GEE CCO Talks Operational Connectivity and Ensuring Upgradability

By Juliet VanWagenen | October 1, 2015
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[Avionics Today 10-01-2015] Global Eagle Entertainment (GEE) has made a splash at the Airline Passenger Experience Association Expo (APEX) in Portland, Ore. this year, announcing no less than 10 contract wins for everything from curating content for global airlines to an agreement with Sony to add music to airline In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) packages. While In-Flight Connectivity’s (IFC) impact on IFE and passenger entertainment is taking center stage, Avionics Magazine met up with GEE’s Wale Adepoju, chief commercial officer for GEE, who spoke to how operational connectivity stands to impact the future passenger experience — and how the company is planning to keep up.
Airline passenger accesses in-flight Wi-Fi on her smartphone. Photo: Global Eagle Entertainment. 
“There is a heavy cross-over but, on many different levels, there are two ways that operational connectivity impacts the passenger experience: there’s the big picture benefits of lowering the cost of operations, but there’s also the day-to-day to find out what a person’s preferences are and what they need,” said Adepoju. 
Connectivity can potentially lower the economic costs of running an airline through, among other things, the data analytics that it can deliver through aircraft health monitoring, for example, and big data that can help operators produce predictive airframe behavior patterns. 
“We know on the ground we have the analytics capability for a [Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul] MRO facility, for example. If you can provide information to them on when an aircraft is going to come in and pattern of behavior and particular components performance in the 90 days leading up to that period, that changes our economics going forward,” explained Adepoju. 
There is also a more personal aspect to connectivity at work when it comes to improving the passenger experience. With increased access to data, flight crews can access personalized passenger information and, perhaps more importantly, assist with an airline’s “defense” when something doesn’t go as planned.
“Things happen on a day-to-day basis when you have a live operation, and by providing the cabin crew access to data, those events can be shifted. So cabin crews certainly know who is sitting there, information about their preferences, their connecting gate information, information to enhance the experience that can also be pushed to crew to help with service recovery,” said Adepoju. “For example, the crew can let a passenger know that a bag didn’t make it onto a connecting flight but will be on the next flight, arrive an hour later and be delivered to their hotel, for example.”
To this effect, the company also announced an agreement with First Air, an operationally progressive airline that flies primarily Arctic routes. With the two entities recently concluding a successful trial of the product, the Canadian airline will be the launch customer for Airpro, a tablet application designed to allow flight crews to handle a broad range of real-time in-flight operations assignments and tasks during flights. According to GEE, the application provides flight attendants access to real-time data and passenger experience-related decisions, including real-time connecting flight information and flight manuals transmitted via Wi-Fi and 3G. 
While big airlines often make the headlines when it comes to creating the truly connected aircraft, Adepoju believes that smaller airlines, such as First Air, are likely to derive the most benefit from operational enhancements.
“Growing and developing airlines are going to get the most value out of these tools. Every little bit of efficiency or effectiveness you do in a small, growing business makes a big difference,” said Adepoju.
GEE recently acquired two companies, masFlight and navAero, in order to bolster their operational connectivity portfolio. They also unveiled a new, mechanically steered Ku-Band antenna at the APEX conference in April alongside development partner QEST that is designed to work with wideband Ku as well as emerging High Throughput Satellites (HTS) that will deliver high speed connectivity to the cabin. 
With the new antenna technology, Adepoju says GEE hopes to help future-proof connectivity for satellite frequencies and changing technologies. With tech such as smartphones upgrading once or twice a year, companies have to work with flexible systems to navigate a constantly changing landscape.
“We try to provide upgrades as we go through; that’s part of our fitting this antenna for both Ku and HTS … We try to ensure upgradability to try to last 10 years with the infrastructure,” said Adepoju. But when ensuring upgradability in the aircraft, “it comes down to the antenna and the avionics on board. In terms of avionics, the smart thing to do is have cards interchangeable for the modem and have form fit as standard.”
GEE looks to ensure long-term investment and stability for the systems it presents for airlines, in the hopes that upgrading for the passenger experience in the future is as smooth as possible — even with unpredictable technology popping up every day.
“Connectivity is just a pipe, we’ve got to get the water in there, we’ve got to see what to do with it,” he said.

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