From In-Flight Connectivity to Entertainment

Keeping up with cabin connectivity trends to enhance the passenger experience

Brian Wilson  |  11th April 2016
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    Brian Wilson
    Brian Wilson

    Brian has more than 40 years’ experience in the aviation field, and currently he is the Director...

    inside a very modern cabin

    Aircraft Connectivity is no longer a novelty, notes Brian Wilson. So how do you maximise passenger satisfaction?

    Traditional cable and satellite providers continue to lose subscribers to streaming service companies. Today’s consumer is opting for cheaper, on-demand, on-line, streaming services that deliver content when they want and where they want it – including in the back of the aircraft… The industry term for this is ‘cord-cutting’, and streaming is doing to traditional media services what Wi-Fi has already done to the wired Local Area Network (LAN).

    Content streaming is now ready to board your aircraft and entertain your passengers with a new ‘visual’ experience. Connectivity has been the buzz-word for the past several years, but it’s become an accepted standard; it is no longer a differentiator!

    Let us take a few quick moments to familiarize ourselves with normal video distribution on board many of today’s business aircraft: a single monitor on the forward, right-hand bulkhead and one on the aft. The media content is usually a single or dual DVD player and a moving map.

    This configuration allows for a proper viewing experience for 2-3 people while everyone else has to stare over the top of another passenger or be content with an acute viewing angle to see the screen. Either way, if you’re not one of the select people with the controls, you’re going to be watching what someone else chooses or just defer back to the Wi-Fi to surf the web…

    Now that same Wi-Fi experience can be enhanced by streaming movies, TV shows, news, weather and a moving map to personal electronic devices (PEDs) whether a laptop, tablet or smartphone.

    Content can also be viewed on existing cabin monitors and be integrated directly with many compatible Cabin Management Systems (CMS).

    To obtain this level of connectivity, the media server is installed aboard the aircraft with an internal memory storage capable of holding hundreds of TV shows and movies. Thus, watching a show is as easy as:

    • Switching your device into Airplane mode;
    • Connecting to the Wi-Fi;
    • Opening your web browser, which will display the splash page;
    • Select the IFE tile and download the App stored on the server;
    • Open the App and begin to enjoy your viewing experience!

    News feeds and weather are downloaded via a Terrestrial Modem when the aircraft is on the ground. Having the content pre-loaded on the media server and utilizing the modem means that no data will be consumed. In contrast, even if you were able to stream content from off the aircraft through your internet connection, this would result in connectivity service charges of $250-$300 per hour.

    There’s also a compelling selling-point for those chartering their aircraft that leverages the cost of installing the media server against the possibility that passengers will use less data consumption. Think of it this way: Onboard amenities could include complimentary Wi-Fi with ancillary costs absorbed by the operator.

    The trend seems clear: passengers are using more data;  data are getting more expensive; and charter operators seem reluctant to be the first company to charge consumption to the client. Offering a new experience, however – one that should absorb passenger attention for longer – results in less time surfing the web.

    Getting Fresh Content

    Even though the media server can hold hundreds of movies and TV shows, once you spread those out over ten genre groups the need for fresh content will arise often.

    The movie studios hold the rights to their movies, and to achieve their approval to use the content costs lots of money. That’s why a lot of the first generation media servers came without any loaded content; they expected the customer to duplicate their movies and load the content themselves. I can attest through my own experience that none of these products were successful, and they fell victim to the next generation of pre-loaded devices. We live in a world where people have very busy lives and are willing to pay for convenience.

    Some of the next-generation media suppliers seem to avoid creating ways to make the lives of their customers easier. They offer ‘dual’ hard drive solutions that require the client to access the unit onboard and swap out their hard-drive with one loaded with new content. The consumer has to repeat this task every time they want a new catalog. Another vendor offers a cloud-based media store that you can access via a customer portal (i.e., manually downloading the content to a USB storage device whenever you want it).

    I believe the winner in this category requires the operator to do absolutely nothing but park their aircraft and leave the power turned on. That’s because the loading is done automatically via a Wi-Fi bridge at participating FBOs, or from your own hangar. The Wi-Fi on board the aircraft connects to the corresponding FBO or hangar Wi-Fi and ‘Sync Happens’.

    Customize That Dashboard

    Charter and Fractional providers have a captive audience when passengers fly on their aircraft. If you charter your aircraft, or transport prospective customers often, why not take advantage of this to showcase the latest promotions and news about your company? Unlike push notifications that could annoy your passengers, this information would have to be selected by them from the IFE landing page.

    As I mentioned above, one of the steps to viewing the content is to download the IFE application. This procedure only has to be done once for each device, and almost anyone who has a smartphone or tablet is familiar with this simple task. The landing page could be designed to look and feel as if your company created this experience exclusively for your passengers/clients by incorporating your own brand, color palette and logo. The information you provide could be refreshed every time the aircraft lands. Let me explain.

    • First, you must select a media server that incorporates a Terrestrial Modem (TM);
    • The TM will then connect to any 3G/4G connection while on the ground;
    • Custom content is loaded from your company’s secure server;
    • The content can be Blogs, Videos, PDF and/or other files.

    The technology that allows this to happen is called RSS feed. RSS stands for Rich Site Summary, but is often referred to as Really Simple Syndication because it allows publishers to ‘syndicate’ data automatically. Your passengers don’t have to search for information about your company; it’s all delivered directly to them. The best part is they will see what you want them to see!

    Enriching the Passenger Experience

    Imagine your passengers settling into their seats and connecting to one Wi-Fi source for all their necessities during the flight. No matter where the aircraft is flying in the world, they’re connected to the best internet-based solution available.

    After reviewing emails, sending documents and researching work-related subjects on the internet, it’s time to relax and watch a new movie release or TV show. A quick review of the moving map and time-to-destination helps avoid choosing a movie with a duration longer than the remaining flight time.

    Watching a movie on a tablet may suffice, but the passenger may select a monitor better suited for their viewing pleasure. The final touch enables the passenger to lower the ambient lighting and adjust the cabin temperature, thereby giving the passenger the ultimate passenger experience… with every detail achieved via a single application!

    This latest application has done to embedded handsets onboard the aircraft what cell phones have done to phone receivers in your home; it’s keeping them in the cradle.

    Passengers can use their own smartphones to make calls and send text messages to and from the aircraft. These text-and-talk applications allow you to use your own number, calling lists and caller ID settings just like you were on the ground.

    Technology advances have reduced existing latency times—giving your passengers a clearer, crisper voice connection at 35,000 feet. The program is software-based, so no new hardware has to be installed. The operator merely purchases a software key and chooses a voice plan to cover the minutes. Each phone requires a loading of the text and talk application and a one-time registration on the ground prior to the flight.

    Just 7-8 years ago charter and fractional companies were reluctant to install connectivity onboard their fleets. There was the usual pushback from finance who wanted to know, “How are we going to pay for this?” I believe it’s safe to say for those companies that were one of the last to join the Wi-Fi craze they wish they would have done it sooner.

    Fast-forward to the present day and I am hearing the same financial concerns, although a few companies have already moved aggressively. For those companies that are hesitant to commit, or those who charter their aircraft via a management program, don’t underestimate the need to be entertained.

    For those companies that are hesitant, they need to understand that the paradigm shift from connectivity to entertainment is here!

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    Brian Wilson

    Brian Wilson

    Editor, Jet Connectivity

    Brian has more than 40 years’ experience in the aviation field, and currently he is the Director of Key Accounts at Gogo Business Aviation

    Having worked 35 years in Business Aviation, Brian lists Jet Aviation West Palm Beach and Banyan Aviation amongst his previous employers where he has developed and planned STC certifications projects on cabin connectivity. He has been involved in more than 1,000 avionics installations, having previously headed up various avionics, engineering, and interior departments.



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