In spite of challenging market conditions, a considerable number of new airlines have launched during 2021. Many are embracing aircraft digitalisation to get passengers flying again. Valour Consultancy examines some of the recently announced airline technology partnerships.
The COVID-19 pandemic still looms large over the commercial aviation sector, with many airlines now looking to 2022 for a return to something akin to normal service. IATA reported that demand for air travel in June 2021 was down 60.1% on June 2019. International travel remains difficult for passengers and even major domestic markets such as China and the US are still not quite at pre-COVID levels, down 11% and 25% respectively (for June 2019 vs 2021).
Given the extremely challenging context and the huge amount of uncertainty which has reigned over the world since the beginning of the pandemic, it might surprise you to learn that close to 30 new airlines have launched in 2021. Around half of these new operators are based in Europe, but there have also been launches in North America, Asia-Pacific, South America, Africa, and the Middle East. Most are smaller regional airlines, but a few clearly have ambitions to grow rapidly.
Airlines embracing technology
Despite the hurdles in front of them, these new airlines have launched with optimism, and plans to cement themselves in the post-COVID landscape. In order to achieve this, many have placed aircraft digitalisation at the heart of their strategy. Embracing technology onboard is allowing airlines to improve the passenger experience, generate ancillary revenues, improve operational efficiency, and help passengers feel safe onboard. With that in mind, lets take a look at some of the recently announced plans.
Breeze Airways – a new airline from JetBlue, AZUL and WestJet founder, David Neeleman – launched operations in May 2021. It currently operates thirteen ERJ-190s and is expecting delivery of six A220-300s in October. Neeleman has placed technology adoption and digitalisation as the key component of the business, referring to Breeze as a “tech company that happens to fly airplanes”. Currently, much of this is linked to pre-flight activities through the Breeze Airways app, but plans are in place to develop the inflight experience.
The airline has recently signed a deal with Anuvu (formerly Global Eagle) to fit its aircraft with Airconnect IFE Pro – a W-IFE solution. Anuvu will provide the hardware, which Breeze acquired an STC for in May 2021, as well as its new pay monthly subscription IFE content service, Iris.
Itapemirim (also known as ITA) is a new Brazilian airline which currently operates four A320-200 aircraft on routes between São Paulo, Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, and Rio de Janeiro. The airline is awaiting the arrival of an additional eleven A320s, as well as three A319s and intends to build a fleet of around 50 aircraft over the coming years. In June 2021, ITA announced it had selected NavBlue to provide a suite of solutions to aid flight operations including NavBlue’s EFB (electronic flight bag), Flysmart+ (a navigation solution), and document management system, as well as a number of other services.
Over in Europe, Air Montenegro has recently launched as a replacement for the now bankrupt national carrier, Montenegro Airlines. The new operation, which is backed by the government of Montenegro, selected Lufthansa Systems as a strategic partner to help get the airline up off the ground. As part of this partnership, Air Montenegro will use Lufthansa Systems’ Lido mPilot, a charting application based on iPadOS that provides pilots with all the necessary navigation charts, documents, and messages. The partnership appears to be going from strength to strength and it’s possible the airline will adopt further technology from Lufthansa Systems in the future.
Wizz Air, the Eastern European low-cost carrier, has recently launched a new subsidiary based in Abu Dhabi. The new airline currently operates four A321neo aircraft and began flying in April 2021. Although the airline does not currently have IFC or IFE installed onboard, Wizz Air is currently testing a new “Wi-Fi lite” solution in partnership with AS-IP Tech. The service, should it be rolled out fleetwide, will provide Wizz Air Abu Dhabi aircraft with AS-IP Tech’s Bluetooth connectivity service, fflya, which utilises dual window antennas to link up to Iridium’s NEXT service.
In addition to the aforementioned partnerships, many more new airlines have sought to implement technology solutions so far this year. Connect Airlines, established by Waltzing Matilda Aviation, is due to launch in October 2021 and has signed a five-year agreement with FLYHT Aerospace Solutions to install the firm’s AFIRS and Actionable Intelligence service across its fleet of turboprops. FLYTH’s solution will provide Connect Airlines with voice and text communications, engine and airframe exceedances, situational display as well as automatic movement messages. Connect Airlines will also subsequently look to introduce FLYHT’s fuel management solution.
Further recent announcements from new airlines include Jetsmart Peru’s adoption of StorkJet’s FuelPro, a fuel efficiency platform powered by AI; as well as new US airline, Avelo Airlines, adopting GE Digital’s Safety Solution. Avelo does not currently have IFC or IFE onboard but is open to adopting such technology in future.
Upgraded inflight experiences
While the path ahead remains hazardous, there are encouraging signs that there is new life in the airline technology sector. Airlines, both new and old, are looking to technology to help the market move forward. With regards to the newly launched airlines of 2021, rather than opting for the most basic inflight experience for crew and passengers, many are choosing to invest in technology to drive growth and establish themselves in the post-COVID landscape.
Such is the demand for digital solutions that new vendors continue to enter the market. W-IFE providers are adapting and expanding their services beyond traditional entertainment to instead act as the primary digital touchpoint for the cabin; helping the crew minimise close contact with passengers and offering ancillary revenue generating opportunities. This evolution had already begun pre-COVID but is only now beginning to be fully realised. While many observers had expected the W-IFE market to consolidate – with smaller providers being acquired or dying out – instead, the number of vendors with at least one active aircraft installation had grown to 33 at the end of Q1 2021. Recent announcements from WhileFly and LiFE in the Air, both new W-IFE providers, suggests this trend will continue.
For more information on how the IFE market is evolving, Valour Consultancy’s “The Future of IFE- 2021” provides a comprehensive breakdown. For more info on the broader inflight digital app space, the upcoming “The Market for Connected Digital Applications – 2021” tackles this topic at great length. Valour Consultancy also provides a quarterly IFE Tracker, details of which can be found here.