4 Key Points About Onboard Tech

It takes a Blend of Tech and Touch!

Pete Agur  |  16th April 2015
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Pete Agur
Pete Agur

Peter Agur Jr. is Chairman and Founder of VanAllen - a business aviation consultancy firm with expertise...

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Each Business Aviation passenger saves at least three hours for every leg he or she flies compared to the airlines, notes Pete Agur. Even better, their en-route productivity is greatly multiplied on these “time machines”…

In past years, executives have often told me how they love the solace of the sanctuary in the back of the airplane. No calls, no interruptions. It was a time to concentrate and talk among the passengers. And then along came connectivity.

In the mid-1990s, one of America’s wired wizards bought his first long-range aircraft. He had every option except the one he wanted the most - decent connectivity. He had people search high and low for satellite and land-based systems to get him connected while en-route. He knew what he wanted, and he was willing to pay for it. The best answer he could get was straight out of the 1980s: baud rates and band width that looked like sand draining through an hour glass. It really frustrated him.

Point One

What is easy to do in your office is an entirely different challenge in flight. Limited sources of support, regulations, certifications, lack of critical market mass, oh my! When it comes to airborne up- and downloads, Moore’s Law does not apply. Be patient.

A few years ago the chairman of a major bank reviewed the annual budget for his three-aircraft fleet. Since they have North American operations only, the department had recommended installing modestly priced Wi-Fi in all the aircraft. The chairman approved the upgrade for his aircraft but said the other officers wouldn’t use it or need it as much as he did. All went well until his aircraft was down for a few weeks for a routine major inspection. He had to ride in the disconnected aircraft. Now they all have Wi-Fi.

Point Two

Airborne connectivity is not just for the elite. It has become the norm. As one director of aviation recently said, “I think our passengers would rather we lose an engine than lose connectivity.”

In 2010, the chairman of a tech company was growing his business through relationships in India. He bought an ultra-long-range aircraft to fly non-stop between New York and Mumbai. The aircraft salesman told him he would have all the connectivity he wanted if he bought the top of the line communications system. Not so. It worked great in North America, but not offshore.

After weeks of added downtime and hundreds of thousands of dollars for the addition of a second system to support direct satellite links, the chairman launched for India with high hopes. He landed livid. No one had told him the polar route took him out of satellite range for about 1/3 of his flight.

Point Three

If you want to be leading edge, your wallet will bleed the most. Seek out technology-specific experts. Be clear about what you want and listen to the answers. If the techies say they cannot do it, believe them. If they say they can get you close, believe them… and live with the limitations. Be sure to tell them to under-promise and over-deliver. You will likely not be disappointed.

Back in the 1980s, my first client was a major railroad. They were wonderful people with treasured traditions steeped in the iron horse legacy. Interestingly, the president was afraid of flying. He would rather hook his private car onto a coal train going his way overnight than sit in the back of his large jet for an hour’s flight.

He rationalized that he was totally productive while he was in the Pullman. He had his staff with him and was able to work and communicate throughout the trip, unlike in his business jet (remember, this was pre-airborne Wi-Fi or satellite communication). We, in aviation, tend to look down our noses at traditional travel modes. But there are lessons to be learned and trends to be detected when you analyze the patterns of the past.

Point Four

It has taken us 20 years to finally approach the promise of “the office in the sky.” Once the technology is near parity between the airplane and the office, where is the next opportunity to achieve even greater productivity from your most critical assets - your airplane’s passengers?

For operational passengers, connectivity alone may be enough. For strategic players—the ones who leverage the success of the enterprise day-to-day and place-to-place—the next level of en-route productivity will be on the soft side. Once the hardware and software are in place, like the Pullmans of yore, your aircraft’s key passengers can be liberated to the next level by sharing their ride with staffers who can, in real time, facilitate and accelerate taking great ideas to fruition.

Sometimes traditional approaches can point the way to the next significant step forward: High tech and high touch; the next quantum leap in onboard productivity.

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