With Connectivity Ever Changing, What are the Tips to Keep Ahead of the Game?
Research shows consumers have two-and-a-half times the level of fear that they’re going to miss out by not buying an item than they have anticipation of the benefits when they do buy. Brian Wilson considers how to manage that fear when time comes for a business jet cabin connectivity upgrade…
One could justifiably assume consumer anxiety increases when it comes to purchasing technology-related products. Coupled with the fact that technology on-board an aircraft requires extensive installation and downtime (not to mention cost), making the right decision will impact the ability of the aircraft to carry out its essential business objectives.
A costly mistake could also have big implications for the decision-maker’s job. So how do you break down the different components of a cabin connectivity upgrade to ensure anxiety is minimized?
A Firm Foundation
Let’s begin with a smartphone example. We’ve all seen the snazzy commercials of new, exciting companies, and we have been enticed with their low-rates and expanded features only to see the provider fold due to their financially unviable business model. The consumers that bought their products end up with phones and service plans that are not worth the paper they’re written on.
The technology companies that have been around for many years and have invested hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars on their networks know what it takes to offer a viable and sustainable solution to their customers.
Thus, it’s solutions that should serve as the foundation for research into connectivity equipment for your business jet.
Get Multiple Input
Make sure everyone connected with the airplane has an opportunity to offer their input for the discussion about connectivity solutions. Flight crew, operations personnel, frequent passengers aboard the jet, and the flight attendants all have valid contributions to make.
The more you understand the needs and concerns of the entire team, the better placed you will be to seek a viable and economic solution. Following those discussions, try to set a priority list based around the features and performance expectations of those who contributed.
Hone in on Technology
Now that you have gathered what the aircraft users and flight department are collectively seeking to do, it’s time to focus on the technology.
The place to start is looking at what’s currently on your aircraft. By doing so, you’ll have assessed what your current system provides and how its features serve what you want to do over the next few years. You will have a clearer picture of needed connectivity improvements. Following are some questions to ask:
Invite the sales manager to meet with as many of those who participated in the original discussion as possible. Make it clear to the provider that you either want a product manager there in person or one who can participate in a webinar with your team. It should raise a concern if the vendor can’t provide the time and resources to meet with your department.
At this point, be concerned if a vendor is seeking to conceal some of the details of their technology. Lack of transparency raises questions of whether the provider’s platform and network are fully developed – even if they do already have a second-generation solution in mind.
You must also ensure that the provider can substantiate, document and share their technology, and provide a roadmap with your team regarding how their solution will unfold in your aircraft. Always avoid committing to a financial “early bird” discount since you might as well put your money in the cloud!
It’s a fact that technology on-board business aircraft is changing faster than at any previous time. To avoid paying for an outdated solution or requiring a new installation in 1-2 years’ time, you are well advised to seek companies that are financially stable and can offer platforms that are scalable at least 3-4 years into the future.
Although 3-4 years may not sound like a long time, companies vested in technology rarely disclose plans that are 5 or more years out as they must keep their competitive edge.
Narrowing the Choices
Having spoken to various potential providers, you will need to narrow the choices down to 2-3 solutions – after which is a good time to bring in your IT representative and/or your Chief Information Officer (CIO), if you have one.
Set up one more conference call to cover any concerns raised after the review of documentation from your first meeting. Your CIO and IT representatives will undoubtedly bring up a few concerns not addressed in your prior meeting. They’ll focus on how secure the network will be, and how the data are protected going to and coming off the aircraft.
Many businesses will want to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Companies that provide both the equipment and service will have their own Cybersecurity people who can sit in on the call and address these important matters.
Moving Forward to Upgrade
After briefing the company CEO or owner of the aircraft and a decision has been made to purchase a solution, it’s time to plan for the upgrade.
Getting three quotes is wise practice, even if you have one specific maintenance provider in mind. Remember to ask for any sales promotions or reward programs that the sales manager discussed with you. (It’s quite astounding how many estimators are not familiar with all the programs surrounding the array of products they promote.)
Nobody likes to hear the word ‘downtime’. One client once protested, “We don’t have these aircraft so they can sit in the hangar”. An operator is forced to use other aircraft when theirs is idle, resulting in increased expenses at the same time their own airplane is absorbing costs because of maintenance.
With that said there’s a bright spot to using the downtime to plan an upgrade of your existing Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity (IFEC) system. When consulting with the right resources, additional provisional work can also be done that saves downtime and money in future upgrades.
Most installations will require interior and substructure to be removed, so this may be a perfect time to request installation of some ‘provisional’ wiring in the aircraft to save time and money at the next maintenance interval or when incorporating an anticipated upgrade.
Maybe the ‘roadmap’ provided by your provider shows a future upgrade offering expanded features but requiring interface with other equipment. If so, wiring could be run to each location in readiness, to lessen the expense/downtime later. In the case of an additional antenna that might be added, the coax cable could be run in preparation and stowed.
I’ve experienced push-back from OEMs about doing such provisional work because they questioned the cost savings or challenged whether the new generation equipment will even materialize. But all of the work I recommend helps limit the required downtime in the future (with its associated cost). Instead of doing the next phase of work at a major inspection, you may need only a smaller inspection at a time when the aircraft is not required on a business trip.
Once you’ve picked your connectivity provider, think of that company as your partner in satisfying the one thing we know about our passengers: They always want to be Connected.
Returning to the smartphone analogy – there have been times I’ve been left frowning at my monthly bill and sorely tempted to accept one of those TV offers for a cheaper service. But I always come back to the importance of reliable service. With my present provider, wherever I am in the world I have yet to see those three dreaded words, No Service Available!
Reliability should motivate your buying choice when the time comes to upgrade your business jet connectivity. Reliability and dependability in this fast-paced world of technology are driving your purchase decision.
Key Questions to Ask
Ahead of the connectivity upgrade, and in order to properly plan for this event, your flight department must address a few fundamental questions, including the following:
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This article features in AvBuyer's 2018 Yearbook. Read the full edition here.