SITA OnAir CEO Seeks Connected Opportunities in the Commercial Market

By Juliet Van Wagenen | January 23, 2015
Send Feedback

[Avionics Today 01-22-2015] SITA and its wholly owned subsidiary OnAir have recently joined forces in a new business unit to help airlines harness and manage the massive amounts of data available in the connected aircraft era. The new business is looking to pull connectivity solutions throughout the entire airplane, “nose-to-tail,” and help airlines understand and implement ground and in-flight connectivity, cockpit data services, and Air Traffic Management (ATM) solutions alongside techniques and technologies to improve aircraft communications and infrastructure. This also includes app development to aid both passengers and crew via smartphones, tablets or wearable electronics.

Ian Dawkins, CEO SITA OnAir. Photo: SITA OnAir

“Airlines are readying themselves for next generation aircraft, which produce huge amounts of data. SITA OnAir is uniquely positioned to support the development of a true nose-to-tail portfolio of solutions at a time when airlines are seeking to make sense of what the connected aircraft means for their current operations model,” SITA OnAir CEO Ian Dawkins told Avionics Magazine.

SITA OnAir, whose services are targeted primarily toward commercial airlines, draws on the connectivity legacies of both companies — SITA’s history in Information Technology (IT) and airline communications, and OnAir’s experience providing In-Flight Connectivity (IFC). The new business aims to help airlines understand and implement connectivity in the air and on the ground to make airline operations more efficient by drawing on what the two companies currently provide as separate entities.

“We already offer services to support all the elements of the entire connected aircraft. This includes flight tracking, aircraft communications (ACARS) for air traffic management, electronic flight bags and weather situational awareness in the cockpit. In the cabin, it includes passenger connectivity, as well as connected crew tablets and retailing. For aircraft operations, it includes inventory management, maintenance reporting and aircraft health monitoring,” Dawkins explained, detailing the portfolio of the new combined venture.

SITA OnAir looks to allow airlines to exploit the full potential of connectivity across the vast landscape of enhancing airline operations.

Most of these technologies enable smoother operations in the cockpit, such as Electronic Flight Bags (EFB) and in-flight aircraft health monitoring reporting, are already available. Harnessing much of the aircraft data coming available and using it in a constructive way may prove a challenge for operators, especially as modern aircraft such as the Boeing 787 generate more than 146,000 data points which are continually monitored by onboard systems.

“We are now seeing the merging of the operational and passenger sides of connectivity,” said Dawkins. “To a large extent, this is driven by the new generation of aircraft — B787s and A350s — which are flying data centers: they produce a huge amount of data during each flight. Airlines therefore need to exploit that data, by transmitting it either during the flight or on the ground, analyzing it efficiently, and acting on the results to increase efficiency.” Ultimately, Dawkins added, the connected aircraft will reach a point where it can be fully integrated into the airline’s IT infrastructure. This is a highly complex undertaking, however, that needs to be tailored to each airline and fleet, but the resulting efficiency and savings will be significant

SITA OnAir is not alone in this pursuit. This shift to data management is indicative of a larger move across the industry to enter into the data and information management market, as evidenced by Rockwell Collins new ARINCDirect division devoted to Information Management Services (IMS).

“At the end of the day, managing very high speed data to and from the airplane is clearly the future, whether to the cockpit for navigation and flight management, or to the back of the aircraft for passenger communications, entertainment, etc.,” said Rolland Vincent, aviation consultant at Rolland Vincent associates. Vincent also sees the new business as a competitive response to Rockwell Collins ARINCDirect and an attempt to go after the airline marketplace; the combined business allows SITA, which has previously played primarily in the business aviation market, to capitalize on solutions for the commercial arena, catered to by OnAir.

This sets them directly up against Rockwell Collins’ ARINCDirect division when it comes to providing connectivity solutions to aircraft. And for operators, this can only be a good thing. “[There’s] nothing like competition to enhance the choices available to buyers!” said Vincent.

Receive the latest avionics news right to your inbox