At almost every function that involves IFE, we bump into Massimo DeSanctis, CEO of PlaneBill. His Company, PlaneBill, is usually way ahead of the curve and that is probably due to the fact that he and his team are software developers. The Italian coders seem to have a feel for the passenger and airline cabin software, ofttimes before most of us see the need. This past AIX was not a disappointment and from the PlaneBill new product department they rolled out CrewPanel (a seating/inflight service app) and Plane Roaming, the Smartphone inflight communication solution. The CrewPanel “app”, is available on iTunes, and while ahead of itself, is a sneak peek into the eventual world of crew interface/messaging/control on an iPad. Plus, it is a good way for airlines/bizjet service providers to get a feel for the product prior to implementation.The other is a very clever way to provide inflight connectivity via passenger Smartphones in a Wi-Fi equipped aircraft. You might want to check out these links first:

The free iTunes App

PlaneRoaming diagram

PlaneRoaming Brochure

The CrewPanel App is self explanatory, it allows cabin crew to maintain the service status of passengers. When coupled with other airplane apps on a plane with ground connectivity, the possibilities for data massaging are unlimited – orders, frequent flyer status, inventory, duty-free, etc. The way we see it, apps like this are sample skill viewers and companies like PlaneBill use this example as advertising for future system development. Also, their inclusion in the iTunes library acts as advertising and sales promotion tools. We might also mention, PlaneBill stated that this type of development has benefit in many other transportation systems.

PlaneRoaming is another animal. It is the development of a multiple mode-ground-connectivity-solution-based development of a PlaneRoaming client on your Smartphone. While the development might be considered backward (software client first – infrastructure second), the concept is a very low cost email, SMS, VoIP, IM inflight connectivity solution – all as a function of which air-to-ground communication solution is chosen for the Wi-Fi equipped aircraft. Yes, we over simplified it, but we also think this solution, like the CrewPanel app above, is fodder for airlines and/or system providers to work with PlaneBill to develop specific solutions. Here is the kicker: “The air communication domain is fully controlled by the airline and uses onboard unlicensed wireless technology for the passengers’ devices such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, technologies which do not require the involvement of mobile operators – neither have licensing issues in most countries.” Look at the PlaneBill solution as a front-end and a back-end of an existing ground-based or satcom-based communication network. Think of the revenue possibilities!

We think you get the picture of just a few new technology-based communication advancements coming your way. While not a system provider, PlaneBill is just one of the “new way of thinking” companies and we thought their Vision Statement says it best for all in the IFE industry: “The technological advances in wireless communications technology as well as the availability of powerful multimedia enabled terminals, such as the iPad and Android tablets carried onboard by the passengers, will impact the future onboard architecture, with a shift from providing devices to providing access infrastructure and services. As in many other industry sectors, also in the airline industry we will see a paradigm shift from equipment to services. Instead of large upfront infrastructure investments, airlines and aircraft operators will provide a basic infrastructure consisting of power for passenger devices, wireless coverage for onboard services, one or more onboard servers, and air-to-ground connectivity. And, technological advances in passenger devices can be easily taken into account with this approach.” Well said, Massimo, that is the ‘take-way’ for this Hot Topic.