As the aviation industry continues its digital transformation, all signs point toward an unprecedented acceleration right around the corner. Driven by high bandwidth connectivity capabilities, next generation aircraft and increasing industry adoption, the aviation industry is witnessing an extraordinary transformation towards the automation of key operational and commercial aviation processes. The easier it gets to bring connected products onto the airplane and get data off of it, the greater the opportunity for the industry. Connected Aviation Today spoke with Alexis Hickox, Head of Commercial Aviation and Networks Product Marketing at Collins Aerospace, to find out more about what is in store for the connected aviation ecosystem.

Connected Aviation Today (CAT) Editors: What is the current state of the industry in regard to connected aircraft?

Alexis Hickox: The number of global aircraft equipped with InFlight Connectivity (IFC) increased from less than 1,500 to over 7,000 between the end of 2010 and the end of 2017. By the end of 2023, it’s predicted there will be over 15,000 aircraft equipped with IFC, representing nearly 70 percent of the forecasted global active fleet at that point in time. Today, more than 80 carriers already offer some form of inflight connectivity, and dozens more are either exploring the market or preparing for their own near-to-medium term rollouts.

CAT Editors: What are the Three C’s of aircraft connectivity and why are they important in the connected ecosystem?

Hickox: The three C’s pertain to cockpit, cabin, and crew, aligned with the three main domains on board the aircraft. By implementing a connectivity solution across all three domains, airlines can reap the rewards of their connected fleet. Onboard the aircraft, pilots have access to information that leads to a safer, more efficient flight, passengers have a range of new and improved ways to stay connected and flight crew are able to provide a more personalized service. And this is just the tip of the iceberg: airlines, aviation suppliers and aircraft manufacturers are just beginning to understand the ramifications of accurate, real-time data insights applied within an operational environment. When the three C’s are working together the results will be even more transformative.

CAT Editors: Why is the growth of smart aircraft significant?

Hickox: The growth has major implications for the aviation industry. From 2019 onward, for the first time more aircraft will be equipped with connectivity (i.e. cabin broadband and cockpit IP connectivity) than without. Given that there is such a large variety of IFC products and service providers available, it is vitally important that airlines make the right connectivity decisions for today and for the years ahead.

CAT Editors: Is enabling broadband cabin connectivity enough to justify the cost of adding connectivity to aircraft?

Hickox: No, although for some time many have assumed that the passenger experience in the cabin would be the primary justification for enabling broadband connectivity. However, it has become clear that the business case for IFC cannot be built on passenger revenues alone. Airlines need to create a business model that works for the entire value chain of the aircraft and the stakeholders within the airline – hence the three C’s.

CAT Editors: What do you see as the key benefits for airlines in enabling nose-to-tail connectivity?

Hickox: By enabling aircraft with the right connectivity and managing the total connectivity solution across all three aircraft data domains, the airline industry has the ability to realize not only a new wave of ancillary revenues, but also significant operational savings – between $5 billion and $14 billion according to Inmarsat’s recent report (1). With broadband connectivity, airlines are now in a position to realize the full potential of their most valuable asset: today’s smart aircraft.