When we think about in-flight connectivity (IFC), most people’s minds go directly to cabin Wi-Fi and in-flight entertainment, both important factors in the passenger journey. But as the aviation industry has become more data-driven and connected, there has been a noticeable shift in interest to the front of the aircraft and how that data pipeline is being managed to adapt to increasing demands.

To learn more about this shift in interest and what the future holds for in-flight connectivity, we sat down with Daniel Welch, Senior Research Consultant at Valour Consultancy. Welch talked with us about a recent survey conducted by Valour titled The Connected Aircraft: A Survey of Airlines 2019. Thirty-five airlines, ranging in both size and geography, completed the study, giving rise to an independent point of view on how comfortable, and prepared, airlines really are with the concept of the connected aircraft.

“We set out with the hypothesis that the whole connected aircraft conversation had seemingly progressed very little in the time since our previous whitepaper on this subject was published in 2016 [How the Connected Aircraft Fits into the Internet of Things],” explained Welch. “We felt the bounty of (often biased) information on the subject was not helping. Such material can be misleading, easily generate confusion or encourage panicked decision-making through fear of being left behind. We therefore wanted to provide the industry with a point of view that lacks an agenda, focused on how airlines perceive the connected aircraft today, what future planning is taking place and where the knowledge gaps exist. But it’s a study we believe should be of interest to anyone with a vested interest in connectivity, not just airlines.”

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In our discussion, Welch was able to provide a few interesting findings from the report that point to the evolving aviation ecosystem and how constantly improving connectivity options are contributing to the industry’s growth. Here are three of the key findings Welch found most compelling:

  • Easily integrated connectivity applications top the to-do list – “For me, we are in phase one of the connected aircraft. Today, we are seeing airlines dip a toe through deployment of applications that are ‘easier’ to integrate and/or have an immediate return on investment,” Welch stated. “Think about applications like electronic flight bags (EFBs) or aircraft tracking; these can be considered low-hanging fruit as the potential ROI is fairly obvious through factors such as reduced fuel consumption or enhanced route planning through real-time weather alerts.
Response to Question: Which connected aircraft solutions, if any, do you a) currently have installed b) intend to install/upgrade?
  • Legacy connectivity channels aren’t going anywhere – “While there is a lot of buzz around SATCOM and other newer communications options right now, many airlines are still very comfortable using options like VF/HF radio for aircraft tracking in-flight,” said Welch. “And a lot of airlines opt to leverage surface connectivity on the ground. There is no sign of either of these so-called legacy solutions going anywhere, driven by the preference for increased redundancy and how that contributes greatly to safety, the industry’s top concern.”
  • Passenger satisfaction and crew/maintenance efficiencies are building the business case for IFC, not revenue – “The conversation around in-flight connectivity and its justifications has changed a lot in the past few years,” Welch noted. “Airlines are using it as a tool to stay competitive among passengers with comforts even beyond entertainment. Imagine hearing about turbulence before it strikes – that’s comforting to many passengers, an attribute which can really drive differentiation and increased NPS [Net Promoter Scores] for airlines.”

Looking ahead with these results in mind, Welch predicts increased adoption of more complex connectivity applications, such as CRM and ERP integration, and an increased comfort level among airlines with regards to real-time connectivity. Welch explained, “It is easy to assume the connectivity conversation is a slow-moving target, but so much has happened even in the last three years. There is still some way to go, but airlines are really starting to take a more holistic view on connectivity and how it can enhance various elements of their business.”

If you’re interested in downloading the full survey from Valour and learning more about how airlines are and plan to continue integrating IFC into their business strategies, click here.

Chelsea Barone

About Chelsea Barone

Chelsea is an editor for Connected Aviation Today, managing the day-to-day editorial activities. Chelsea writes for other federal government and technology industry publications. Her background lies in B2B and enterprise technology, specifically cloud computing, SaaS, travel IT, and mobile devices.