Upping the Ante for Inflight Connectivity in the New Decade

inflight connectivity

As we kick off a new decade, Connected Aviation Today is taking this opportunity to connect with various aviation industry experts to get their thoughts on progress made in 2019 and what to expect in 2020. To learn more about trends and predictions regarding both commercial and business aviation connectivity capabilities, we spoke with Aditya Chatterjee, SVP, Aero Segment Market Solutions at SES Networks.

Here’s what he had to share:

satellite connectivity
Aditya Chatterjee, Senior Vice President, Aero Market Segment Solutions of SES Networks

Chatterjee said that, “Commercial airlines and business jet operators are riding an inflight connectivity (IFC) boom – boosting satellite-delivered connectivity aboard their planes to meet the unprecedented passenger demand for seamless, reliable inflight WiFi.” In 2019, he saw the most growth in this area. 

“The more airlines satisfy their passengers’ insatiable appetite for connectivity in the skies, the more they stand out as the preferred airlines and business jets for passengers,” he continued. Chatterjee pointed out that a record 4.6 billion airline passengers boarded flights in 2019 and that number will only grow, with a projected 7.2 billion passengers flying in 2035. He noted that passengers will board with “smart devices and soaring expectations for inflight connectivity that rivals their broadband service at home and the office.”

“That is a big challenge to deliver an at-home-like connectivity experience aboard an aircraft traveling 30,000 feet up in the sky at 600 miles per hour,” he continued. “The industry is keenly focused on conquering the final connectivity frontier, and 2020 will be the year when airlines and business jets truly start to differentiate themselves in fiercely competitive aero markets with seamless, reliable WiFi connectivity and entertainment services.”

Chatterjee pointed to several technologies that are impacting this type of connectivity. “Aero antenna, modem, and satellite technologies have all advanced significantly over the past five years, to the point where enabling the kind of connectivity we all enjoy on the ground aboard a commercial and business jet is possible. That’s very exciting as we approach 2020.”

So how will the industry continue to deliver on passenger expectations for connectivity in the new decade? Chatterjee said that, “About one-third of the world’s commercial and business jet fleet offers inflight connectivity services today. That’s expected to grow to 50 percent by 2025 and to 80 percent over the next 20 years.”

He told us that, “While most of the world’s connected aircraft are serving North America, Europe, and the Middle East today, Asia represents a huge growth market over the next three to five years. The fact that we’re just at the start of equipping the airlines and business jet operators with connectivity points to huge demand and massive growth opportunities for satellite capacity over the next two decades and well beyond.”

This demand is going to “require super-scalable network connectivity to meet the demand for inflight connectivity services and applications.” This includes cloud-based content delivery and critical services, from enhanced flight safety and security and digital aviation and analytics, that will “enable new-age broadcast-quality content delivery in the cloud that will, no doubt, service air travel passengers and crew extremely well in the clouds.”

“Not only will airlines and business jets boost their inflight connectivity to better serve passengers aboard their flights, they will also leverage their connected aircraft to vastly improve operational efficiencies.

By leveraging their connected smart planes, airlines and business jet operators can take full advantage of real-time predictive analytics to monitor everything from engine maintenance and fuel consumption to passengers’ favorite food and beverage choices.

The result is big and immediate cost savings through better fuel conservation, preventative maintenance, and less waste to the tune of billions of dollars each year. If you know seven out of 10 passengers are going to choose a certain snack or meal over another, through satellite-delivered real-time data and analytics, there is far less waste after each flight. The number of uneaten meals is eliminated or cut dramatically. By using connectivity to monitor real-time weather and turbulence reports along flight routes, airlines can save billions fuel and aircraft repair costs. The savings can really add up, and the airlines see connectivity as a real advantage in boosting their profit margins.

It’s easy to see why airlines are equally excited about using their inflight connectivity to drive both operational savings and passenger satisfaction.”

While the industry is moving in the right direction, Chatterjee points out that partnerships will be key to making in-flight connectivity a reality. But he expects that in 2020, “transformational inflight connectivity will accelerate towards becoming a reality. Critical technology hurdles will start to be overcome, setting the stage for the seamless connected travel experience we’ve all been anticipating for years.”