Airlines Must Break Down Barriers to Benefit from In-Flight Digital Advertising

Global digital advertising spend in 2020 reached US$332 billion and was set to overtake traditional, non-digital ad spend for the first time. With this in mind, it may come as a surprise that in-flight digital advertising is far from lucrative. With fill rates currently hovering around just 30% for video adverts and 20% for static/display adverts, IFEC-driven advertising yielded airlines an estimated $266 million in 2019.

This is frustratingly low considering passengers travelling by air, a captive audience with proven disposable income, represent a desirable demographic that advertisers are keen to reach. A survey from in-flight programmatic advertising specialists Inadvia on the impact of COVID-19 saw 82% of respondents say reaching in-market travellers will be important in their marketing/media strategy following the pandemic.

So, what’s stopping advertisers from working more expansively with airlines? The reasons are many. Passenger numbers don’t always give brands the scale they want, and lengthy IFE content refresh cycles of 30-40 days preclude them from many campaigns.

In some cases, airlines themselves are the issue, with strict policies about who and what they are willing to promote. Such policies prevent some carriers from engaging meaningfully with programmatic advertising, a solution that automates the advertising workflow, from trading (the buying and selling of media), to serving (delivering the right ad to the right person) and reporting (proving the ad was served to the person). There’s a common misconception that programmatic advertising means a loss of control over the ads featured, but this isn’t the case – platforms such as Inadvia’s allow blacklisted brands or sectors to be inserted up-front and to ensure creative approval is received for every campaign. More and more advertisers are buying and running their digital campaigns in this way today.

Another barrier is the airline industry’s inability to target adverts to passengers beyond those flying on certain city pairs, for example, as well as the lack of available analytics regarding an ad’s performance ­– some airlines can still only provide a picture or video of an ad playing on a seatback screen. This is changing, albeit slowly, as industry bodies such as APEX’s Ad Delivery Working Group forge ahead with creating an industry standard for advertising data; and its Airline Advertising and Ancillary Revenue Committee (ARC) works to simplify related discussions between all involved parties.

Another significant development is that new in-flight entertainment (IFE) platforms are being designed with digital advertising capabilities and e-commerce in mind. Many now focus on engagement rather than traditional entertainment, such as movies and TV shows. ScootHub, developed together by AirFi and Scoot’s catering partner SATS, includes access to travel guides and an in-flight map, which provide the opportunity for geo-specific ads. Similarly, easyJet is trialling ePax, a platform created by Black Swan Data and catering company gategroup, that will use machine learning to present customers “with more of what they want, based on factors such as flight destination, flight duration and time of day, as well as insights generated by a wealth of inflight retail data.”

With Google Chrome set to follow Safari and Firefox and end its support for third-party cookies by 2022, publishers who collect and own their own data (referred to as first-party data) will be in an incredibly strong position and become far more enticing partners for advertisers searching for fully transparent and compliant ways to reach their target audiences. As well as the contextual insights mentioned above, airlines naturally have access to a range of first-party data from customers, such as their age, gender, frequent flyer status and more. If this is embraced properly, there is a huge opportunity to attract significantly more advertising investment into the sector.

We predict that while the take rate for seatback IFE will remain at 75% between now and 2030, a positive experience with increasingly sophisticated wireless IFE (W-IFE) platforms will drive their take rate from around 30% today up to 50% by 2030. Likewise, increased targeting, combined with more flexibility from airlines – like the incorporation of dynamic ad insertion, which allows advertisers to act on any analytics they receive by swapping out their creative updates more frequently – will also improve the uptake of digital in-flight ads.

None of the aforementioned solutions require IFC to function (indeed, the real-time bidding process used for some programmatic ads on the ground would be a costly and unnecessary use of an airline’s available bandwidth). However, targeting and measurement will continue to improve as a result of more widespread IFC. Connectivity will certainly make display ads more attractive, because passengers can click through to beyond a bespoke-built offline mini site, the cost- and time-intensive option for airlines without IFC. Advertisers will be willing to pay to transact with passengers more easily.

IFC will also mean there’s potential for passengers to engage with more ads. A greater adoption of freemium models will likely require passengers to interact with video and display ads before their sessions commence. In future, interstitial ads could also be introduced, much like those in use by YouTube. Between now and 2030, there’s potential for the take rate for freemium IFC to break past the 60% mark, a further attraction for advertisers.

As all these changes continue and programmatic advertising becomes more widespread, we believe the fill rates for both video and static/display adverts will top out at 80% by 2026 (it’s unlikely to hit 100% because there will always be routes or targeting criteria less desirable to advertisers than others).

Overall, we predict the in-flight digital advertising market will be worth $3.3 billion by 2030, which is representative of a 10-year CAGR between 2020 and 2030 of 42.9 per cent – quite astounding given the extent to which revenues have declined in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19. It’s finally time for the aviation industry to catch up with the capabilities – and the rewards – seen in digital ad space on the ground. More on this topic can be found in Valour Consultancy’s forthcoming report “The Future of In-Flight Entertainment Content.

Holistic Repurposing of Offshore Energy Assets – 2020 – Free Whitepaper

Valour Consultancy is pleased to release its latest whitepaper covering the “Repurposing of Offshore Energy Assets”, primarily focused upon those in the North Sea.

Offshore platforms are traditionally viewed as single-purpose structures supported by a small village of personnel devoted to that purpose. In the same way that many villages renewed themselves after their main industry declined, for example cotton mills, the coal industry and, in some places, the oilfield, platforms need to adopt a portfolio of alternative commercial endeavours to prosper. This paper suggests that instead of expending large sums of money to remove the structures, that money is used to regenerate the platforms providing income and work and benefitting the country and the company accomplishing the refit.

This paper examines the investigation into alternative uses which appear, so far, to address single option use, either wind power or wave power or other alternative, arriving at the unsurprising conclusion that there would be a negative return on investment (ROI). The paper goes on to suggest that a synergistic combination of six or more processes installed on a platform would not only be profitable but also assist the company responsible for the platform and nation in whose territory the platform stands meet its carbon reduction targets.

The paper offers an alternative scenario in which geothermal is used to power the platform, while wind and wave power are exported to shore. It also suggest that the exclusion zone around the platform is used for aquaculture with nutrient poor surface water fortified by seawater drawn from just above the seabed. The seabed can also be used for energy storage. Seaweed grown in this scenario could be used for medicine, food, chemicals or for carbon sequestration or from ethanol production. Further projects to generate revenue suggested are making fresh water for export to drought-stricken Southern European and North African countries and using the platform as a base for tethered dirigibles which would act as low-cost communication hubs for countries bordering the North Sea and as monitoring stations for shipping and fishing vessels.

The existing subsea pipeline network would be ideal for transport of product to shore. Advanced AI and monitored automation means that manning on such facilities would be minimised and may even be discounted altogether.

The whitepaper suggests that it is eminently possible to have all these projects on-going on the same platform at the same time. Indeed, with sufficient process integration, and smart design, these projects can assist each other. Oilfield engineers develop a unique suite of capabilities while designing and building platforms and oil wells and oil distribution pipelines that would allow them to draw on the many disciplines that would be needed for such a diverse project.

Valour Announces Several Key Improvements to its Quarterly IFE and IFC Trackers

In 2016, to supplement our in-depth annual deep dive into the in-flight connectivity (IFC) market, Valour Consultancy launched a quarterly tracker product designed to keep those with a vested interest in the area updated on installation activity and key trends. One year later, we announced a similar product, which tracks the market for wireless in-flight entertainment (W-IFE) systems. Both trackers were the first of their kind and have proved to be extremely popular with our client base, which, we’re proud to say, consists of a “who’s who” of the IFEC and cabin technology value chain.

Not content to rest on our laurels, and in keeping with our ongoing commitment to continually improve and adapt, both products have undergone a transformation in 2020. The quarterly IFC tracker, for example, has been hugely expanded to show the total addressable market of aircraft that have not yet installed a system and are not currently earmarked to have one fitted in future. As a result of the massive disruption caused by COVID-19, we also added a new feature allowing users to see which connected aircraft are currently active, versus those that are grounded. The quarterly W-IFE tracker saw the “W” dropped as we expanded our focus to the entirety of the IFE market, providing data on seatback and overhead IFE system equipage, in addition to wireless. Another addition to the IFE data was the inclusion of server and WAP manufacturers for each deployment.

The biggest change, however, is the way in which we present this data. For the last four years, subscribers have received an Excel workbook containing current and historic data, as well as a PowerPoint summary detailing key announcements during the reporting period and its effect on the numbers contained within. Starting with the IFC tracker, we’ve now created an additional online user-friendly dashboard that allows clients to better visualise and interact with the data. It includes:

  • Dynamic charts that allow you to remove specific data and export them to JPEGs for your presentations
  • Raw quarterly data that can be filtered based on your query and exported to CSV or Excel
  • Raw addressable market data that can be filtered based on your query and exported to CSV or Excel

We’re in the process of bringing to life our IFE data in the same way and starting in 2021, we’ll also begin to dive more deeply into the type of content being provided on wireless systems. This is especially important as the “E” in IFE moves away from entertainment in the traditional sense of the word and more about maximising engagement with passengers. To this end, you’ll soon be able to see whether a system shows movie/TV content, as well as games, ePublications/eBooks, destination content, seat-to-seat chat, music/other audio, buy-on-board, plus whether or not it forms the basis of an IFC portal too.

Looking ahead, we’ve every intention of continuing to modernise our deliverables to generate better insight in a more efficient way. What subscribers see today is stage one of this process and further enhancements will be made incrementally in the future. Indeed, we’re close to finalising a partnership that will give us the ability to provide IFE and IFC equipage down to the tail level. More information on this important development will be provided via the usual channels in due course.

If you’d like any additional information on these trackers or if you have any thoughts or feedback on other improvements that we could make, then we’d be delighted to hear from you. And if you’d like to arrange an online demonstration to take a closer look at what we have to offer, then please let us know. We can be reached at

Marlink Remains Largest Retail VSAT Service Provider in 2019

In Valour Consultancy’s latest maritime connectivity report, The Future of Maritime Connectivity – 2020 edition, Marlink Group remained the largest retail service provider for VSAT communication services in 2019. The global service provider increased its revenue market share from 23.1 per cent in 2018, to 23.9 per cent in 2019. 

Marlink has proactive approach to customer service ensuring all its clients and their vessels are functioning at an optimal performance. This has been a particularly poignant matter during the COVID-19 pandemic with large numbers of merchant seafarers stranded at sea away from their friends and families. In addition, the company’s history in the maritime market and strength across all the applications at the firm has also aided its mission of staying at the top of the VSAT retail market. Valour Consultancy estimates that Marlink had more than seven thousand vessels subscribed to its SeaLink VSAT service today. 

Valour Consultancy ranked Speedcast second in the retail VSAT market in 2019. Like Marlink, the company also increased its market share from 2018 primarily due to its acquisition of Globecomm. However, the firm has gone through some financial turmoil recently, filing for Chapter 11 in April 2020 and it will be interesting to see how it will perform in the next 12 months. 

Inmarsat continues to play a strong dual role in the market, providing wholesale MSS and VSAT satellite capacity to its value added resellers (service providers) and also serving some key customers directly. The firm, purchased by a private equity consortium in 2019, has done a good job of switching its large existing MSS customer base to its FX VSAT offerings whilst also getting its VARS to commit to fulfilling a number of vessels on its FX services. An example of this is demonstrated by Inmarsat’s strong relationship with Mitsui O.S.K. Lines (MOL), one of Japan’s largest shipping companies, who announced they plan to continue the roll out of FX across the remainder of all its owned and managed vessels  

Another notable maritime connectivity player has been KVH Industries. The firm has performed exceedingly well with its Agile Plans VSAT leasing service and reported shipping more than 10,000 VSAT antennas cumulatively earlier this year. Note this is across all mobility and land verticals. Nevertheless, its strength does reside within maritime and the firm has recently introduced its successful leasing plan to leisure market customers, opening up a significant number of vessels for new business. 

Unfortunately, Global Eagle has suffered somewhat over recent years and its market share dropped from 10 per cent in 2018 to less than 8 per cent in 2019. This is as a result of having lost a number of key passenger and offshore energy clients to other service providers in recent years. 

Valour Consultancy’s take on the retail VSAT maritime connectivity standings in 2019: 

Looking Forward 

According to the IMF in its June 2020 outlook update  – “Global growth is projected to decline by  –4.9 per cent in 2020, 1.9 percentage points below the April 2020 World Economic Outlook (WEO) forecast. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a more negative impact on activity in the first half of 2020 than anticipated, and the recovery is projected to be more gradual than previously forecast. In 2021 global growth is projected at 5.4 per cent. Overall, this would leave 2021 GDP some 6.5 percentage points lower than in the pre-COVID-19 projections of January 2020. The adverse impact on low-income households is particularly acute, imperiling the significant progress made in reducing extreme poverty in the world since the 1990s 

Valour Consultancy anticipates glass half full perspective. Yes, passenger and offshore energy markets have been decimated by the fear of the pandemic, travel restrictions and the unknown of what is nextNonetheless, other markets have remained less affected, if not up from 2019. The effect of having so many seafarers in the merchant market stranded at sea has been to increase crew welfare video, messaging and telephone communication usage over the last six months. Some of the super wealthy have also seconded themselves on their private superyachts for the period. In addition, the demand for overall food produce such as seafood has remained stable and the market is likely to remain steady over the year. There are many notable pain points in maritime satellite connectivity right now but also a few good ones. Our maritime connectivity report will be providing an October update on 2020 and new projections for 2021 onwards. For more information please click here 

GX+ Further Evidence North America Remains Key IFC Battleground

Many reading this will be well aware of how important the North America region has been in the context of IFC. Carriers in the region were amongst the early adopters of IFC, globally, aided by the launch of Gogo’s Air-to-Ground network, which at one point served more than 2,600 aircraft. In true chicken and egg fashion, a number of familiar names in the industry are headquartered out of North America too, most notably Astronics, the aforementioned Gogo, Global Eagle, Honeywell, Intelsat, Viasat…the list goes on. As a result, the region accounted for 89 per cent of total connections back in 2014 and this share still hovered close to the 60 per cent mark at the end of Q2 2020, despite increased IFC adoption around the world.

Over time though, broad adoption of IFC has led to the addressable market in North America falling quite substantially in recent years, down to approximately 20 per cent of commercial aircraft originating in the region. Of these aircraft yet to find a home with an IFC service provider, most are now regional jets that tend to fly short segments and are therefore arguably better suited to wireless-IFE rather than full-blown IFC. This has naturally led vendors to seek new airline wins elsewhere, with a substantial number of aircraft originating out of Asia, Europe and South America still unconnected today.

Taking the above into account, one could be forgiven for questioning the decision to launch a US-based network, as Inmarsat and Hughes did last month with the unveiling of GX+. But it is worth noting that the top 6 largest connected fleets, globally, are all based in North America, and this doesn’t factor in Air Canada, which sits 11th on that list. Furthermore, a number of the aircraft within these connected fleets are coming to the end of existing contracts and/or are equipped with first generation hardware that is quickly becoming obsolete versus current demand and the new hardware now available on the market.

For the prize on offer, one need look no further than Viasat. In the last two years or so, the Carlsbad-based internet service provider has significantly increased its installed base of connected aircraft and is estimated to have a 16 per cent share of all connected commercial aircraft at the end of Q2 2020 (up from 0.5 per cent at the end of 2017*). A majority of this increase can be attributed to the retrofit programs it has won in the U.S alone, most notably with American Airlines and jetBlue. In the case of American Airlines, Viasat added more than 500 single aisle aircraft to its network across a two-year window. Opportunities of this size, globally, are becoming increasingly rare as more of the larger established carriers now typically offer an IFC service on board or are already under contract to do so in the near future. China is a notable exception here but is excluded from the point as regulation will limit involvement from vendors that are not registered in Mainland China and have the appropriate licences. The impact of COVID-19 is also expected to dampen new opportunities, globally, through airline bankruptcies and limiting non-essential expenditure.

It is common knowledge that Inmarsat has long sought a route into the North American IFC market, and it had previously hinted at collaborating with Hughes to support its cause. But to do so at this stage, the operator will go toe-to-toe with Intelsat (through its acquisition of Gogo) and Viasat, two players which, like Inmarsat, offer customers the cost and performance benefits that come through vertical alignment; a sign of things to come, globally, in the IFC sector as far as we’re concerned. Clearly then, whilst vendors will continue to skirmish for airline wins all over the world, North America is seen as a market ripe for disruption in the coming years. This is great news for carriers in the region but is anticipated to pose a significant challenge to incumbents such as Global Eagle and Panasonic Avionics that, like most, are hurting from the impact of COVID-19, but are not in the position to pass on the benefits of being vertically aligned.

*- excludes aircraft that were serviced by Thales

Biometrics and Digital Identity are Key in Ensuring the Future of Air Travel

Guest blog written by John Devlin, co-founder of P.A.ID Strategies, with whom we are partnered on producing a soon-to-be published report on smart airport technologies.

Air travel has been massively impacted and disrupted in the past six months. Until Covid-19 hit, the biggest challenge facing airport operators and airlines was how to cope with an ever-increasing demand for air travel and the limited infrastructure to support it. Now, they are scrambling for survival as the industry has been turned on its head and looking to cut costs and develop new means of handling and processing passengers.

Here are a few points demonstrating how steep a cliff the industry has fallen off:

  • At the height of the pandemic and lockdowns in various countries, passenger volumes were down over 90% and in August were still ~80% down on the same time last year in the peak summer months
  • As a result, the Airports Council International (ACI) stated that airports globally will see an expected drop in income of $104.5 billion in 2020 with passenger volumes revised down from 9.4 to 3.8 billion (a 59.6% decline)
  • Heathrow Airport alone estimates that Covid-19 has cost it £1 billion since March
  • Gatwick Airport, London, announced in its 1H20 results that passenger numbers were down 66% for the first 6 months of the year, with revenues declining 61.3% effecting a loss of £321 million

It doesn’t stop there. Whilst flight volumes are increasing, passenger numbers are lagging. The bulk of an airport’s operating costs are related to airport movements whilst their revenues come from passenger spend, which further increases price pressure on airports.

  • Accordingly, Gatwick has cut CAPEX by £157 million this year and plans cuts of £196 million for 2021 with OPEX reduced by £100 million – but this is by compromising and consolidating air traffic into a single terminal, over 70% of staff furloughed and large scale redundancies are planned

Whilst the numbers are (slowly) ticking upwards, our expectation is that passenger volumes will have only recovered to near 2019 numbers by 2023-24, so it is important for airports and airlines to find new, more efficient ways to operate their businesses and recover at least some of their lost revenues.

New Partnerships, Processes and Strategies to Ensure Survival and Plan for the Future

Airports and airlines are looking to implement solutions to enhance “safety” (or the perception of it) and encourage passengers back to fill the flights that are taking place. There are various approaches and technologies that can help them do this. We initially looked at the adoption of biometrics and digital identity in airports three years ago and there has been an increasing number of pilots and trials in the time since. COVID-19 will only accelerate adoption of eGates and self-service kiosks with airports keen to reduce costs and increase efficiency with more automation so that they can prioritise their resources to where needed given the huge drop-off in passenger volumes.

Additionally, new business models and partnerships are being explored by sector specialists so that airports, airlines and traditional suppliers can work together more closely. There is also a move away from the bespoke solutions typically demanded in aviation to more COTS approaches and more use of the public cloud to knit all the various systems together and reduce costs, improve delivery times, etc.

Further, the sector is looking to reassure travellers by reducing human interactions and minimising necessary contact. The added advantage is that these solutions also (typically) reduce OPEX and increase efficiency, plus give more control and increase digital footprint, which gives more data on users and can help drive further advances with analytics and track and trace (if necessary and acceptable).

A Smarter and Better Passenger Experience Utilising Biometrics, Digital Identity and Mobile

There is even a potential silver lining, once the immediate concerns have been addressed. Whilst numbers are depressed, airports and airlines are able to restructure their businesses and operational processes, form new partnerships, adopt new business models and plan how they will not only recover but build back better. If they are able to garner industry and government support, new standards and processes, based upon smartphones, biometrics and digital identity, can be designed and implemented to give the customer more choice and flexibility without the restrictions of traditional inspections. Want to have your bag-tags automatically printed when you enter the airport? And to create a biometric token when you get to the airport so you can seamlessly make your way through all passenger checkpoints and board your plane without having to repeatedly show your passport and boarding pass? How about checking-in to your flight when checking out of your hotel? Give permission for the airline to share your digital identity with your destination country for quicker passage through customs and border control? Well, soon we may be able to do just that.

Note: P.A.ID Strategies and Valour Consultancy have combined their respective areas of expertise in biometrics, identity, security and aviation to develop a new market research report entitled “The Seamless Passenger Journey in Smart Airports”. The report will assess the potential for biometrics, digital identity and smart solutions for self-service, automation and traveller processing to improve the passenger experience, increase efficiency and build revenue streams for airports and airlines as they initially cope with the disruption resulting from COVID-19 and plan their strategies to recover and build back better. More information and the report proposal can be found here:

With New LCC Announcements Set to Come, Wireless IFE Remains Robust in the Face of COVID

One of the first questions we were asked once the enormity of the COVID-19 situation became apparent some seven months ago was its likely impact on the in-flight entertainment (IFE) industry. Indeed, one of the messages we received from a well-respected name in the industry back in March was that he suspected “traditional IFE would not bounce back”. At that time, it was not hard to see why. Throughout the travel continuum, there is an obvious reluctance for people to interact with touchscreens of any kind, be they installed in the seatback or situated on a kiosk in the airport check-in area. In fact, the decision has, in some cases, been taken out of the hands of passengers and airlines alike. India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation, for example, suspended the use of seatback displays as a health and safety measure to limit the spread of the virus.

Then there are the not insignificant costs associated with content acquisition and maintenance, which have already compelled financially squeezed airlines to switch off systems and in some cases, I’m sure, think twice about whether they want to install the technology in future. Additionally, seatback IFE is inextricably tied to the hugely impacted wide-body market – almost every one of these aircraft is delivered with an embedded system fitted at the factory and this has been the case for years now. To put this into perspective, a total of 76 twin-aisle aircraft (excluding freighters and so-called bizliners) were delivered by Airbus and Boeing between the start of this year and August 31st. In the same period last year, the number was 212. That’s a 64 per cent reduction in the number of aircraft that would normally make up a sizeable portion of the seatback IFE market.

Sadly, the prospects for wide-bodies in the short- to medium term don’t look all that rosy either. According to our own internal forecast, deliveries won’t return to pre-pandemic levels until around 2026. We must also consider that the attach rate for seatback IFE on narrow-bodies has been falling for a while now. There have been several recent high profile examples where carriers – particularly in North America where adoption of seatback IFE in the single aisle market has always been higher – have opted against fitting these systems on their newest aircraft. In 2019, the attach rate stood at just under 26 per cent and we expect this to fall to 13 per cent by 2030. The decline would be even more pronounced were it not for the forthcoming arrival of long range single aisle aircraft like the Airbus A321XLR (and any rival Boeing might bring out in the next few years), which will doubtless be equipped with wide-body-esque amenities.

Enter wireless IFE (W-IFE), which has exhibited remarkable growth in recent years, and which looks set to continue on this trajectory from here on in. Why? Two reasons: First, W-IFE costs a lot less than seatback IFE – an extremely important consideration in these unprecedented times. In fact, we estimate that the average cost per seat for W-IFE (both fixed and portable) was about $381 in 2019. The equivalent figure for seatback IFE was just over $6,000. And it’s getting less expensive too thanks to a frankly insane number of vendors vying for a slice of the pie and with new entrants joining the party all the time. VuLiv and GoMedia being the two most recent examples. Second, W-IFE, by its very nature, means using your own device, which is undeniably preferable to touching a screen many others have come into contact with previously. In the interests of balance, cleaning regimes have been stepped up a notch since the pandemic was declared and our expectation is that the PED will become the de-facto control device for seatback systems in future. Furthermore, hardware development has arguably reached its zenith and rapid commoditisation will ensure that the cost per seat of seatback IFE will fall hugely over the next few years. As airline balance sheets improve, its current unattractiveness will somewhat reverse.

W-IFE also provides the foundation for airlines to exit the stone age, radically transform their operations and exploit much-needed new ancillary revenue opportunities. With paper based menu cards and the in-flight magazine now a thing of the past, the “E” in “IFE” is rapidly becoming less about entertainment in the traditional sense of the word and more about maximising engagement with passengers. We need only look to Ryanair as an example. The notoriously cost-conscious LCC is set to launch a new W-IFE solution next month on 50 aircraft and a key part of the proposition is a touchless shopping experience for food, beverages and other goods and services. The platform will also support targeted and measurable advertising based initially on the passenger’s language, the origin and destination of flights and the content viewed. My spies tell me that other well-known LCCs in Europe and Asia will announce that they are launching similar solutions before the end of this year, while many airlines that have already adopted W-IFE will also enable digital buy-on-board in the very near future.

What does all this mean in numerical terms? Well, we think that 2020 will end up seeing just over 1,100 installations of W-IFE. This represents a decline of about 19 per cent year-on-year – a quite remarkable feat given the utter devastation the virus has wreaked upon the industry. In addition to those set to reveal their hands before the year is out, airlines new to the world of W-IFE that have commenced (or significantly expanded) rollouts include: Spicejet, the IAG Group and Lion Air Group. Combined, this activity will see the W-IFE installed base grow to 8,261 – up from 7,975 in 2019. The eagle-eyed amongst you will note that last year’s installed base plus this year’s expected installs does not equal the projected installed based for 2020. And that’s because there were a large number of systems deducted from the total due to aircraft retirements and de-installations. By 2030, we believe that the number of aircraft with a W-IFE system will grow to exceed 21,000.

Given the evidence before us, it would be quite easy to agree with the industry contact mentioned at the beginning of this blog and declare that seatback systems have finally entered into a terminal decline after previous reports of its death were greatly exaggerated. That is not the view we’d take, however. Airlines will increasingly move towards ensuring passengers encounter multiple transient hardware interfaces on longer journeys, each supported by cloud services and enabling a hyper-personalised lifestyle experience. The passenger PED will become the continuity and comfort display, or the companion that connects their entire journey. The IFE screen will become secondary in value and the conduit through which all manner of traditional and non-traditional content – consistent with the airlines’ brand positioning and passenger preferences – will be displayed. In short, an enabler of services. Seatback IFE is still not dead, therefore, it will just be reborn under a different guise.

PR: Despite Pandemic, IFC Terminal Installed Base in Business Aviation to Reach 32,000 by 2029

August 13, 2020 13:00 British Summer Time (BST)

London. A new report predicts strong take-up of in-flight connectivity (IFC) systems on business aircraft over the next ten years. According to Valour Consultancy, an award-winning provider of market intelligence services, the number of IFC terminals installed on business jets will rise to almost 32,000 in 2029 – up from 20,689 at the end of 2019.

The report – “The Market for IFEC and CMS on VVIP and Business Aircraft” – predicts a sharp drop-off in installation activity in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic but sees the market picking up more quickly than commercial aviation. “Annual installations of IFC systems on business aircraft are set to fall by 28 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019 said report author, Craig Foster. “While 2021 will be another tough year, the launch of several new solutions will provide impetus. Deployments from SmartSky Networks, Iridium (with Certus) and SES/Collins Aerospace (LuxStream) are all expected to ramp up at this point in time. Intelsat and Satcom Direct will resume new installs for the FlexExec service too” he continued.

Foster also highlights how the market could benefit from current and ongoing airline capacity reductions and people looking less favourably on travelling through crowded airports and in cramped commercial aircraft cabins. “So-called health corridors are starting to emerge as increased interest in flying privately from those who haven’t previously done so acts as a catalyst of the recovery. Many fractional providers are reporting that recent months have seen record enquiries from new customers. We also expect to see more business jets being used by corporations to transport employees beyond the C-suite to protect them from COVID-19 and recent moves to create more flexible business models will help support these added users” said Foster.

The report also takes a look at the closely-related markets for in-flight entertainment (IFE) and cabin management systems (CMS). Due to the higher costs associated with installation of these systems and private aircraft owners and operators said to be prioritising IFC when pulling back on discretionary spend, the impact of the outbreak is expected to be more profound in 2020 and 2021. “While IFE/CMS vendors have been harder hit, the adoption of wireless in-flight entertainment (W-IFE) and full CMS functionality on smaller aircraft like small cabin jets and turboprops is expected to increase, expanding the total addressable market beyond the mid- to large-cabin aircraft that have long been the staple of the market” concluded Foster.

Valour Consultancy is a provider of high-quality market intelligence. Its latest report “The Market for IFEC and CMS on VVIP and Business Aircraft – 2020 Edition is the newest addition to the firm’s highly-regarded aviation research portfolio. Developed with input from more than 30 companies across the value chain, the study includes 85 tables and charts along with extensive commentary on key market issues, technology trends and the competitive environment.


Loose Specs Sink Shipmanagers

When writing commercial articles about the maritime market, I found analogies for players in the ecosystem most useful. After undertaking a recent new research findings on satellite operators, service providers, shipping companies, ship owners (most of the time the former, however, not in some cases), ship managers and seafarers. I thought a simplification of their roles would be beneficial.

There are ship owners, ship managers and seafarers who go (down) to the sea in ships. A shipping company’s customer likes to buy a product from A where it is cheap and move it to B where it can be sold to make a profit. To do this require shipping companies and owners to commission shipyards to build metal boxes to carry the product. Sometimes this box is made of steel and floats on the ocean. Sailors live on the ship-box, look after it and care about it. They talk of being married to the ocean and treat the ship as if it is their wife (or husband).

Ship managers are relationship experts who try to maintain these many relationships and keep all in good health.

Commercially this makes good sense for smaller ship/fleet owners as the overhead and cash flow required for maintaining a crew and vessel management department within the owner’s organisation is onerous. Because management contracts are negotiated mainly on price, margins for ship management companies are squeezed and hiccups in cash-flow, for example an international pandemic which keeps ships from docking and crews from changing, can mean the difference between survival and bankruptcy. Even for larger fleet operators, there is some logic in relieving the parent company of the responsibility and risk inherent in hiring permanent staff for crewing and administration, but cost comparisons must be harder to justify outsourcing. The low freight rates ($1,576 per 40ft container according to Drewry’s World Index) and the pandemic have all taken their toll on the industry and there will likely be cohort of mergers, bankruptcies and acquisitions.

Whether a ship owner gives the ship management tasks to a separate division within the company, or outsources the job to a third-party ship manager, the services provided will cover the same operational needs. Third party ship management companies play an important role in the shipping industry.

Remit of ship management firms:

Ship management usually covers crew management – selection, training, competence, medical fitness for duty, payroll and tax, pension, repatriation, insurance, even union negotiations.

Operationally, it might include – supply of necessary victualling, stores, spares, and lubricating oil and services for the ship, repair and maintenance, arranging dry dockings, modification and upgrades, audit planning, monitoring of flag state compliance, classification society compliance, safety and health management and compliance with port and docks security codes.

Commercially, services offered include: financial accounting including voyage estimates and issuing voyage instructions, ship financing, newbuilding contracting and supervision, chartering including demurrage, insurance, claims handling, appointing agents, appointing stevedores and arranging surveys associated with commercial operation.

In at least the last 20 years, the ownership of the world’s merchant fleet has become more varied. Aside from independent ship owners who have their own ship operating ability, investors, banks and hire companies have bought, or ended up owning by default, ships but do not have the necessary expert knowledge to operate them. However, the relationship between the ship manager and the ship owner is not always ideal. Disputes between them may arise, regarding claims from third parties, standards and the quality of service or of returning asset after the contract terminates. Around 25% of the world’s international trading fleet of ships is reliant on services provided by third party managers in whole or part.

How does this situation influence the adoption of smart-ship technology?

A little description of the main players follows with their origin, base of operations and some discussion of their approach to smart-ship technology, always remembering that, unless a vessel is built with the necessary sensors and communication capacity, the retrofitting smart-ship technology is an expensive and time consuming business that ship owners rarely want to fund unless promised a clear-cut increase in return for the effort.

Anglo Eastern-Univan Group (Hong Kong) started out in 1974 as Anglo-Eastern, a chartering and ship owning company with Anglo-Eastern Management Services being the in-house manager for the ships. This in-house department was the start of the present Anglo-Eastern Group. There was a management buyout in 1998 and a subsequent merger with Scottish ship manager, Denholm Ship Management three years later. Anglo Eastern merged with Univan Group in 2015. It now has roughly 1,700 shore staff and over 27,000 sea crew and combined third party management of nearly 900 ships. A majority of its ships’ crews come from India, Philippines, Ukraine and China.

In March 2020, the group announced that it is adopting the Wärtsilä Fleet Operations Solution (FOS) by Transas, in order to optimise the planning, weather routing, fuel consumption, and speed of a vessel. It also facilitates ship to-shore reporting and fleet performance management to reduce fuel consumption taking into consideration charter party compliance, speed management, as well as hull, propeller and engine condition. Key benefits of deploying the Wärtsilä FOS include a unique platform that integrates with a ship’s planning station and electronic chart display and information system (ECDIS), immense cloud computing power, machine learning, data analytics, and onboard/onshore mobile applications.

V.Group (London) has been in operation since 1984. It’s core operations are ship operation management; V.Ships leisure; and crew management. Other divisions include the ship supply chain division, marine services division and offshore division. It is 51 per cent owned by a private investment company Advent International. The company website states that it manages 2,200 vessels with a sea crew of 44,000 (half of whom will be at sea and half on liberty) and a shore staff of 3,000 spread over 60 offices. The company employs an in-house integrated management software system called Shipsure 2.0 which can be installed in modules.

Fleet (a rebranding from Fleet Management) (Hong Kong) was established in 1994. It provides technical management, ship building, marine insurance, maritime training and crew management to ship owners worldwide. The company manages around 550 cargo vessels, multipurpose vessels, container vessels, bulk carriers, reefer vessels, chemical tankers, gas carriers, product tankers, crude oil, roll-on/roll-off vessels, and pure car carriers. Its crew roster numbers 20,000 and it has 25 offices in 12 countries with a shore staff of 800. The software monitoring system they use is called PARIS (Planning and Reporting Infrastructure for Ship) which is now a cloud-based reporting dashboard for every aspect of a vessel’s performance, condition, operating cost, and crew details.

Bernhard Schulte Ship Management (BSM) (Singapore) has more than 135 years in the shipping industry. Originally founded in 1883 as a ship-owner for the timber trade in the Baltic Sea, the family-owned business developed until now, the parent company, Schulte Group, manages a fleet of around 600 vessels, 18,000 seafarers and 2,000 shore based employees through a network of 11 ship management offices, 24 crew service offices and four wholly-owned maritime training centres. The company uses an in-house developed PAL software system, an integrated ship management software suite, on all BSM-managed ships. It is a calendar maintenance schedule with respect to machinery running hours and condition-based maintenance, an enhanced system we use with electronic engine indicators. PAL voyage module is used to monitor ship performance with the data compared to past voyages providing accurate information on the right timing for propeller and hull cleaning.

Columbia Shipmanagement (Cyprus) as established in Limassol, in 1978. With more than 380 vessels under full and crew management, 280 new build vessels under supervision, 8 management offices, 14 crewing agencies, more than 15,000 employees. CSM is at the forefront of shipping digitalisation and is a key contributor to the technological revolution in the maritime industry. CSM has a software suite called Performance Optimisation Control Room (POCR) which provides 24/7 expert monitoring of its fleet. The POCR optimises operations in all areas of vessel safety, crew rotation and training, maintenance and fuel efficiency.

Synergy Group (Singapore) was founded in 2006. They provide technical management, commercial management, crew management, new ship building, maritime training, pre-purchase inspection, port agency and marine travels. They have more than 300 vessels under management with over 12,000 crew members out of 13 offices in six maritime centres Synergy supervises a diverse fleet which includes LPG tankers, chemical tankers, oil tankers (VLCC, Suezmax, Aframax, LR2, LR1 and MR), container vessels in the 1,800 TEU to >20,000 TEU capacity and every size of bulk carrier. Its in-house software, known as ‘ShipPalm’, runs their ship management software that is regulatory compliant. It provides an integrated business solution to Synergy’s Ship Management division. It is modular in concept and can monitor voyage performance, keeps track of certificates, has a documents management module, a defect reports module, crewing module, purchase module. It includes a planned maintenance system and can produce business intelligence reports. Furthermore, the company has introduced the SmartShip Technology into one of its group vessels, Trammo Dietlin which is the first vessel to receive the Certificate of Class, ‘AL-SAFE’ notation from Lloyd’s Register. This is the first example of a ship certified to stream data into a big data platform. Elements of the navigation, cargo and machinery systems have been certified AL2, which means ‘systems provide on and off-ship decision support for operators’. This provides operators and shore-based support staff with instant access to operating data from these systems for monitoring and diagnostics through the cloud, with which they can make more informed decisions and respond to issues faster and more efficiently. The Air Handling Unit has been certified AL3 which means ‘systems that operate autonomously, but with an active human ‘in-the-loop’’.

Wallem Group (Hong Kong) was established in 1903 by Haakon Wallem in Shanghai. Now it manages more than 350 ships with 7,000 qualified seafarers and 1,000 shore-based staff in 17 countries with 8 training centres. The software suite it employs is BASSnet currently trialled on three vessels using Inmarsat’s Fleet Xpress – a crude/oil products tanker and two vehicle transporters. After setting up the planned maintenance databases for the three pilot vessels. and revamped the chart of accounts with the aim of making it more granular, enabling more detailed comparisons and analysis of actual and budgeted costs, and allow greater transparency in reporting to vessel owners. Wallem is also linking BASSnet up with the company’s other software with a view to harnessing ‘Big Data’ across Wallem’s business process and reducing administrative burden. Initially this will see automation of the invoices register and procurement management process and integration with COMPAS – the crew management software used by Wallem seafarers. BASSnet is also an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) platform.

Thome Ship Management (Singapore) was, set up in 1963 and undertook agency work mainly for Scandinavian owners, in addition to his chartering and shipbroking activities. In 2013, the company had more than 400 vessels under full technical management serviced by 750 shore staff and 12,000 crew members in 11 locations. It is not clear if there is a company-wide monitoring and management suite of software.

Wilhelmsen Ship Management (Lysaker, Norway) Founded in 1861, the parent company Wilh. Wilhelmsen Holding ASA is a global maritime industry group employing more than 21,000 people. They deliver products and services to more than half of the world’s merchant fleet, along with crew and technical management to the biggest vessels at sea. Its ship management division is a 45 year old stand-alone entity fully owned by the parent company. It manages 396 ships, employs 4,500 marine professionals (shared with other group companies) servicing 2,200 ports in 125 countries and has 9,200 active seafarers. WSM uses a range of software suites to address different aspects of voyage, engine and fuel efficiency, client and supplier information including FRED (Framework for Enterprise Data) a customer portal for securely accessing their transaction information, including invoices, delivery notes, order history and current delivery status of orders. It also allows customers to retrieve certificates for products such as ropes, along with providing an instant overview of which cylinders they have on board, and where. For engine rooms, they have trialled the ER-EMT solution (engine room – energy management technology) “True Demand”. This automation technology responds to the varying conditions of the engine room. It delivers direct energy savings, and also allows the crew to constantly monitor and verify the status of each controlled unit and ensure that the savings are sustainable and extending the scope for benchmarking and energy optimisation. It is thought that WSM also use Kongsberg and Honeywell integrated automation systems. Wilhelmsen Ship Management has entered into strategic partnerships with DNV GL, Norwegian Maritime Authority (NMA) and University of South-Eastern Norway (USN) for the development of autonomous shipping operations.

OSM Maritime (Kristiansand, Limassol, Singapore) Founded in 1989, OSM is now a leading provider of full-service solutions to the Offshore and Maritime Industry with more than 12,000 employees, 30 office locations, 500 vessels under management. OSM recently announced that it has extended its partnership with Tero Marine, and will install its TM Master suite on the remaining OSM fleet globally. The frame agreement with Tero Marine means that all vessels with various planned maintenance systems across the OSM fleet would be standardised on TM Master. At the core of this digitalisation is the visualisation of quality data which are used to monitor the fleet and provide real-time support to the crew, around-the-clock, performance management and fast response capabilities if the need arises. Combined with an analytics platform that helps them capture and act on detailed insights from the data, the company has tested artificial intelligence capabilities that enable the platform to identify advanced correlations that humans would normally not be able to catch on first sight. TM Master as the preferred maintenance and purchasing system will fit into this digital strategy. TM Master has been designed to enable you to take care of your assets; vessels, crew and cargo. The fleet management system consists of the following modules: maintenance, procurement, human resources and quality & environment. TM Master is designed to work with future operating systems and is also ideally suited for integration with third party software such as ERP software.


Ship management companies seem to be divided into two types; those that developed from departments of ship owners and charterers such as Anglo-Eastern, BSM, Wallem and Wilhelmsen. The other is those that have been more recently set up specifically to cater to the ship management industry. This reflects in their approach to automation and AI. It makes little financial sense to promote technology that reduces or diminishes reliance on technically and legally qualified crew if one of your main streams of income is manning and associated costs.

Dr Malcolm Willingale of Henley Business School and author, with others, of “Ship Management” has suggested that the level of the management fees might be around $75,000 – 100,000 per annum for a bulk carrier, $90,000 – 150,000 per annum for a tanker and approximately $400,000 per annum for a cruise vessel. The difference is largely driven by crew, provisions and insurance costs

Even though the expenses for the SMCs have increased around 10% the last years, due to the demand for investment in IT systems and safety and quality management, the weakening of the dollar and the rising service delivery costs, the management fees have stayed at the same levels as in the past or even declined.

On the other hand, those ship management companies, whose parent companies have their own ships, know that there is more profit to be had from more automation. True AI and unmanned or deeply automated shipping is still some years away, although the current pandemic may have hastened its adoption somewhat.

The companies that adopt it are almost assuredly going to be owner-operated such as Maersk, COSCO and such. For more information about Valour Consultancy’s maritime research, please click here.

Satellites Driven by DeSIRE

The European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Defence Agency (EDA) have funded two consecutive projects called DeSIRE, in 2013, and DeSIRE II (Demonstration of Satellites enabling the Insertion of RPAS in Europe), in 2015, to examine how drones might operate within controlled airspace when controlled by satellites for commercial and governmental applications. To undertake this project the consultancy and technology multinational Indra (Spain) led the first phase DeSIRE with a European industrial consortium formed by AT-One (Germany and the Netherlands), SES ASTRA (Luxembourg), Thales Alenia Space (Italy and France) and CIRA (Italy).

The purpose of the project was to check whether a RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft System) or drone can safely share the sky with a conventional aircraft using the transmission of its command and control communications and communications between air traffic control (ATC) and the pilot on the ground via a satellite in geostationary orbit.

The benefits of satellite communications for Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) control and data transmission and reception was that the drone was able to send, in real-time, high-quality data to the ground control station to aid maritime surveillance. This was a necessity to show that what the military have been doing for several decades could be applied equally well to civilian operations.

The drone completed a 6-hour flight in civil and military airspace, sending to the ground, via the satellite data link, the signals from its on-board sensors. The RPA climbed to 20,000 ft (6,096m), entering airspace class C, managed by AENA, the Spanish Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP), from Barcelona Control Centre. The pilot of the RPA followed all the instructions issued by the AENA air traffic controllers, acting like any other civil or military aircraft. During this flight test, a manned Air Force aircraft approached, simulating frontal and 90º collision trajectories. The pilots of both aircraft followed the separation instructions issued by air traffic controllers, demonstrating the safe operation of remotely piloted aircraft in an emergency situation.

  • BVLOS flight by drones have many uses and have significant commercial potential. Applications include firefighting; fire prevention and monitoring; highway control; electricity transmission cabling inspection, critical infrastructure (such as bridges and railway lines) inspection: border surveillance; environmental protection surveillance; management of emergencies search & rescue in the framework of border control: illegal trafficking in the framework of law enforcement; fisheries control and even goods transport.

DeSIRE II, the second element of the ESA EDA RPAS project was aimed at developing and demonstrating services based on a remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) flying in beyond radio line of sight (BRLOS) and was completed in November 2018. From a regulatory perspective, the project had a key objective to demonstrate that the satcom link, allowed safe BRLOS Operations, potentially allowing RPAS operations in civil traffic airspace. In particular the aim provided the first set of required link performance (RLP) parameters for the RPAS C2 link (including ATC relay) following the guidelines provided by the Joint Authorities for Rulemaking of Unmanned Systems (JARUS), in BRLOS conditions via a dual satcom link. The project objectives were undertaken using a Piaggio Aerospace P.1HH RPAS, complemented by simulation and emulation activities.

The DeSIRE projects were supported by 26 members of the EU, excluding UK and Denmark. The UK along with the USA, Russia, China have extensive experience in flying military drones using satellite communication. Despite the challenges characterising satellite-controlled RPA systems (especially for civilian purposes), research and industrial communities are still investigating the feasibility of the introduction of RPAs into non-segregated airspace.

The benefits of drones and satellite communication are fairly transparent and many while the difficulties and costs are less clear. They fall, broadly, into four categories: signal degradation, signal latency (how long it takes to tell the drone what to do), availability and human perception.

For a ground station to communicate with a drone via satellite, the signal has to leave the station travel 40,000km to the satellite which deals with the signal and then routes it down 40,000 km to the drone. Wireless communications are corrupted by nature along the way. These corruptions include noise (general background electromagnetic signal that is added to the signal sent), Rayleigh fading (this is weakening of the signal by scattering as the signal passes through the stratosphere and ionosphere and hits and deflects from particles), Rician fading (when the signal partly cancels itself as parts of the signal spread as they leave the transmitter and arrive at the receiver on the satellite at slightly different times causing mismatch), the Doppler Effect (when the signal frequency changes slightly depending on the relative distance of source and receiver, and rain attenuation (the absorption of a microwave radio frequency signal by atmospheric rain, snow, or ice. Losses occur mostly between frequencies 11 GHz and 30 GHz). The drone has to act upon the signal and tell the ground station what it’s done. At light speed, the time is very short but it does exist. The time lapse is in the order of milliseconds which isn’t much unless you are travelling at 200 metres per second (720 kpm or 450 mph) at 20,000ft or so.

There are four common communication architectures for UAS. These are direct link, satellite, cellular, and mesh networking. Satellite-based may be the most promising solutions. The use of satellites can provide a better coverage than the use of the direct links, so that the UAS remains well connected. The typical limited bandwidth in satellite links does not really pose here an issue, because C2 protocols should not require large amount of available bandwidth. On the other hand, if user data were to be delivered, larger bandwidth may be required to meet the requirements of high data rate applications. Geostationary Orbit (GEO) and Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites can be employed; if considered, a large delay should be taken into account in the former case, while temporary disconnections are expected in the latter case.

Typical latency (how long it takes from sending the message to the UAS receiving it) is in the order of 0.25 to 0.6 seconds for GEO satellites. That’s probably acceptable for UAS  in non-civilian segregated airspace but not suitable for UAS’s operating below 200 ft.

We tend to imagine drone delivery, for example, as buzzing down the boulevards of Bognor or soaring through the streets of London  but much of the world has not configured their street furniture to allow drone access as the pictures from Delhi and Ho Chi Min City. A second’s delay in control on these roads would be a disaster.

LEO (100km to 1,500km height) satellites have a much-diminished latency of the order of 0.005 seconds. At the moment, GEO satellites and LEO satellite-constellations are owned and operated by different companies that see themselves in competition. Should one company have access to both and be able to set up a Wide-Area-Network (WAN) that UAS and ground stations could hook into, then many problems would become a thing of the past and freight drones could be easily integrated into existing air traffic management systems.

Availability measures the proportion of the year for which the communication link is operational.  High availability is expensive but worthwhile for safety, as even one second of interruption can be dangerous during remote control. To minimise the probability of an outage, parallel redundant systems are required. Triple redundancy with a voting system is commonly using in aviation.

Most satellite services are intended for passengers’ personal electronic devices’ connectivity rather than video streaming from a UAS platform, so care was taken when identifying the Forward Link and Reverse Link data rates. Global Xpress has global GEO coverage, only 99.9% availability, so it should be combined with another service. It operates at Ka-band frequencies (26 – 40 GHz).

Intelsat Epic currently covers 60 degrees North to 60 degrees South latitude the majority of land, and surrounding seas but missing big chunks of the polar regions.

The Iridium NEXT service has a high data rate of 1.5 Mbps forward link and 512 kbps return link. It uses LEO satellites to reduce the latency.

Is the general public ready for automated planes without pilots on-board? It boils down to politics and economics.

While the technology promises to revolutionise air travel and freight, it will cost pilots jobs. Given that many prognoses suggest that 800,000 pilots will be needed over the next two decades, that may not be such a burden. However, the shut-down of international travel during the Covid-19 crisis has taught us not to take anything for granted. It may well be that passenger airplanes may take longer to convert to the absence of pilots but freight lines such as Fedex Express, Emirates SkyCargo, UPS Airlines and Cathay Pacific Cargo might just embrace the concepts. The airline industry employs tens of thousands of pilots worldwide and they tend to be very vocal and political when they are unhappy. We can see the problem when we think of the railways, particularly in the UK and France, struggle to streamline their on-board staff. Trains run on rails and don’t really need drivers, let alone guards. We can only imagine the kerfuffle if on-board staff on airplanes are reduced or removed.

Economically, remotely-piloted or even AI-controlled (Smart) planes make perfect sense. The insurance industry needs data but, given that, by far, the greatest cause of airplane mishaps can be traced back to human error, it follows that premiums should fall. Insurance companies don’t like falling premiums so it is certain that the risks of errant code (as was the case of the Boeing 737 Max) or hacking will be brought to bear until sufficient data either negates or proves the concern. Removing pilots worldwide would save an incredible amount of money. Swiss bank UBS estimates that removing humans from the commercial cockpit could produce savings upwards of $35bn (£28bn) annually. That figure would boost profits in an industry that has often struggled to make money. For more information on Valour Consultancy’s latest report on the Commercial UAS platform study, click here.

UTM in the Wilds

“I don’t see how he can ever finish, if he doesn’t begin.”

Alice thought to herself that unmanned traffic management should be easy, so she checked several countries that are beginning and this is what she found. In the Asia/Pacific region, there is practical experimentation but a willingness to standardise, Russia is ploughing its own furrow and Europe has developed a series of modular trials to have a co-ordinated commercialised traffic management system. The UK has also instituted a similar research group, Catapult Connected Places (CPC). The concept of integrated traffic management and logistics has yet to be addressed for U-space (U-space is that volume of the atmosphere that would normally accommodate urban drones, say, up to 200m above ground level (AGL).

The opportunities for Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) systems is that all the systems so far produced are created by private companies. This implies that the system has to be commercially viable, it has to make some profit. It also requires common standards and communication protocols. Such standards and protocols are gradually emerging from bodies such as ASTM, ANSI, STANAG (NATO Standard) and IEEE. Autonomous shipping faces the same problem.

For drones, clearly, passenger ticket tax, which pays the majority of the budget for conventional air traffic management, is not applicable. A simple fee for every flight, while obvious, has the knock-on effect that to make more money, more flights are needed, and the situation becomes another clogged system and the incentive to improve the system is diminished. An annual subscription or fee per miles flown or some combination of them all might be desirable. On the plus side, UTM systems lend themselves to automation so that there needs to be few humans employed. An ideal system might be an AI controlled system with integrated machine learning that allows only drones that can log on and have a credit account associated with them, and thus pay their fee, to take off. However, in the hands of a private company, such a system is open to abuse (as is one controlled by any government but that is a separate issue).

Many of the differences between conventional Air Traffic Management (ATM) and U-space have to do with scale. Drone traffic will be far denser than passenger jet traffic. Drone information services need to be significantly more detailed, diverse and dynamic than those used by aircraft today. Safety critical information will be needed at a much higher fidelity and speed than today’s ATM, and will include geospatial information services to ensure surface clearance, local weather information to calculate drone trajectory uncertainties and non-conventional navigation sources (such as signals of opportunity and vision-based navigation) to allow for more precise navigation on a local scale. Some of this can be delegated to on-board AI. Services of this level of fidelity require the movement and provision of massive amounts of data to a wide array of users spread out over a large geographical area and, perhaps await complete 5G coverage.

In Shenzhen, China, the home of DJI, since December 2018, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) controllers and city police in are currently managing over 2,000 drone flights a day following the introduction of a city-wide UTM system called Unmanned Aircraft Traffic Management Information Service System of CAAC (UTMISS). This system covers low altitude in segregated airspaces below 120m above ground level (AGL). The airspace is divided in a grid manner. UTMISS provides civil UAS with air traffic management functions for the local civil aviation authority. UTMISS adopts a distributed hybrid cloud infrastructure for safety and security purposes, and data process capability, also allowing expandability.

In Korea, PRODRONE has a commercialised UTM system collaborating with LG U+, a South Korean cellular carrier capitalising on its 99.5 per cent 4G coverage. The 5G penetration of 9.67 per cent, represents the highest penetration rate in the world and this is expected to cover the entire country by 2028. The “U+ Smart Drone UTM System,” enables a drone to fly safely for disaster monitoring and logistic transport in BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight). They have demonstrated an autonomous drone taking off in a remote location, carrying out duties and returning to a control centre on its own. The system confirms the drone’s position and elevation through the UTM system in BVLOS. Drone operators in a control room can control drones everywhere over land in the country, wherever the network is connected. It makes possible multi-person monitoring and creating a flight plan for multiple drones, useful in many applications.

In Japan, which has a long history of drone deployment for agriculture, a UTM system allowing many drone operators to share data, such as critical flight variables was tested in October 2019. The system, developed by Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organisation (NEDO) and others, trialled 100 flights per square kilometre for an hour and were completed at the Fukushima Robot Test Field, about 20km north of the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The drones had flight control devices fitted to report their position and speed to the UTM system. Security of the network was achieved with firewalls and intrusion detection systems (IDS). Authentication keys were allotted to drone operators permitting only approved operators to connect. Flight plan management and flight conditions assumed multiple simultaneous drone-use scenarios such as multiple drone weather observation, and multi-drone formation flights for delivery. Amongst others, Sky Perfect conducted flight tests in BVLOS mode as in disaster damaged areas where, perhaps, ground communication is not available. Position and flight condition data from the drones and control via communication satellites from the direct flight control function in real time was achieved. Hitachi with the Japan Information and Communications Research Institute developed a location sharing device with multi-hop communications that enables long-distance BVLOS flight of multiple drones. It was demonstrated that systems equipped with collision-avoidance technologies can interconnect with the drone traffic management system. The aim was to integrate the UAS traffic management system with collision avoidance technology. JAXA developed a UTM simulator and connected a part of the simulator to the drone traffic management system verifying deconfliction of drone traffic to avoid mid-air collisions.

Russia has opted for fitting drones with transponders and the use of low-level radar. Digital radio systems (CRTS) and the Aviation Institute for Navigation Instrumentation (Navigator) have developed a system of avionics and digital ground-based equipment for radar detection of light aircraft and drones for the management and monitoring of air traffic at lower level airspace. The systems comprise small-scale air surveillance system, airborne small-sized transmission system, aircraft responder, ground proximity warning system, airborne collision warning system, navigation and landing systems and ground stations. It allows the creation of objective situational awareness for air traffic using the principle of everyone-sees-everyone. It is difficult to see how such a system without a high degree of automation might cope with extensive commercial drone use.

In the USA, a UAS Traffic Management Pilot was initiated as a research project by NASA, and then between the FAA and NASA. The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management System is intended to be distinct, but complementary to, the traditional FAA’s air traffic management system. The September 2019 pilot project was to develop and demonstrate a traffic management system to safely integrate drone flights within the nation’s airspace system, also creating a shared information network and gathering data. Using mature commercial technologies for UTM including flight planning, communications, aircraft separation and weather services for these drones operating under 400 feet AGL, there will be a cooperative interaction between drone operators and the FAA to determine and communicate real-time airspace status. The FAA will provide real-time constraints to the UAS operators, who are responsible for managing their operations safely within these constraints without receiving positive air traffic control services from the FAA.

The primary means of communication and coordination between the FAA, drone operators, and other stakeholders is through a distributed network of highly automated systems via application programming interfaces (API), and not between pilots and air traffic controllers via voice. The FAA UAS Data Exchange umbrella supports multiple partnerships, the first of which is the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC). Essentially the paperwork has been automated and the traffic management has been delegated to approved UTM vendors such as Aeronyde, AirMap, Airspacelink, AiRXOS, Altitude Angel, Kittyhawk, Skyward, Thales Group and UASidekick.

Many of these countries attended the third meeting of the Asia/Pacific Unmanned Aircraft Systems Task Force in Bangkok, in March 2019. These countries, Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong China, Macao China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, USA and Viet Nam, were trying to achieve a common consensus on standards and legislation. India, China and Mongolia all reported on their UTM systems and security.

In Europe (not including UK which is conducting its own parallel projects), under the auspices of the Single European Sky (SES), there has been a co-ordinated series of projects to investigate building a roadmap for the safe integration of drones into all classes of airspace. This outlined the steps needed to ensure a coordinated implementation enabling RPAS to fly alongside commercial aircraft. Beginning 2017, a set of exploratory research projects was undertaken to address everything from the concept of operations for drones, critical communications, surveillance and tracking, and information management to aircraft systems, ground-based technologies, cyber-resilience and geo-fencing.

In 2018, practical demonstration projects to showcase U-space services managing a broad range of drone operations and related applications, and their interaction with manned aviation was launched. Those ranged from parcel deliveries between two dense urban locations, medical emergencies and police interventions, as well as air taxi trials in an airport-controlled airspace. Leisure use was also catered for, with projects demonstrating how private drone operators can benefit from U-space services. The operations also aimed to demonstrate different levels of automation that are possible, as well as seamless information exchange between multiple service providers in the same geographical area at the same time. In total 186 flight missions for 19 projects were made involving 19 countries. Together, they represent comprehensive preparatory work for commercial drone activities.

Stage 1 – Registration, Registration assistance, e-identification, Geo-awareness, Drone aeronautical information management.

Stage 2 – Tracking (Position report submission), Surveillance data exchange, Geo-fence provision (includes dynamic geo-fencing). Operation plan preparation /optimisation, Operation plan processing, Risk analysis assistance, Strategic Conflict Resolution, Emergency Management, Incident/ Accident reporting, Citizen reporting service, Monitoring, Traffic information, Navigation infrastructure monitoring, Communication infrastructure monitoring, Legal recording, Digital logbook, Weather information, Procedural interface with ATC.

Stage 3 – Dynamic Capacity Management, Tactical Conflict Resolution, Geospatial information service, Population density map, Electromagnetic interference information, Navigation coverage information, Communication coverage information, and Collaborative interface with ATC.

Stage 4 – Integrated interfaces with manned aviation, Additional new services such as logistical optimisation and commercialisation.

Table showing UTM Trials

There a multitude of various countries, bodies and companies trialling different UTM technologies. As in all things, several leaders will emerge and gradually coalesce into a common standard. NASA is moving things clearly in the US and in Europe, the SES has developed a comprehensive system. The Brussels effect (or Creeping Standardisation) is the process of unilateral regulatory globalisation caused by the European Union de facto (but not necessarily de jure) externalising its laws outside its borders through market mechanisms. Companies adopt the rules as the price of participating in the huge EU market, and then impose them across their global businesses to minimise the cost of running separate compliance regimes. Similarly, the USA sets its standards. Air Traffic Management has been able to embrace both requirements through a process of joint comparison embraced by the FAA and Eurocontrol. This is likely to dictate the host of well-known multinational companies that will jump on-board with the protocols, procedures and systems. The international market for UTM will undoubtedly become a very hot topic in the post-Covid-19 world. For more information on the commercial UAS and UTM markets, contact us at Valour Consultancy.

The Importance of Low Latency in Business Aviation Connectivity

In previous blogs and in several of our reports, we’ve covered the “three C’s of in-flight connectivity” (which should really be four when you consider the costs involved). Latency is another important, but often overlooked, part of the connectivity experience and is defined as the total time it takes a data packet to travel from one node to another. It is sometimes argued that latency has little bearing on most passenger-facing connectivity applications, and this may well be true in commercial aviation (although high latency can cause page load times to be slow when take rates are high). However, the way connectivity is used, and the expectations that accompany this use, are completely different in business aviation. Business travellers are much more inclined to use video conferencing software, have VoIP conversations and connect to a VPN. For each of these applications, latency is of paramount importance. Online in-flight gaming is another emerging application that can require a very low latency system. The rollout of 5G networks, which exhibit latency of between 20 and 30 milliseconds, will increase pressure on vendors to shorten the cycle time between the on-ground experience and expectations in the air.

According to NetForecast, an independent provider of broadband performance solutions, the average roundtrip packet time from a PED to an online service using a landline connection is 25 milliseconds. In-flight, however, across all currently deployed technologies, it is in the region of 790 milliseconds. Furthermore, the company estimates that packet loss, which is the number of packets that don’t make it to their destination and need to be re-sent, is around 0.05 per cent using a landline connection, but as high as 13 per cent on in-flight connections. Latency and packet loss at this level can, therefore, cause problems with web pages loading, especially if you have multiple users requesting data at the same time, creating a bottleneck that is independent of bandwidth.

While there are technological strategies to mitigate against the impact of latency on services, the only real way to minimise it is to reduce the distance between the origin of a data packet and its destination. For this reason, satellites in orbit at a higher altitude have a higher degree of latency than those in a lower orbit. The same is true of ATG communications. Because cell towers on the ground are closer to the aircraft flying above, latency is inherently lower than with any kind of satellite system. Another important consideration is the design of the connectivity system itself. Those that allocate the majority of their bandwidth in the forward link can expect to see a higher level of roundtrip latency than a symmetrical design where bandwidth is equally distributed between the forward and return link.

When it comes to satellite networks, it is also important to consider the impact of the ground network on latency. Tests of new LEO satellites have shown incredibly low latencies, but one should note that these are not necessarily representative of real-world conditions. OneWeb, for example, achieved average single trip latency of 32 milliseconds during testing in July 2019 and Telesat achieved 18 milliseconds round-trip latency in a February 2020 test. In both instances, there was no “true” ground network to speak of where a packet of data would travel from an aircraft to a satellite, to a ground station and an Internet breakout point (and back). Rather, these tests measured the physical round-trip time from terminal to ground (via satellite) but not out to the Internet via the ground network.

As most LEO networks are still in their infancy, their exists little data to show what average measured round-trip latency might look like on a business aircraft. We do know that whilst Iridium expects round-trip latency for its Certus solution to be in the region of 30 – 50 milliseconds in future, the network was actually pinging at about 500 milliseconds as of February 2019. Similarly, our understanding of OneWeb’s proposed architecture, had it been built out, is that round-trip latency could have been as low as 40 milliseconds or as high as 200 milliseconds, depending where in the world the aircraft happened to be and where traffic terminated on the ground. Along these lines, Telesat’s marketing material for its upcoming LEO constellation indicates that although round-trip latency for the space segment is expected to be less than 50 milliseconds, taking account of both the space and ground segments increases this to less than 100 milliseconds.

Furthermore, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently provided information on why it doesn’t think SpaceX and can call itself low latency for purpose of getting funding under the bulk of the $16 billion rural broadband initiative. The proposal, released this week, is scheduled for a vote by the five-member commission at its 9th June meeting and suggests that – as intimated above – “the distance between Earth and satellites is not the only factor determining latency” and that “in the absence of a real world example of a non-geostationary orbit satellite network offering mass market fixed service to residential consumers that is able to meet our 100 millisecond round trip latency requirements, Commission staff could not conclude that such an applicant is reasonably capable of meeting our low latency requirements, and so we foreclose such applications”. SpaceX claims round-trip latency of its Starlink network will be less than 50 milliseconds.

MEO satellite networks are also in their infancy as far as their use in providing connectivity to business jets goes. SES, which does not yet use its O3b constellation for airborne connectivity, claims that general end-to-end round-trip latency is in the region of 140 milliseconds for data services. Likewise, we do not yet have an accurate read on what average round-trip latency will look like on a business jet connected to a next-gen ATG network such as those being developed by Gogo and SmartSky Networks. The latter, which will launch its network in 2020, one year ahead of Gogo’s new 5G ATG network, claims users will see round-trip latency below 100 milliseconds. Indeed, during various demo flights, the company has indicated that the latency when playing online multiplayer game, Fortnite, typically ranged between 70 and 90 milliseconds.

For these reasons, the table below shows only average measured round trip latencies for the two types of aircraft network commonly deployed today: legacy ATG and the GEO networks that have been the staple of satellite-based IFC for some time. For comparison, the table also shows what typical round trip latency looks like for familiar terrestrial networks such as home Internet and ground-based LTE.

Table 1: Comparison of Round-Trip Latency Associated with Different Networks