We have returned to Seattle from APEX 2014 which was one of the growing IFE venues this year and because of market conditions and passenger demand changes, there was a lot to see. Firstly, note that we can’t cover the almost-fifty booths we visited and three hundred or so conversations/interviews  we held in one IFExpress issue. We will try over the next month or so to cover them in summary, and later on, produce some in-depth stories of technologies and innovations that we feel our readers ought to know about. You know we can’t get everything, but we will try!

As you may know, the first day of the show features speakers and this year was no different. While the keynote was given by Ed Shapiro, PAR Capital Partner and VP (Global Eagle Entertainment, etc.), two of the following speakers, Howard Charney (Cisco VP) and Motivational Speaker, Lee Silber got the crowd involved and entertained. Howard whose stage persona is a cross between Woody Allen and Albert Einstein, talked about the coming industry trends from a macro view while Lee Silber used humor and chart speed to drive home the need to think fast and not worry about making mistakes, using informed decisions…  all at one chart per three seconds speed.

As usual, the afternoon breakout sessions specialized in Comfort & Ambiance, Entertainment & Connectivity (Content & Technology), and Catering & Services.

A particularly interesting Entertainment & Connectivity Technical Session was entitled The e-Aircraft – Concept & Fulfillment moderated by Michael Planey. We later talked with Michael and he told IFExpress: “The e-Aircraft panel took a brief look at the many improvements to operational efficiency that can be achieved with the proper allocation of bandwidth and the development of new applications. The seven panelists highlighted how both flight and cabin crews can use new tools such as tablets to receive updated weather forecasts, passenger preference information, and customs and immigration data. Perhaps the most important information, however, is that while progress is coming it will not happen at the same pace as new consumer electronics trends. Placing this new technology into the aircraft is a complex process touching almost every department in the airline and it’s more important to get it implemented correctly than to get it done quickly.”

Next, lets look at some of the show trends that we observed. Please note that there is a lot happening at APEX so if we missed your area of interest, we apologize. We noted the following:

1. From a vendor hardware point of view, IFE and connectivity equipment is being developed for the biggest uninstalled market out there – the single-aisle aircraft. The Panasonic new flat plane phased array satcom antenna is just one example of this trend. In the past, demand drove vendors to build over-water connectivity solutions for larger planes often flying from one country to another and since ground based antenna solutions were not feasible, satcom solutions were developed. With increased bandwidth satellite solutions on their way, a low profile antenna for the smaller planes was a natural.

2. While many vendors noted lighter sales in the last nine months, we believe airlines are waiting to better understand their changing markets (i.e. personal devices). They are watching both cabin hardware and the connectivity solutions. And as you might suspect, they are a bit overloaded by options and trying to couple them with the changing requirements of their customers.

3. Airline alliances are co-purchasing IFE hardware and GUI software to update fleets at demanded lower prices. In many cases, GUI layouts are identical but tailored to each airlines’ corporate identity, giving each a unique feel and look. One example of this is Air France & KLM.

4. Hardware developments were everywhere at the show, particularly focusing on technology to facilitate cabin Wi-Fi – both as a standalone IFE solution and as a second screen solution.

5. And speaking of Wi-Fi, one vendor, VT Miltope, brought out a product they have been working on with a brilliant technology solution developer. We’ve only seen one provider, VT Miltope, research and create a solution to improve in-cabin Wi-Fi by developing onboard firmware in the router that analyze the signals and allows them to talk to one another. The goal here with the nMap2 product with the Cognitive Hotspot Technology is to optimize the signal solution while in operation on the plane. Be prepared, this device will change the industry!

6. Hardware and software are being developed to facilitate secure financial transactions – both at the card/passenger interface and possibly more importantly, in the communication of such data. In the second case, we are talking at the server level and one, by Mark Thompson is actually secure at FIPS Level 3, the same as required by the US Treasury. Credit card sales and services like FlightPath 3D are now protected to a new security level – the highest we have ever seen.

7. IFExpress noted an ever increasing demand for greater future data rates/bandwidth onboard, ostensibly for cabin and crew connectivity.

8. We also found a proliferation of semi-imbedded IFE. For example, Lufthansa Systems is using head-strike protected, off the shelf tablets in a secured embedded manner.

9. InSeat and USB power are now an expectation and no longer an exception.

10. As a proliferation of handheld, semi-embedded and Pax Ped devices become more prevalent, there is an increasing demand for agile, brandable software/GUI’s.

11. Airlines are looking more and more to connectivity and Wi-Fi for their single-aisle solutions.

We further note that because it is somewhat difficult to to get trend information from talking to each connectivity service provider, we contacted Tim Farrar who is a telecom and media consultant in Menlo Park, California. We contacted Tim since we had a future focused presentation he made at the Global Connected Aircraft this year and asked about his view of the connectivity solution. He told IFExpress: “I think the biggest issue right now is the renewed focus on ATG solutions as the lowest cost option for connectivity in high traffic regions. There are proposed network deployments in the US with AT&T, Europe with Inmarsat and Deutsche Telekom, China, Japan and Australia. So an all-satellite solution becomes less viable outside long-haul routes (and even there, integration with ATG, at least in your home region, is a good idea). Secondly, the sustainability of standalone providers such as Gogo and Row44 becomes more questionable when we have both well funded cellular operators moving into the space and large equipment vendors, who can subsidize the connectivity business from IFE equipment sales. For example, adding satellite connectivity is less than 10% of the cost of installing seat back IFE on a new wide bodied jet. All that means that we’ll see more consolidation. Finally, the biggest unanswered question is how cellular operators see the inflight connectivity opportunity. Is it a new revenue source, like the connected car, or mainly a marketing opportunity, to display their brand and reduce churn by offering more places for their own customers to connect? If it’s the former, then they may be disappointed. If it’s the latter then that will put even more pressure on the standalone connectivity providers who are trying to make money out of this business.


Bits & Pieces

Paul Burke told IFExpress that his company, Telefonix, is celebrating their 25th year in the aviation business – the quiet ones always win!

Glad you are back, Joe Winston, you were missed.

Geoff Underwood of IFPL fame just won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise: International Trade… again, and you can watch the proceedings here. Congratulations to Geoff and the whole IFPL team!

Tokyo and Lake Forest, CA | July 23, 2014– Skymark Airlines, Japan’s third largest airline, has chosen Panasonic Avionics Corporation’s (‘Panasonic’) global connectivity service, eXConnect, to provide its passengers with free-of-charge in-flight Wi-Fi service.

Passengers will be able to stay on top of current events as they surf the web, keep in touch with friends and family through their social networks, and even check email and send the latest edits to their upcoming sales presentation to their colleagues – all at 35,000 feet.

For domestic routes, Skymark Airlines will introduce this free service on its fleet of new Airbus A330s. They will also expect to offer this same free-of-charge Wi-Fi experience on their international A380 fleet that will be initially flying to North America.

Mr. Shinichi Nishikubo, President and Chief Executive Officer of Skymark Airlines said, “Our customers love in-flight Wi-Fi, and today, we are taking a strategic step forward to ensure that our passengers can be both entertained and productive everywhere our aircraft fly. We look forward to launching this extremely exciting service with our partners at Panasonic Avionics.”

Paul Margis, President and Chief Executive Officer for Panasonic said, “We continue to see rising demand for connectivity from airlines across the globe because today’s travellers expect to be perpetually connected — even when they fly. We are honored to have been chosen by Skymark to support their unique business model and their vision for in-flight entertainment.”

January 7, 2014– With the delivery on New Year’s Eve of Transaero Airlines  Boeing 747-400 EI-XLM, MidairUSA, Inc. benchmarked the tenth installation of the Panasonic Global Communications Suite (GCS). The state-of-the-art communications provides inflight passengers full broadband connectivity to include; complete internet and mobile cellular services, live and uninterrupted television programming, as well as all electronic communication devices to access social media, news, banking services and entertainment.

Located in Rome, New York at Griffiss International Airport and Melbourne International Airport, Florida, MidairUSA, Inc. is one of the first to install the Panasonic system in B747-400 aircraft and expanding into the B777 series in January. MidairUSA, Inc. continues to lead as a full service MRO facility offering heavy checks,  aircraft maintenance, interior cabin modifications, avionics upgrades with engineering support and parts fabrication.

Cathay Pacific Airways and Panasonic Avionics Corporation today announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the provision of full broadband connectivity on all Cathay Pacific and Dragonair passenger aircraft.

While final terms are still being negotiated, the MOU allows the parties to immediately begin developing the plan to provide connectivity for passengers together with promotional, sponsorship and e-commerce opportunities for Cathay Pacific partner brands.

Cathay Pacific is the first airline in Asia to announce its intention to deploy Panasonic Avionics’ Global Communications Suite broadband connectivity solution. It is also the first airline globally to announce an intention to provide the solution across its full fleet. Services will launch from early 2012, subject to regulatory approval.

The Panasonic Avionics connectivity solution for Cathay Pacific will comprise the eXConnect broadband service, eXPhone GSM phone service, and a CX-branded free-of-charge entertainment portal – accessible through all passenger devices and seatback screens – that will include a range of content updated during the flight, access to airline and partner sites, e-commerce, airline-specific advertising, and live television with a unique pay-per-view capability for special events.

· eXConnect provides two-way broadband connectivity supporting a wide range of passenger and crew applications, including Internet access, voice, data, and the ability to monitor and transmit airline operational data in real time at speeds of up to 50 Mbps to the aircraft.

· eXPhone, offered in collaboration with AeroMobile’s GSM mobile phone technology, allows passengers to use their mobile phones, smart phones and BlackBerry devices onboard to make voice calls, send SMS text messages or utilise data services and stream content wirelessly to their iPod, iPhone and iPad. eXPhone gives the airline flexibility and full control over the services offered including restricting certain services when appropriate.

Alex McGowan, Head of Product for Cathay Pacific, said: “Connectivity will form an important part of our overall customer proposition. Having that connectivity integrated closely with our video on demand entertainment system is especially valuable as it means that all passengers will be able to use the service. We believe that being connected is now an expected part of everyday life – not just for business purposes but also to stay in touch with family and friends. This system will allow passengers to be as ‘in touch’ as they wish to be while enjoying the great Cathay Pacific and Dragonair service.”

Charles Ogilvie, Executive Director of China for Panasonic Avionics Corporation, said: “We are very proud and thrilled to be working with Cathay Pacific. We are committed to serving the needs of the ever-growing markets in China and Asia. With Panasonic Avionics’ Global Communications Services, Cathay Pacific will be the first airline in Asia to offer passengers the most innovative inflight entertainment and communication options onboard commercial aircraft.”

Cathay Pacific Airways and Panasonic Avionics Corporation have enjoyed a close relationship since 1994.

Annapolis, Maryland, USA, April 1, 2010—ARINC Incorporated today announced it has been named a Distribution Partner (DP) by Inmarsat for its high-speed SwiftBroadbandSM satellite communications service.

ARINC is the world’s largest provider of aeronautical satellite communications for commercial airlines, government/military and business aviation. Its new status as Distribution Partner will result in a number of compelling tailored solutions for the aviation market, since ARINC can purchase airtime directly from Inmarsat, instead of through intermediate providers.

“ARINC plans to provide SwiftBroadband connectivity in a one-stop transaction,” said Andy Hubbard, ARINC Aviation Solutions Director, Europe, Middle East & Africa. “Our customers will not need to source a communications pipe separately, as it will be part of a package with flight applications, connectivity software, and technical support.”

Perry Melton, Inmarsat COO, said “Inmarsat is delighted to further extend our long-standing partnership with ARINC, which has a prominent position in delivering end-to-end solutions for the Aeronautical industry. Working with partners like ARINC is key to the continued success and record growth of SwiftBroadband we have seen to date.”

Bob Richard, ARINC Senior Director, ARINC DirectSM said: “ARINC welcomes this major step forward in our longstanding and successful business relationship with Inmarsat. The designation of Distribution Partner validates the capability and quality of ARINC’s global services operations.”

ARINC offers a range of aircraft applications on the “classic” Inmarsat services of Aero-L, Aero-H/H+, and Aero-I, as well as Swift 64 and SwiftBroadband. The company launched a new marketing initiative for SwiftBroadband to customers effective April 1. As a Distribution Partner, ARINC will be able to sell high-speed SwiftBroadband service more aggressively in its traditional markets of Commercial Aviation, Government/Military, and Business Aviation, as well as in direct sales to other Service Providers.

SwiftBroadband provides ground-to-air and air-to-ground connectivity up to 432Kbps for high-speed data. It is capable of supporting a wide range of crew and passenger applications, Voice communications, Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) applications, passenger telephony including in-seat, mobile, VoIP and text messaging, E-mail, Internet, intranet, instant messaging, secure VPN access, and in-flight news updates. SwiftBroadband can also provide a pre-determined quality of service through streaming classes of 8, 16, 32, 64 or 128kbps, and higher bandwidths.