Today is the 15th annual Aviation Summit, where a wide range of industry leaders and experts come together to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the aviation and space industries.
Once upon a time, the ability to listen to audio recordings on flights was seen as the height of technological advancement. These days, however, many travelers fully expect to remain connected to all the digital comforts available on terra firma throughout their flights. Thanks to advanced satellites and the proliferation of mobile devices, passengers can browse the Internet, while simultaneously talking on the phone and watching movies on their very own personal TV sets. In short, innovative new technologies and the advent of Big Data are improving life and travel for both airlines and their passengers.
As a result of changing customer expectations, the in-flight entertainment and connectivity business (IFEC) is booming. One forecast predicts that the market, which includes everything from high-definition televisions to pilot mapping systems, will more than double over the next five years from $2.85 billion in to $5.8 billion in 2020. This is why it comes as no surprise that many aviation experts are paying a lot of attention to this aspect of their business, which will help woo more customers and push innovation to new heights.
Although device-streaming and expanded movie viewing options are great passenger perks, better Internet connectivity has the potential to expand a company’s brand well beyond the runway.
Jet Blue, for example, saw its brand recognition and bottom line improve when it decided to expand Internet connectivity to offer digital pay services on its flights. By allowing passengers to pay for goods with their mobile devices via Apple Pay, the airline doubled down on its reputation as an industry leader and improved its image, says its president and CEO Robin Hayes.
“JetBlue has been an innovator from the start, and we are proud to be the first U.S. airline to accept Apple Pay,” Hayes says. “From booking to check-in to enjoying a mid-flight snack, you can now do it all with one device in your pocket. We’ve seen usage increase fivefold since we launched in early 2015.”
Thales USA, a company that produces in-flight entertainment solutions and other aviation systems, is one of several companies playing a major role in pushing Internet boundaries in the aviation field, according to a Market&Market report about the industry.
“The demand from airlines for new aircraft is supporting the continuous need for new and enhanced IFEC systems, which is one of Thales’ growth engines,” says Allen Pellengri, CEO of Thales USA.
One of the biggest challenges that increasingly connected airplanes face is dealing with all the data they generate. As Pellengrini puts it, “aircraft are increasingly becoming nodes in the Internet of Things,” meaning that they collect more and more data through sensors and other mechanisms that must be collected, analyzed, communicated and protected.
“Commercial aircraft can generate close to a terabyte of data per flight as they are being equipped with systems that touch nearly every part of the aviation ecosystem (cockpit, cabin and air traffic control),” Pellengrini says. “That is why Thales is developing solutions and technologies that will transform an airline’s use of data and help ensure they are protected in an environment with growing cybersecurity risks.”
Thales isn’t the only company thinking about cybersecurity in an increasingly connected aviation world. But according to Dave Davis, CEO of Global Eagle Entertainment, the burgeoning IFEC market can actually improve, not hinder security. As the head of a company that provides in-flight entertainment to commercial airlines, he says the industry is taking increasing care to protect customer data.
“The same processes, protocols and products used for securing systems and networks including banking, healthcare, etc. on the ground are also used in in-flight connectivity,” says Davis.
The technology used to build new connective systems for airlines are also helping people on the ground. An IT distribution company called Amadeus has built technology that is helping connect airlines, passengers and airports communicate better. Julia Sattel, Senior Vice President of Airline IT at Amadeus Technology Group, says that airports will be able to instantly know how many passengers to expect at a given time of day, allowing them “to organize the right number of check-in desks and security lanes,” which will greatly reduce waiting times and improve the traveler journey.
Passengers will get a break, too. “Access to real-time information will also mean that flights with connecting passengers can be positioned at nearby gates and that ground staff can be in the right places to deal with baggage faster,” adds Sattel. “In the case of a disruption, like bad weather conditions, airlines and airports can work closer to re-accommodate passengers, or offer services during delays.”
The power of the Internet is changing how airports, airlines and the passengers they serve interact with one another. New technologies and data analytics have the potential to change the customer experience dramatically for the better, making flying more convenient and – dare we say it? – more fun.