Ahead of last month’s Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX), we identified ‘digital services’ as a theme we expected to see feature on many of the booths in the IFEC zone. In fact, more than half of the points in our pre-show “10 things to look out for at AIX” blog can be attributed to the topic. As far as predictions go, it felt like a safe bet and we are glad to report the vendors didn’t disappoint.
Inmarsat had its One-Fi portal, built in partnership with Display Interactive, front and centre on the booth, sharing the limelight with materials that spoke to the company’s newly acquired status as an approved partner on the Airbus HBC+ line-fit program. SITA for Aircraft continued to push its digital “Day of Operations” services portfolio and were keen to stress the flexibility of these applications in respect to working across any IFC service, not just GX. Over at the Axinom booth, CEO, Ralph Wagner was delighted to point out he had run out of foils visualising the company’s range of solutions long before the curtain had come down on day 1. He also noted discussions with airlines around deployment of digital cabin applications had matured significantly post-COVID; a comment echoed by other vendors at the show.
The uptick in interest makes sense given airlines are searching for methods to enhance the passenger experience, re-establish loyalty, generate ancillary revenues and enable operational savings – all initiatives digital services can support. But increased supply is also helping.
Over the last two or three years, software specialists have finally found some traction within the aviation sector as the digital journey concept has become a necessity rather than a “nice to have”, a trend spurred on by COVID-19. Some incumbents have jumped on the digital bandwagon, sensing an opportunity to pivot, notably W-IFE vendors. The provision of IFE content is an expensive business for airlines and a service that has come under increasing scrutiny as IFC adoption has continued to grow. Free-to-all IFC is a model very few airlines can justify today but falling capacity costs are leading more to ponder whether to reallocate IFE spend to serving more passengers with free Wi-Fi instead. In doing so, airlines give passengers the freedom to access their own streaming platforms.
We’re still a few years away from this threat becoming a reality, but the warning signs are there with the likes of British Airways just one example of carriers foregoing IFE on short-haul segments and offering IFC instead. Recognising the threat, IFE vendors are already diversifying, seeking to become a one-stop shop for in-cabin digital services. These solutions typically evolve around existing IFEC portals with digital retail, catering, and advertising the low-hanging fruit. Bluebox and AirFi, for example, now position themselves as a marketplace and both were visible at AIX, pushing new digital services that supplement the respective W-IFE platforms.
What’s the takeaway? After years of hype, AIX confirmed the long-projected surge in adoption of digital services is upon us. Crucially, it is driven not just by a desire to enhance the passenger experience and generate revenue/savings, but by an intent to remain relevant too.