Archive For The “Global Eagle” Category

Premium #330 – Connectivity keeps improving

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We have been tracking demand for aircraft connectivity for some time.  There are several news stories that further underscore the point that demand for connectivity seems to have no upper limit.

  • Icelandair will equip its 737 MAX fleet with ViaSat connectivity. The system will connect aircraft to the ViaSat-2 Ka-band satellite network over North America and the Atlantic, switching to ViaSat and Eutelsat’s Ka-band KA-SAT network over Europe.
  • Gogo business aviation unveiled a suite of smart cabin systems, SCS Elite and SCS Media, which are a highly integrated cabin, IFE and voice solutions that can be personalized to fit the specific needs of passengers on board a given flight.
  • Bombardier announced it is offering Ka-band technology on new Challenger 650 aircraft. The Ka-band high-speed internet system, the industry’s fastest in-flight Wi-Fi connectivity with worldwide coverage, is also being offered as a retrofit on in-service Challenger 604, Challenger 605 and Challenger 650 aircraft.

These data points must be seen in context.  It’s not just airlines.  Any operator is going to seek ways to add its aircraft to their existing IT infrastructure.  This concept may not have been pioneered by Embraer, but to our knowledge, they were the first to articulate it.

Icelandair already has a unique connectivity option on its 757s, it uses two systems.  Moving to the ViaSat solution the airline is following the choice at American.  ViaSat claims it does not have any bandwidth capacity constraints because of Ka.  Gogo has its 2Ku solution which it claims can match or beat the Ka.  The fact that operators have the choice of 2Ku or Ka is a tremendous improvement over what existed even just two years ago.

The Gogo solution being offered to business jets demonstrates that operators of even small aircraft desire the “always on” connectivity.  Bombardier’s selection of Ka underscores Gogo’s announcement.  Once again, we have operators being able to choose from the two approaches.

On a visit to Embraer, we were shown their approach to aircraft health management.  The system is impressive to an outsider.  But it must be truly special if a customer has added its non-Embraer aircraft to this system!

We have mentioned before the growing importance of connectivity at another airline deep into this solution, Norwegian.  Passengers receive this connectivity for free.  Norwegian utilizes the GEE solution which also uses the Ku system.  GEE’s solution uses Ku because it is said to be lower cost than Ka.  We reported on the Ka vs Ku battle in 2016.  Although dated 2013, here is another useful guide to this issue.  The chart below summarizes the tradeoff between these two.

Regardless of where one ends up in the debate about connectivity, we can be reasonably certain of a few things: satellite is the way forward, e-Enabled aircraft will demand connectivity to upload and download data in-flight and passengers are going to expect “always on” connectivity.  Even Southwest Airlines boasts about its “gate to gate” connectivity, even though while your bags fly free, your data connectivity is not.

Another source of connectivity is Honeywell, which offered this amusing video.

Connectivity is now a “nose to tail” issue.  Everything about an aircraft benefits from connectivity.  MRO and Flight Ops are able to monitor an aircraft and undertake proactive measures to keep it in service.  Flight Ops can communicate with the flight crew at much lower cost than using ACARS.  This decision support is not seen as important until it becomes critical.  Flights can be disrupted by many issues, and low-cost communications enables improved content and context.  Airlines, for example, can dispose of satellite phones.   There are even issues of tracking aircraft, which post-MH270, are obvious.  Then there are the more obvious cabin impacts with e-commerce in real-time and passenger entertainment.  While we do not spend much time on passenger experience, it is clear that given the increasingly uncomfortable airline cabins in economy and no frills classes, anything that transports the mind elsewhere is a benefit.

SITA offers a useful guide to how their solutions impact airlines and connectivity.  As we move towards modern ATC and see e-Enablement given full expression, the connectivity issue will come into full bloom.

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ViaSat acquires Arconics

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The world of aircraft connectivity and avionics are starting to consolidate.  This morning, ViaSat acquired Arconics, a provider of software solutions to the aviation industry. Through this acquisition ViaSat gains a connected aircraft software platform that includes wireless In-flight Entertainment (IFE), Electronic Flight Bag (EFB), Airline Document Management and Cabin Management solutions, as well as software expertise and seasoned personnel.

Currently Arconics serves: Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific, Ryanair, Aer Lingus, Philippine Airlines, Tigerair Australia, SpiceJet and others – and tens of thousands of pilots, ground staff and cabin crew members, across five continents, depend on Arconics software to safely and efficiently operate their fleets.

Prior to the acquisition, Arconics had a partnership with ViaSat, primarily focused on serving the wireless IFE needs of multiple airline customers. Post-acquisition, ViaSat expects to also offer airlines real-time insight, control and agility of aircraft and flight data with highly-integrated, high-customization aircraft operations tools that tap into the power of ViaSat’s advanced high capacity Ka-band satellite network, which has more capacity in orbit than any other in-flight WiFi provider.

In our view this move moves the focus of connectivity from the cabin to the flight-deck.  Cabin use of the in-flight WiFi does not match the cost of the service to make the numbers work.  As the prices for connectivity rise, many people simply don’t use it.   Unless, of course, your employer picks up the tab hoping you are working while flying.  For an airline to optimize value from in-flight connectivity, the flight crew should be using it.  The flight-deck is the obvious place to start.  Real-time access to weather and low cost messaging can only improve flight efficiency.  Then there is growing use of in-flight connectivity by the cabin crew.  This means being able to deploy devices that drive CRM and really impact passengers’ view of the airline and its ability to service needs.

As our research has shown, many airlines see this value in the cabin.  Air travel is an activity subject to many exogenous factors that can be disrupted.  The ability of crews to assist customers with re-booking is but one example any travel can instantly see the value of.  Information access for the crews enables other benefits too: for example the large, but deliberately under-reported, issue of credit card fraud.

The move by ViaSat demonstrates the firm is deeply committed to the airline space from an airline operations viewpoint.  Watch for a moves by GEE  and Gogo next.

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2015 EFB Survey Report

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Our fourth annual EFB survey report will be available from Monday January 18.  The 34 page report (PDF) includes six sections (Airline Operations, Connectivity, Business Case Drivers, Future Planning, Cyber Security, Tablet EFBs) with 46 charts and a foreword by IATA. The survey has input from 80 airlines, making it one of the broadest sources on this subject.

If you are interested in getting your electronic copy on Monday please email us.

We are also offering clients access to the survey data (without airline identifications). The data set is from surveys undertaken in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.   The data is in Excel format and enables unlimited analyses.  If you are interested in this option, please use the email link above to contact us.  Delivery is available now.

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