[Avionics Today June 5, 2014] President of TMF Associates Tim Farrar looked out at the 300-plus aviation professionals at the inaugural Global Connected Aircraft Summit (GCA Summit) and took a guess. “Maybe it’s the connectivity bubble,” he said, in an effort to explain the unusually dense attendance to a closing session of a first-year conference.
Though Farrar didn’t fully anticipate the average airline executive’s interest in the myriad questions that arise at the phrase “connecting the fleet,” the Long Beach, Calif., summit unearthed a plethora of concerns, troubling business cases and new business opportunities all around connected aircraft.
While Farrar painted a bleak picture for airlines’ direct revenues from connectivity services, the airlines executives themselves saw opportunity in the savings that come with operational improvements for the cockpit, customer service and ground maintenance.
Gudmundur Oskarsson, Director, Marketing and Business Development for Icelandair, saw connected-operations opportunities as an “endless wish list,” from monitoring crews and solving customer complaints aired on social media while still in-flight, to alerting maintenance of issues ahead of landing. “There’s a lot of intangible things that can move the business case,” he said, mentioning that Icelandair is currently working on retail applications to prevent fraud on in-flight shopping.
Gulf Air’s Mohamad El Assaad, senior manager of in-flight entertainment and communications, agreed, “the aim is to solve resolve the problem and end the complaint, fix [the customer’s] problem when he’s experiencing it, rather than the repercussions of the problems through Twitter, Facebook, etc.,” said El Assaad.
Dan Smith of Hawaiian Air, Principal Engineer – Avionics Engineering, an aviation executive representing connectivity uninitiated airlines, said his company is attracted to fuel savings that are possible through real-time weather data and in-flight updates to navigation charts.
“You can save a lot of fuel with good communication,” said Smith, adding that Hawaiian Air plans to participate in Inmarsat’s new SwiftBroadband evaluation providing free position location data off-loading services in response to the loss of Malaysia Airlines’ MH370.
“The thing about SwiftBroadband is that the position data, latitude and longitude, heading, groundspeed are just part of the metadata that goes along with the transaction — all you have to do is do some housekeeping every minute or 15 minutes and the data is there. The Malaysia 370 loss, [which is] really tragic, could never happen [with continuous position data],” he said.
FedEx’s Manager, Avionics Engineering, Data Management and Communications Ted McFann, who runs extensive connectivity operations for FedEx Express’ delivery operations, said the key to operational excellence is a paradigm shift in how the industry thinks about components.
“We cannot treat connectivity hardware like typical avionics components, we need to treat them like our iPhones. We upgrade our smartphones every three to four years, and we’ll need to do the same thing with our avionics components,” he said.
Etihad is also looking at both real time weather and data fraud prevention services in the near future, said Nsizwa Khumalo, BFE program and projects, connectivity program manager. “We’re looking about the possibility of weather updates updating live into the aircraft, we’re looking at things like credit card certification especially on duty free to minimize the impact of data fraud in that area and we’ll conduct a wider exercise to look into that area,” said Khumalo.
Vendors like Gogo, Honeywell, Rockwell Collins and Thales expressed support for airlines’ vision for operational connectivity opportunities. “It’s the most underserved of the opportunities,” said Dave Bijur, Gogo’s Vice President of Airline Partnerships, Pricing & Distribution.
Thales’ Stuart Dunleavy, VP Marketing and Customer Propositions, said “from an operational point of view, as an avionics manager as well, we’re trying to help airlines find a way to monetize all of the on-flight data as well. We keep hearing there might be another flight services capability in Iridium next year, that might open up.”
Rockwell Collins, like Thales, merges the cockpit and cabin in one data pipe.
“Airlines who have used [operational connectivity] save on fuel, all these maintenance areas, this is where the big savings come from,” said Duc Tran, director of cabin systems and IFE marketing at Rockwell Collins
Honeywell Aerospace Director of Product Marketing John Hajdukiewicz predicted that the future of the operational connectivity market will center on leveraging the massive amount of data collected by the connected aircraft. “It’s not about collecting lots of data,” said Hajdukiewicz, “it’s about how can you make sense of that data, how can you get insights at least to something that’s valuable for that end user. … If someone can crack this code that’s where it’s going to be.”
Within operations, John Craig, chief engineer of cabin and network systems at Boeing also identified cyber security as an untapped market.
“Connectivity will drive cyber solutions. We live in a safety world and the whole industry is very good at it. … Cyber security is a new paradigm in aviation, we’re going to have to protect the airborne and the ground interfaces,” he said, adding that businesses must find a way to get operational efficiencies, and thereby massive savings for the nearly $680 billion airlines see in expenses.