Connectivity Creates New Operations Landscape for GEE

By Juliet Van Wagenen | August 18, 2015
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[Avionics Today 08-18-2015] Global Eagle Entertainment (GEE) is looking to capitalize on connectivity in ways that will allow airlines to up operational efficiency by exploiting Big Data. GEE has jumpstarted a new business line, GEE Operations Solutions, through the acquisition of two companies: masFlight, which provides a cloud-based business intelligence platform that processes and analyzes global aviation operations data; and navAero, which specializes in avionics integration and Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) cockpit data solutions.

GEE’s new business line will look to harness avionics data through connectivity and enable real-time decision making from the cockpit
GEE’s new business line will look to harness avionics data through connectivity and enable real-time decision making from the cockpit. Photo: GEE

“We think operations data clearly offers the biggest value when it comes to driving ancillary revenue through connectivity, in the long run,” said GEE’s Chief Commercial Officer Wale Adepoju. “To be able to communicate the data information and assets that are airborne to the ground really opens up a new world in terms of the entire operating economics. Operations has always been on our road map, and when the chance to buy these two companies came up we jumped at it.”

The two companies will form the foundation of a business line that aims to leverage GEE’s Ku-band satellite connectivity in order to offer services that collect real-time aircraft data, transmit information between aircraft and the ground, and process and analyze information, among others. Ultimately, according to Josh Marks, founder and CEO of masFlight and the new head of the business segment at GEE, the company is looking to help pilots and airlines collaborate and solve problems more effectively — something that requires the combined talents of all three companies.

“NavAero solves the first problem in making real-time decision-making a reality by getting information into a format that can get it off the aircraft, transmit it and do something with it. Global Eagle, of course, has high-speed connectivity and the fact of the matter is that the Global Eagle network capabilities are robust enough that we can bring full aircraft data down to the ground without material constraints in a technology perspective. Finally, what masFlight brings the capability to do is to capture and process that data. We can load that data in real time to our cloud-based data warehouses. We can process it and we have solutions and other technologies to actually make that information useful to the decision-makers of airlines,” explained Marks. “What we’ve built is a chain from the cockpit all the way through to the analyst in the operations center of an airline.”

The company can take real-time information off the aircraft, bring it to the ground, process it and make it useful in terms of the kinds of operating decisions airlines have to make in real time.

“That’s a really exciting development because it opens up opportunities to manage your operations better in real time, but also, simply, the amount of data that’s collected becomes very powerful as well when it comes to planning your future operations and looking at trends in your fleet overall,” said Marks.

Should there be a weather event at a hub airport, for example, Marks notes that major airlines are suddenly faced with a number of critical factors, including fuel and maintenance issues, before deciding where to divert the aircraft involved. With real-time data available, theoretically, airlines would be able to immediately look up how much fuel each aircraft has, if the aircraft is experiencing maintenance issues, or any other information, and divert the aircraft to an appropriate location.

“The airline is trying to manage a stream of information that today is broadcast through old school [Aircraft Communications and Reporting System] ACARS links or, worse yet, through direct [Very High Frequency] VHF communication air to ground. In order to make those kinds of decisions as a large operator you want to have all of that information at your fingertips, you want to be able to see the current status of all 80 aircraft that are flying into your hub at that moment in time so you can prioritize and make decisions,” said Marks. “The magnitude of cost of getting those decisions wrong is enormous. Each aircraft diversion can be a $50,000 dig to an airline. You get that wrong 20 or 30 times and you’re talking about a seven-figure cost to that decision.”

While the immediate focus of real-time operations management relies on streaming data from the aircraft and into the decision-making process or to help the airline manage maintenance or fuel operations, Marks notes the new business line will also look to collect and log aircraft data in a way that can be used by airlines to analyze and impact operational and investment decisions in the long run.

“Bringing information in on when the cargo doors on the aircraft close as an aircraft is preparing to depart, when a passenger door closes, when the aircraft started to taxi — basic information that’s collected in the avionics bus today, all creates a much richer view of an airline’s flight operations than the limited data they have at the moment,” said Marks. “The structure that uses the information helps an airline like Southwest be more efficient at how they turn an aircraft. It helps an airline like Ryanair get an additional turn out of an aircraft in a given line, and all of those efficiencies add up to a wad of opportunities and profitability to carriers.”

Moreover, the exceedingly rich performance data captured by new aircraft, such as Boeing 787 or the Airbus A380, could be used to set up predictive analytics for aircraft fleets. The data generated from these aircraft, which are capable of running and capturing sophisticated analytics, could potentially help airlines predict when problems are going to develop before they actually impact customers.

“The quality of the information that you see on a 787 allows you to create a set of historical trends and benchmarks against which you can quickly assess if what’s happening at the moment is outside those parameters or if it’s a statistical anomaly or if you have effectively a fault that’s about to develop,” said Marks.

The new business line is orienting is focus to the commercial airline world, hoping to eventually branch out to individual business jet operators, cargo and logistics companies, and others that can benefit from these capabilities. An operator also does not have to be a connectivity customer with GEE in order to access the products and services of the new business line. As the new acquisitions take hold, the business line is looking to begin changing the way that airlines use their communications channels, from communicating facts to resolving problems.

“I think it changes the whole rationale for a connected aircraft in this day and age,” Wale said. “To be able to get a broadband capability to an aircraft starts to give airlines an opportunity to actually change the business model and look at making better margins, higher quality products and services.”

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