TAP Portugal took delivery of its first Airbus A330neo in November 2018. The aircraft is one of 35 long range airplanes within TAP's fleet that will feature in-flight connectivity by the end of 2021. Photo: Airbus
TAP Portugal is in the process of getting new in-flight entertainment and connectivity technology deployed across its fleet of long-range aircraft with plans to have more than 35 connected by the end of 2021. During the 2019 Airline Passenger Experience EXPO, Miguel Ferreira, manager of IFEC at TAP, told Avionics International how the European carrier wants to improve its connected aircraft business model and make the passenger experience more personalized with the use of analytics and technology embedded in cabin seat screens.
TAP's most recent IFEC investment includes an agreement confirmed by Panasonic in May to equip a fleet of 14 Airbus A321neo aircraft a new modem first introduced by the company in 2018 in partnership with Newtec that Panasonic claims has bandwidth up to 20 times greater than its previous generation modems. The airline is also using Touch Analytics, an automated web and app-based platform developed by Touch In-flight Solutions capable of extracting all of the passenger engagement data stored in TAP's IFEC cabin systems and producing a monthly report about passenger content engagement trends.
Ferreira explained the goals TAP wants to meet with its IFEC strategy over the next few years, with a focus on intercontinental flights. Check out our question and answer session with Ferreira below.
Avionics: Do your passenger carrying aircraft currently feature in-flight connectivity, and if so, on what flights, and what was the main factor that lead to a decision for Tap to invest in in-flight connectivity? Is there a different level of connectivity featured on intra-European flights versus international flights?
Ferreira: Yes, at this moment TAP has 18 wide body aircraft and 2 narrow body aircraft equipped with connectivity, but the fleet is still increasing and by the end of 2021 we are going to have more than 35 connected aircraft. These are mainly flying intercontinental routes, particularly to Africa and North and South America. The plan is to expand connectivity services across the fleet because we truly believe that being permanently in contact with the ground is a major add on to the passenger journey. The investment to deploy connectivity services to every single aircraft is quite large and this has to be done step by step.
What is the latest aircraft/model type that you’ve taken delivery of and what kind of IFEC is featured on that aircraft? Did you make any special technological customizations to it?
Ferreira: TAP really invested hard on having the best IFE and IFC setup on the new A330-900 NEO and A321 LR. Personalizing the platform is part of that investment and having the best software has the same importance as having the latest generation hardware. We see IFEC as part of the digital ecosystem of the airline and it needs to be more than a media player. It needs to be a powerful marketing and communication tool that interacts with the passenger on a personalized level, suggesting content and providing valuable journey information.
What needs to change to optimize your IFEC business model in terms of how passengers are accessing the internet and the price point that you’re charging them?
Ferreira: Generally speaking, there is a lot of work to be done in terms of improving the IFC platforms. From portal designs, compatibility with a large number of devices (including mid-range and low end devices, not all passengers are carrying high-end devices…) and even the wording selected to describe the procedures to get connected or obtain a price package… It needs to be as easy as using our own Wi-Fi at home. We truly believe that those user experience improvements can lead to more passengers using the service and that is the a key point of a basic IFC strategy.
The interior cabin of TAP Portugal's Airbus A330. Photo: TAP Portugal
How do you see the business model for operating passenger-facing in-flight connectivity from an airline perspective?
Ferreira: Yes, we are gauging the service on a daily basis, keeping an eye on routes, time of the day, price plans, trends… . Since we have this free messaging service the take up rate is very high and we are glad that our passengers are appreciating the service. Allowing the passengers to use the messaging applications for free allows us to improve the customer experience. It’s extremely important that our passengers can be in touch with their loved ones on the ground, sharing the “flying TAP experience” with them. We do love connecting people, that’s our core business, and we would like them to be connected as soon as they step into the aircraft.
Are there any new applications, such as mobile apps, or passenger entertainment or other applications enabled by IFEC that TAP has deployed that is specific to your airline and not available on other airlines?
Ferreira: The mindset behind this new IFEC system is that everyone on board can benefit from a personalized experience despite the relationship with the airline or the need to download an app. At a later stage we can add a software module where our mobile app can be used to authenticate on the IFE system.
||Want to hear more on aircraft connectivity applications? Check out the Global Connected Aircraft Podcast, where Avionics editor-in-chief Woodrow Bellamy III interviews airlines and industry influencers on how they're applying connectivity solutions.
Are there any new initiatives you’re looking at involving any new digital technologies in TAP Portugal’s cabins that you’re considering employing to further improve the passenger experience in the near future?
Ferreira: Having broadband connectivity on board installed across the fleet will expand the use cases almost to the infinite. We have several projects and use cases that are sitting on top of connectivity channel. The ones that we found to be most valuable are related to e-shopping possibilities and also crew devices and crew applications.
If you look out 3-5 years from now, how do you expect technology in TAP Portugal’s aircraft cabins to continue to evolve and improve the passenger experience?
Ferreira: I would say that technology will be more mature, integrating different airline systems, and it will provide more information to the passenger. We are aiming to have a very personalized onboard experience, where human interaction and technology will do this perfect match so the passenger can feel the uniqueness of flying with us. An entertainment system that one can recommend and allows you to discover non-mainstream content that’s worth to watch. Being online onboard of our aircraft should be as easy as we do it in our living room. Aviation used to be the most tech advanced industry and we need to regain that lead.