As we say goodbye to 2019, the editorial team at Connected Aviation Today is taking a look at the evolution of the connected ecosystem and how far we’ve come over the past 12 months. As technology continues to advance, and adoption is on the rise, everything from operations to the inflight experience has been impacted.

In this interview, we talk with Dominic Walters, vice president of marketing communications and strategy for Inmarsat Aviation. Since joining Inmarsat in 2016, he has been at the forefront of Inmarsat Aviation’s campaigns for the launches of next generation connectivity solutions including GX, EAN, and SB-S to the aviation sector. Here is what he has to say about the industry and the impact digital connectivity has had on the ecosystem:

Dominic Walters, vice president of marketing communications and strategy for Inmarsat Aviation

Connected Aviation Today (CAT) Editors: The connected aviation ecosystem is quickly evolving and there have been many milestones throughout the year. What industry milestones stand out most for you?

Dominic Walters: Last year was a particularly exciting one for Inmarsat Aviation and the wider aviation industry as a whole as we work diligently with our partners to strengthen the connected aviation ecosystem. We’re seeing more and more airlines bringing their aircraft online, right the way through from the nose to the tail.

One of the biggest leaps forward is the evolution of inflight Wi-Fi services, such as our GX network, which powers our GX Aviation and Jet ConneX, for the airline and business aviation markets globally. We currently have five GX satellites in operation and have announced plans to launch a total of 12 satellites.

Our satellite roadmap marks a transformative step-change for a connected aviation ecosystem across the world, allowing airline customers to invest in a consistently high quality of service for today’s and tomorrow’s passengers.

Once the next phase of network development is complete, it will be able to immediately relocate capacity in line with flight patterns, new airline routes and seasonal demand surges across the globe giving airlines the access to seamless connectivity.

CAT Editors: What technologies made a significant impact last year and how?

Walters: Connectivity is radically changing the global aviation industry. By the end of the third quarter in 2019, approximately 700 aircraft were installed with GX Aviation and EAN across a number of airline customers and we have around 1,800 aircraft under signed contracts or through hardware commitments for both services. We have also crossed the 600th installation of our Jet ConneX business aviation Wi-Fi solution.

The speed of uptake for the business jet inflight Wi-Fi service has been rapid, with a 50 percent increase in the past year alone. This rapid uptake not only highlights passenger demand for inflight Wi-Fi but also that passengers are following through and adopting the service when they have the opportunity to do so.

CAT Editors: What challenges do we still face? And how can the industry address these challenges?

Walters: In an age where quality internet access is an expectation of life on the ground, more and more passengers are challenging the current inflight experience and demanding the same level of connectivity in the sky. Added to the widespread and growing appetite for connectivity is a vastly changing passenger demographic. Within the next decade, the first truly digitally native generation, Generation Z, will become the largest group of air passengers, with 1.2 billion flying each year.

This shift is driving demand for connected, personalized, and value-added services in the cabin. Meeting demands of digital-first passengers will be a challenge over the coming years – and recent research from the London School of Economics (LSE) highlights why airlines need to move quickly on adapting their digital offering or risk losing passengers to their competitors. The LSE has identified an immediate opportunity for airlines developing the digital inflight experience that passengers are seeking to win $33 billion in market share from their competitors. This is on the table today, to be won or lost. Airlines need to urgently address these challenges by digitizing their operations and connecting the aircraft from nose to tail, bringing the aircraft into the digital world.

CAT Editors: How would you sum up your reflections for 2019?

Walters: Last year, we saw a real step-change in airlines recognizing both the value and importance of bringing their aircraft online. More and more leading airlines are acknowledging that the need to invest in a connected ecosystem is becoming more urgent. Within the next decade, airlines will be facing new demands from a new generation of digitally native passengers. This is a demographic shift that will inevitably prompt many to rethink key aspects of their digital inflight experience.

Stayed tuned to this Connected Aviation Today series on 2019 reflections on how the connected aviation ecosystems are evolving today and into the future.