as beacons in the airports and NFC transactions.

PX2GO can be used as a whole, as well as unitary components, to avoid multiple apps download.

ROI-driven

Beyond the NPS improvement, PX2GO comes with all the monetization capabilities, from programmatic advertising to brand content to shopping experience.

Definitely, an important differentiating marker in an ever-tougher period.


GOGO

Gogo has once again set a new standard for inflight entertainment (IFE) in business aviation with the announcement of Gogo Vision 360 – a premium IFE service that features a compelling and comprehensive suite of services, including an upgraded 3D moving map.

Available with the newly released AVANCE 4.2 software update, Gogo Vision 360 is available for activation via a call to Gogo customer care as a new service or as a free upgrade for existing Gogo Vision customers with a Gogo AVANCE L5, L3 or SCS system installed on their aircraft. Activation will occur automatically over the air with no downtime required.

Gogo Vision 360 offers unlimited streaming of on-demand movies, TV programming and news, along with digital magazines and a state-of-the-art 3D moving map, all at a fixed monthly price eliminating the unpredictability and often high costs associated with inflight streaming video and audio.

All Gogo Vision content is updated automatically each month through a seamless delivery via Gogo Cloudport, either in a customer’s own hangar or at Gogo Cloud locations throughout the U.S. and in Europe. Gogo Vision is the only IFE service that delivers content updates over-the-air. Currently, there are nearly 900 active Gogo Vision users online.

“Gogo Vision has become an essential part of the inflight experience for many of our passengers and operators,” said Sergio Aguirre, Gogo’s president. “Passengers want to be productive during their flights, but they also need downtime. The addition of a new 3D moving map will provide a new interactive experience for passengers that we’re excited to offer. Vision 360 is an important next step in our commitment to deliver the best inflight connectivity and entertainment experience to business aviation.”

Gogo’s 3D moving map, delivered through a partnership with FlightPath3D, features engaging flight and travel information that is interactive and can be displayed in a variety of views. Additional highlights include:

  • Game-like 3D interactive experience with high resolution satellite imagery
  • Immersive virtual reality window seat views, cockpit head-up-display and aircraft 360
  • Fascinating historical information about landmarks, attractions, and places as they’re flown over
  • Entertaining points of interest (POIs) that auto-play en route with distance and direction indicator
  • Real-time flight data such as ground speed, altitude and heading.

In addition to the Gogo 3D interactive moving map, Gogo Vision 360 users will have access to a host of additional content including an entertainment lineup that includes unlimited viewing of more than 150 of the latest Hollywood movie releases and popular TV shows, including popular Disney movies and TV programming; eMagazines and news clips; and, coming soon, destination weather.

There are 30 digital magazine titles available on Gogo Vision 360 from well-known titles including Golf Digest, Forbes, Wine Spectator, Newsweek, Wired, People, and Town & Country. Customers onboard will get the most current issue as well as the previous issue for each publication.

“In the ongoing COVID-19 environment in which we’re living, digital publications have proven to be very popular with passengers because they no longer have to worry about who else might have been holding a magazine like they do when it is printed on paper,” Aguirre continued. “eMagazines are not only convenient and up to date, but they offer a safer option that helps ensure passenger health.”

For those interested in global news, a wide array of current news topics from Bloomberg News have been added including global business, investing, technology, automotive, energy and top business and finance stories from Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the United States.

Gogo Vision 360 is configurable for Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Russian, and Spanish. Audio tracks for movies and TV episodes are offered in English, French, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish.

Also new, Gogo is offering three Gogo Vision packages.

Gogo Vision Standard
Gogo Vision+
Gogo Vision 360
Base 3D Moving Map
Premium Gogo 3D Moving Map
Premium Gogo 3D Moving Map
News Clips
News Clips
Unlimited TV and Movies
Destination Weather (coming soon)
eMagazines
News Clips

Cloudport
eMagazines

Destination Weather (coming soon)
Cloudport

International Languages

Destination Weather (coming soon)
Gogo Vision Standard will be offered at no cost to any customer with an AVANCE system onboard. Gogo Vision+ will be offered at $500 per month, while Gogo Vision 360 will cost $849 per month.


BOEING

Boeing and Ryanair announced that Europe’s largest airline is placing a firm order for 75 additional 737 MAX airplanes, increasing its order book to 210 jets. Ryanair again selected the 737 8-200, a higher-capacity version of the 737-8, citing the airplane’s additional seats and improved fuel efficiency and environmental performance. “Ryanair’s board and people are confident that our customers will love these new aircraft. Passengers will enjoy the new interiors, more generous leg room, lower fuel consumption and quieter noise performance. And, most of all, our customers will love the lower fares, which these aircraft will enable Ryanair to offer starting in 2021 and for the next decade, as Ryanair leads the recovery of Europe’s aviation and tourism industries,” said Ryanair Group CEO Michael O’Leary.

O’Leary and Ryanair leaders joined the Boeing team for a signing ceremony in Washington, D.C. Both companies acknowledged COVID-19’s impacts on air traffic in the near-term, but expressed confidence in the resilience and strength of the passenger demand over the long term. “As soon as the COVID-19 virus recedes – and it likely will in 2021 with the rollout of multiple effective vaccines – Ryanair and our partner airports across Europe will – with these environmentally efficient aircraft – rapidly restore flights and schedules, recover lost traffic and help the nations of Europe recover their tourism industries, and get young people back to work across the cities, beaches and ski resorts of the European Union,” O’Leary said.

Ryanair is the launch customer for the high-capacity 737-8 variant, having placed its first order for 100 airplanes and 100 options in late 2014, followed by firm orders of 10 airplanes in 2017 and 25 in 2018. The 737 8-200 will enable Ryanair to configure its aircraft with 197 seats, increasing revenue potential, and reduce fuel consumption by 16 percent compared to the airline’s previous airplanes.

“Ryanair will continue to play a leading role in our industry when Europe recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic and air traffic returns to growth across the continent. We are gratified that Ryanair is once again placing its confidence in the Boeing 737 family and building their future fleet with this enlarged firm order,” said Dave Calhoun, president and CEO of The Boeing Company.

“Boeing remains focused on safely returning the full 737 fleet to service and on delivering the backlog of airplanes to Ryanair and our other customers. We firmly believe in this airplane, and we will continue the work to re-earn the trust of all of our customers,” Calhoun said.

Boeing Executive Vice President of Enterprise Operations and Chief Financial Officer Greg Smith will speak at the Credit Suisse Virtual Industrials Conference on December 4 at 8:50 a.m. ET. Visit https://kvgo.com/credit-suisse/boeing-2020 to access a link to the live broadcast of the conference. Individuals should check the website prior to the session to ensure access to the audio stream.


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