Every month, the Connected Aviation Today team features an aviation industry expert to learn about how their path led them to the world of aviation, their thoughts on the industry’s future, and any advice they have for others in the space. This month, we spoke with JP Hemingway, CEO of SES Networks, who gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the satellite systems that are transforming the in-flight experience of the connected aircraft.

Hemingway is an avid traveler and passionate about the future of connected aviation. He brings this passion to life in his leadership role at SES, the world’s leading satellite operator, by encouraging innovation development and advancing intelligent connectivity in aircrafts. Hemingway heads up SES Networks, the data business of SES. “At SES Networks we provide global managed data services, connecting people in a variety of sectors across the world,” Hemingway told us.  To further bring this vision to life, Collins Aerospace has partnered with SES to bring business aviation customers the fastest broadband speeds available within the United States. 

Here’s our full interview with Hemingway about the evolution of the connected aircraft and how his personal interest in flight brought him to where he is today:

CAT Editors:  As CEO of SES Networks, you’ve had a long and interesting career. What does your career path look like?

JP Hemingway:  I am a bit of a geek at heart, but I finished my education with a doctorate in deep physics of optical fiber communications and was lucky enough to find some great initial roles putting that into practice. Over the following years, I had the opportunity to balance technical, general management and commercial leadership roles working on some great network transformation projects in the global telecommunications industry, working with some real thought leadership customers.

Out of the blue, I received a call one day from a trusted friend and colleague who had entered the satellite communications industry. At the time, I had no real knowledge of this industry, the technologies involved and the main players even though I knew I was an end consumer on many occasions, as a frequent flyer on aircraft. I met the team at O3b Networks and discussed their mission to connect the unconnected with amazing new satellite technology in new orbits as well as their strategy to build transformational network services. I was hooked.

The last few years have been energizing and educational, immersing myself into new technologies, and new markets, including connected aviation. The innovation is incredible, the need for accelerated change and the human experience improvements staggering. I have been blessed to be appointed the CEO  of  SES Networks, following the acquisition of O3b Networks by SES, in a role I love due to the diversity of opportunities and challenges it presents.

CAT Editors: What sparked your interest in aviation and how did you get to where you are today?

Hemingway: I have always been a frequent flyer, both professionally and personally, due to my love of travel and experiencing new cultures. I actually enjoy the flying experience, and have immensely enjoyed the odd small aircraft “flight experience” days – however, I knew this was not my main calling.

As discussed, once I had jumped into the world of satellite communications, I got to appreciate the incredible innovation that goes on behind the scenes of a connected aircraft. There is so much engineering craft that goes into analyzing flight path databases, ensuring link budgets close at all points on those paths, leveraging the enormous fleets of satellites such as those that SES operates, and designing new High Throughput Satellites (HTS) specifically optimized for the aviation market.

Our Aero Service Provider partners achieve a high level of innovation in translating this connectivity into the very best media, entertainment and Wi-Fi services. I would imagine the average passenger might not be aware of the innovation in space, on the ground and on the aircraft that goes into providing their Wi-Fi service. 

So understanding all of this, knowing that SES is one of the main providers in this market but also knowing that the market is likely to expand significantly is what keeps the spark alive for me. I am privileged to lead an amazing team of connected aviation specialists, including bringing in experts from within our customer base to ensure we are really aligned with what we need to continually strive to do for our customers, and their customers — the aircraft passengers.

CAT Editors: What have been a few defining moments in your career?

Hemingway: That is tough to call. My very best days at work are usually those that I get the chance to spend with our customers. That is the time when we put aside contractual discussions and operational reviews, and really focus on what the future could look like. At SES, we are obsessed with providing the very best connectivity services for our customers. However hearing what our customers are doing to innovate around the passenger experience, leveraging the very latest in Big Data, IoT and game changing digital experiences is a defining experience – and vindicates all the hard work the team at SES does behind the scenes.

I have had a few days like that recently, where customer meetings left me with “Really you are working on something that cool? And it is not possible, without our connectivity and services? And you want to take it to the next level?” Mind blowing.

In other examples, we have invited customers to speak to our teams who are delivering services into tough locations, which often have challenging social, political and environmental conditions. Each time I hear how our partnership, and the connectivity we provide, is literally changing people’s lives, I feel the people at SES are part of something bigger.

I’d say these are examples of days that define what we do at SES, and my career also.

CAT Editors: What excites you about your role in the industry today?

Hemingway: These are fascinating times across the aviation industry and certainly in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) is driving much of the transformative innovation we’ve seen arise over the last few years.

In-flight WiFi availability is fast becoming a must-have when booking a flight. Today, more passengers than ever are choosing connectivity over movies, frequent flyer miles and even seat class. Airlines are also exploring new ways to drive better operational efficiencies with their connected aircraft to obtain better real-time information and communications that enable improved fleet management, fuel consumption, and passenger satisfaction.

All of this is possible because of satellites. It excites me to see how the leading IFEC services providers, and the airlines they support around the world, rely on SES’s advanced satellite connectivity to elevate and redefine the connected passenger experience. At SES, we’re all about partnership and co-creation so that we can deliver the aero solutions needed today and in the future. Therefore, we’re also very excited to bring LuxStream connectivity service to the market, which is the result of a great collaboration between SES and Collins Aerospace, and builds on our leading position in in-flight connectivity to deliver a premium service for the business aviation segment.

CAT Editors: How do you see the aviation industry evolving in the future?

Hemingway: At SES, we believe the aero market is entering an exciting new era – an era of intelligent connectivity where each aircraft will have a software-based, ever-adaptive connectivity pipe anywhere it flies. To do so, aircraft will be leveraging various satellites technology – HTS with hundreds or even thousands of spot beams or satellites with comprehensive wide beam coverage – operating either in medium earth or geostationary orbits.  Regardless of whether they are flying over the busiest air routes or across remote places, each aircraft will be able to automatically draw upon the right satellite technology to ensure that they deliver the same seamless high-performance broadband connectivity that passengers enjoy both at home and in the office.

As demand for emerging apps, such as gaming, virtual reality (VR), IoT and other capacity-craving services, SES is already working with IFEC service providers and technology partners to open the door to new possibilities for connected aircraft and enhanced passenger experience.

CAT Editors: For those satellite players who are just starting out in the aviation industry, what’s your advice for them?

Hemingway: Keep the customer in mind: start with the passenger in seat “21A” and what do they want? How about the airline or fleet operator — what is the passenger experience they want to create? How about the service provider, and the experience they want to create on a global scale? Only then think about the satellites and networks that you can piece together to underpin all of this.

Given most of us are one of those “21A” passengers, what would blow your mind? 

Shany Seawright

About Shany Seawright

A senior executive at Strategic Communications Group and Managing Editor of Connected Aviation Today, as well as other publications, Seawright oversees the editorial direction of the publication and managed the editorial staff.