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The connected digital airline of the future

August 23, 2019

Joost Cordes   

Senior Manager Business Development

As digital transformation gathers pace, what does the future hold for the aviation industry? We discuss the potential of IoT-enabled applications and other connected services across airlines’ operations.

From service automation and mobility services through to the Internet of Things and cloud applications, digital transformation is making its mark on the airline sector. The reason is simple: finding ways to make processes more efficient, whether in the cockpit or on the ground, is part of a critical need to squeeze more value and more efficiency from existing assets.

“Efficiencies can be realised in almost every corner of airline operations thanks to today’s new technologies.”

Just one example is in connecting pilots and cabin crew using electronic flight bag and electronic passenger lists. This system isn’t simply more convenient – using less paper and adding less weight – it also enables better agility, with near-instant and secure updates, faster filing of flight plans, and more intelligent re-location of passengers in the cabin based on gate priorities and other functions.

Beyond this, standard electronic notebooks can also be used to enhance and accelerate:

  • Pilot and cabin crew flight preparation processes
  • Customer service and operations – either at the airport or even before passengers arrive at the airport
  • Ground crew processes – including flight turnaround and predictive maintenance

Let’s take another example – unplanned maintenance. Aviation businesses can incur huge costs due to the associated time delays. In fact, it is estimated that just two hours of unplanned aircraft maintenance on the tarmac can cost up to $150k (USD). It all adds up to a dramatic impact on operating margins. Not to mention customer satisfaction.

Unplanned maintenance is a key business area where a proactive, technology-based approach can bring improvements – helping to manage predictive maintenance and avoid technical delays with aircraft. Increasingly, airlines are incorporating effective mobile connectivity capabilities across their global fleet and supply chain – beyond the use of Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) connections.

“There’s no doubt the potential benefits for connected technologies in the aviation sector are vast.”

But achieving productivity boosts and realising efficiencies within existing processes relies on seamless collaboration between airlines and airport authorities. At the heart of this challenge is the need to equip airline staff, airport staff and service partners with ubiquitous access to data and applications.

A connected air transport ecosystem is centred around automation, using a combination of cellular-enabled mobile connectivity, IoT, AI and Big Data services. But only by combining business strategy with the right technical infrastructure can your organisation successfully achieve new efficiencies. Put simply, implementing successful digital transformation while growing your business globally requires a considered approach to identify and implement best-in-class global connectivity infrastructure and information tools.

“For your airline to achieve successful, borderless growth, scaling the connectivity services that your business needs for its domestic activities is key.”

Yet maintaining cellular asset connectivity – e.g. for consistent aircraft tracking, maintenance information, aircrew allocation and ground crew efficiency management – as your business expands internationally might mean having to negotiate with hundreds of mobile network providers to provide mobile access for your connected crew and connected aircraft applications in each country.

This is a prohibitively complex task, and one better managed through contracting with a single, global provider that can negotiate all the local cellular access agreements on your behalf, while also providing end-to-end mobile and cloud connectivity together with data management services.

The advantages of connected services for pilots, cabin crews and ground staff to achieve greater efficiencies is not the end of the story. Global cellular connectivity also provides opportunities to develop ancillary revenue generation. Upselling in-flight entertainment services might be one area.

“Another interesting way for an airline to generate revenue would be to establish itself as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO). It’s a logical extension – after all, by definition, your customers are on the move.”

By offering branded travel SIM services, you can enhance loyalty among your frequent flyers – for example, with a contracted global SIM card. Some airlines are already offering prepaid SIM cards in-flight, however, the MVNO proposition is about offering a richer mobile communications experience, with regular contracted services. This approach can yield profitable revenue as well as building loyalty among your regular travellers. Ultimately, enhancing the passenger experience contributes towards broader goals associated with business efficiency and reputation.

It’s clear that an aligned approach to digital transformation not only has the potential to enhance productivity, boost efficiency and earn extra revenue, but can enhance both your partners’ and customers’ experience of your business.

 

Discover how India’s car manufacturing industry is preparing for cross border connectivity in our previous blog