As part of an ongoing series, as we kick off 2018, the Connected Aviation Today team has been reaching out to our editorial contributors and industry experts to get their take on the big trends that impacted 2017 and predictions of what the New Year holds for the commercial airline industry. This week, we are featuring an interview we conducted with Frederik van Essen, Senior Vice President, Aviation Strategy and Business Development at Inmarsat. Here is what he had to say:
Connected Aviation Today (CAT): Tell us about why the connected aircraft and travel experience is so important to the future of the aviation industry, specifically as it relates to commercial aviation.
Frederik van Essen (FVE): As noted in the recent ‘Sky High Economics’ report that we conducted with the London School of Economics, in-flight broadband has the potential to create a US $130 billion global market within the next 20 years, resulting in $30 billion of additional revenue for airlines by 2035.
This significant opportunity is being fueled by cutting-edge developments in in-flight connectivity, which enables unprecedented new capabilities that simply were not possible before. Airlines are benefiting from the advent of ‘smart planes’ on both the cockpit and cabin side, similar to how the mobile phone industry was revolutionized by the introduction of smart phones.
CAT: Looking back at 2017, have there been any significant developments last year that has helped push the industry forward?
FVE: The lack of connectivity on-board aircraft has been a source of passenger frustration for too long. While they have been able to bring their personal devices onto a flight, most of the features need connectivity in order to function. For the first time this year, airlines were finally able to fulfil that demand for reliable, consistent and high-speed inflight Wi-Fi, with Lufthansa Group and Air Astana being the first to enter commercial service with our next generation GX Aviation service.
We’ve taken broadband mobile internet and placed it in the sky. There is now a single cellular network that spans the globe, with seamless handovers. This is a technology breakthrough. Our order book for GX Aviation has continued to grow at a fast pace as more and more airlines come on-board, including Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand, AirAsia Group, Avianca and Norwegian.
Another interesting development, which was prevalent at Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) in 2017, is that aircraft manufacturers are also making their systems smart. On the back of truly useful in-flight internet, concepts such as connected breaks, connected radars, connected galleys, seats and auxiliary power units (APUs) have started to gain significant traction in 2017 and I think that will definitely continue going in 2018.
CAT: Now that we are in the New Year, what predictions do you have about technology innovations or advances in 2018?
FVE: There will be wider adoption of next generation connectivity solutions. We are currently at a stage where aircraft are being retrofitted with new connectivity equipment, but looking ahead, we will see new aircraft coming off the production line with the equipment line-fit.
I also believe we will see further advances in the capacity, speed, and capabilities.
And finally, we will see a growing ecosystem of apps being developed for the connected aircraft, which will fundamentally move connectivity from having a singular-purpose to a multi-purpose. Again, this is similar to how phones were initially designed for making calls but have significantly evolved since then. Apps are the key to unlocking value from the new connectivity.
CAT: How would you sum up your predictions for 2018?
FVE: It will be the year when new aircraft orders with connectivity included will increasingly become the norm. Today, connectivity has mainly been announced on a retrofit basis, but in the future I think we will see more as a line-fit option than without. We have already started to see that transition for the first time in 2017. OEM’s are already starting to incorporate connectivity like car manufacturers on the ground. I think it will rapidly become standard now.
What predictions do you have for the market? Reach out to the editorial team at editors at connectedaviationtoday.com to share your thoughts or submit your predictions.