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


All Change for Pricing and Consumption of Early-Window Content?

As I continue to work on our 2020 update of Valour’s “The Future of In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) Content” report, a number of interesting themes are emerging in the context of what will drive a recovery and, subsequently, the future growth of this sector. I’ll save most of the findings for the report itself, but I did want to share one point of view linked to early-window content (EWC), typically the darling, and most expensive form, of an airline’s IFE offering, because it is becoming increasingly apparent that the way EWC is priced today looks set to change. Yes, COVID-19 has had some bearing on this, but a bigger factor is the changes being made by some of the “Big Five” studios to the way in which brand new blockbusters are served up to and consumed by the masses.

COVID-19 Encouraging Passengers to Use Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs)

As highlighted in another of our recent blogs which speculates the new normal for the passenger experience (, when passengers do return to the skies, the expectation is that there will be a greater attention paid to the immediate surroundings, in particular who and what a passenger comes in contact with during a flight. The cleanliness of any communal surface, of which there are plenty in the cabin, will now be under greater scrutiny, and the seatback IFE screen, easily the most popular (and often only) method of accessing and navigating the abundance of IFE content on a long haul flight, is no exception.

In the context of EWC, a worst-case scenario for content service providers (CSPs) and airlines is the new normal causes eyeballs to shift away from the main screen and onto other sources of entertainment, more specifically PEDs, devaluing this content in the process. With passenger traffic substantially down, and the potential for a segment of those that do fly not wanting to use the seatback system, how long can the high cost of EWC stand up to scrutiny? In my opinion, airlines have a couple of options to increase viewership figures; reassure passengers that the IFE screens are clean and safe to use and/or provide an alternative solution that facilitates access to the onboard entertainment, without the need to physically interact with the seatback screen.

In the case of the former, many airlines have been quick to adopt and publicise deep-cleaning processes aimed at going above and beyond standard cabin cleaning to ease passenger concerns. Etihad Airlines, for example, announced it will provide passengers with anti-bacterial wipes upon boarding that can be used to clean the immediate area around the seat. Delta Air Lines, meanwhile, has deployed an enhanced fogging and disinfecting process for all customer touchpoints, including seatback IFE screens. Secondly, several airlines were in the process of deploying technology that allows PED’s to be paired with seatback systems and to be used as a controller. One example is Singapore Airline’s which has installed Panasonic’s eX3 system on its A350 aircraft. The IFE platform can be paired with the airline’s popular companion app to enable, amongst other things, control, and navigation of the embedded screen.

Another option worth mentioning here is Wireless In-Flight Entertainment (W-IFE), which has been deployed by more than 140 airlines according to our Q4 2019 W-IFE tracker data. W-IFE allows passengers to stream most of an airline’s content portfolio directly to their own PEDs. However, streaming of prized EWC is prohibited by the “Big Five” Hollywood studios, driven by lingering fears around piracy. But this stance isn’t perhaps as solid as what it once was and there have been some isolated cases where specific deals have been put in place between an individual CSP and one or more studios to stream EWC over W-IFE. An example is Inflight Dublin, which has struck a deal with some studios to show newer titles on its Everhub W-IFE platform.

Whilst W-IFE adoption has increased significantly in recent years, some may argue that adoption could be more widespread had it not been for the traditional stance of the “Big Five” studios around EWC. But, in what could be a well-timed change of heart for all involved, the deadlock on this issue could be about to break.

Decision Making by Hollywood Studios

In March 2020, Universal Pictures announced it would alter its release strategy for ‘Trolls World Tour’ during the COVID-19 crisis, foregoing a theatrical release and allowing consumers to stream the film direct to home via digital rental. Disney and Warner Bros. have since followed Universal’s lead, announcing they would release ‘Artemis Fowl’ and ‘Scoob!’ to the home streaming market and bypass a cinema release whilst coronavirus social distancing measures were still in place. Universal’s decision led to Trolls World Tour generating over $100 million USD in the first three weeks of its home release. But, most importantly in the context of this blog, foregoing a theatrical release also reduces the “exclusive” nature of this content.

This scenario brings two considerations into play, firstly, studios could now be less protective of EWC and therefore more inclined to permit streaming onto PEDs. Afterall, the exclusivity factor was one of the key reasons to keep this type of content tied to IFE seatback screens. Secondly, we could be about to see a significant reduction in the cost of EWC, driven by airlines being less willing to pay for titles that are already available for consumers to watch at home.

Looking ahead it is unlikely Hollywood will send all titles direct to home but could certainly do so for those films not expected to break box office records. There are potential cost savings attached to these titles that would certainly be welcomed by airlines and CSP’s alike in the current situation. With that comes the prospect of a positive headline in an otherwise gloomy time for the industry.

To find out more about Valour’s IFE Content predictions, including 10 year forecasts out to 2029, please email: to discuss the ‘Future of IFE Content – 2020’ report.

Telemedicine services at sea will become a must after Covid-19

Virtual Medical Services

With the abundance of connectivity today, video consultations are becoming the norm. It’s quick, convenient and highly useful.

In the UK, the NHS has been promoting an app which enables online consultations for people to contact their general practitioner doctor (GP), or other required health care profession. This can range from electronic message, phone or video call, or a face-to-face appointment at a later date if required.

The first wave of Covid-19 has been raging for months, and sadly, the pandemic has greatly impacted many peoples’ lives. One of the key battling grounds for diagnosing this virus has been testing and diagnosing it in the early stages, some countries like Germany and South Korea have done a great job of this. The lessons from dealing with this pandemic will lead to many changes in the future. In particular, large data analyses will lead to radical rethinking by governments charged with medical responsibility. In countries where there is a free-market health industry may take some time to catch up because of lack of central responsibility.

One such change in the maritime industry will be the inclusion of telemedicine services. The shortage of skilled medical workers and a lack of healthcare infrastructure at sea will be evaluated thoroughly in the coming months. We can expect a much larger part to be played by AI in initial diagnosis and preventative medicine. Seamen may be required to wear wrist health monitors (similar to fitbits). Cruise ships, even those who normally carry medical staff, will need to increase their vigilance to prevent another industry shut-down which is likely to last six months or more. Centralised air-conditioning systems will need to be re-evaluated as will many other shared facilities. Many Cruise operators already operate smart-token systems allowing access and monitoring of movement of passengers. It would not be out of order if these tokens also recorded activity and basic health parameters, alerting a medical AI system to any potential problems.

Providing crew welfare services like the ability for seafarers to communicate with their families and friends is now a must. Providing healthcare services to crew will also become a major factor soon. Telemedicine offers practical and valuable solution to address this matter. A potentially ill seafarer can be examined via videolink without a nurse or doctor being there in person providing simple variables such as temperature, heart rate, respiration rate, blood pressure and blood sugar and blood oxygen levels can be provided automatically. These are all well within the bounds of current technology. These are already available to many land-based patients in this new world of social distancing after lockdowns will be ended in most countries soon. A medical professional or team with an AI sidekick will likely be able to cover a large number of vessels per fleet, providing infections or outbreaks are not too great.

From a crew member’s perspective, one of the biggest concerns of an illness is the uncertainty of what it is and what it could lead to. Alleviating these worries will be a plus for crew wellbeing and will go a long way meet new maritime labour regulations that are soon to be promoted by the IMO/STCW labour regulations and probably the EU too.

We will likely see a host of connectivity service providers, such as Marlink and Inmarsat offering such value-added services in addition to its connectivity ones. From designs already available, some cost effective basic medical equipment will be required with an interface for the patient or administer and a camera for recording purposes. Basic medical equipment could include a blood pressure monitor, electro cardiograph, pulse oximeter, ultrasound device or thermometer. The range of equipment for the customer can easily be adjusted based seafarers’ medical histories and their likely conditions. It is unlikely we will see intensive care units or beds onboard a vessel, or breathing apparatus. If a seafarer does suffer from an acute Covid-19 attack, they would likely be flown off the vessel to a medical facility. By far the most common health emergency for sea-farers is accident, heart attack and stroke.

Valour Consultancy expects nearly 60-70 per cent of commercial vessels with VSAT to adopt telemedicine services in the next two to three years.

OneWeb Bankruptcy Only Intensifies Battle for ESA Supremacy

On March 27th 2020, London-based satellite firm, OneWeb filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States, and in doing so surprised some and merely confirmed what others had seen coming for some time. Much has been written, both pre- and post-bankruptcy, around the challenges associated with making the LEO business model work and, more specifically what was wrong with OneWeb’s approach. This post won’t be adding to that commentary. I’ve instead opted to focus on the potential impact to those involved in the production of the next generation of antennas, which rely heavily on LEO constellations succeeding.

Right now, there is a race (perhaps better labelled a marathon at this point) been run amongst a sizeable number of hardware manufacturers to build a new generation of fully electronically steerable antennas (ESA’s), primarily to bring the best out of NGSO satellite constellations. I respectfully refer to this as a marathon rather than a sprint because developing such a solution has proven costly and complex, and despite years of rhetoric, an ESA which hits all the right notes remains elusive. Having been fortunate enough to meet with a number of the vendors currently developing ESA’s, there can be no doubt the industry is as close as it has ever been to bringing a commercially ready product to market. But there is also still some way to go, and for most, continued development (and ultimately getting a product to market) depends on further investment and agreements, primarily with NGSO operators like OneWeb.

The significance of OneWeb in the context of this story lies mostly in the fact it had progressed as far as actually sending some satellites into orbit. Whilst those in the know will likely shake their heads reading this, OneWeb’s LEO constellation was perceived by many as one of the few that would eventually go on to succeed; perhaps symbolic of how much uncertainty and confusion there is linked to LEO. This “front runner” status and broad target market made OneWeb an attractive target for any ESA manufacturer looking to raise its profile through association. Notable examples include Istropic Systems, which in 2018 announced it was to develop an ultra-low-cost consumer broadband terminal for OneWeb primed for various end-user applications, and US-based Wafer, a company self-funded by OneWeb founder, Greg Wyler, which was reported to be working toward delivering a low-cost ESA for the LEO network this year.

The need to remain relevant in the seemingly inevitable era of LEO isn’t reserved solely for ESA vendors. In March 2020, Intellian and Cobham signed contracts to manufacture “more traditional” parabolic user terminals destined for OneWeb’s prospective enterprise, cellular backhaul, maritime and government clients. OneWeb’s bankruptcy will no doubt have repercussions here too but Intellian and Cobham are arguably better placed to cushion the blow by being able to fall back on existing GEO business segments, most notably maritime connectivity where the two have a combined 70 per cent share of active installed VSAT terminals.

Furthermore, despite what some may say, the current cost and fundamental physics associated with ESA’s dictates that the business case for them falls apart without NGSO constellations. This isn’t to say collaboration between ESA manufacturers and GEO operators is to be disregarded. Inmarsat, Intelsat and Viasat are just three GEO incumbents known to active in the ESA segment today. The former is understood to be keeping a close eye on ESA developments as part of continued enhancements to its GX network, which will include two new payloads in Highly Elliptical Orbit (HEO) from 2022. High up on that list is a collaboration between Safran and Jet-Talk (a joint venture between ST Electronics and Satixfy) which are forging ahead with development of an ARINC 792 compliant ESA that could become the first ESA antenna certified for GX. Intelsat, meanwhile, has brought Kymeta on as a preferred supplier of Communications-on-the-Move (COTM) terminals as part of its FlexMove services.

But the point here is that success will not come by competing with existing antenna technology in the GEO arena alone, especially in fixed terminal market where incumbent technology is more cost effective today. The commercial launch of large-scale LEO constellations that lend themselves to ESA’s are an essential ingredient in the mix. It can be argued that OneWeb’s fall pushes back the already overdue timeframe for a commercially ready LEO constellation becoming active by at least a year or more.

Clearly then, the loss of OneWeb can only be seen as a set-back for those with a stake in the development of ESA’s and the situation is only made worse by the current stance of the other current major player, SpaceX to manufacture terminals in-house. But, as touched upon briefly above, there are positives. In the short term, a small number of solutions will be deployed in GEO mobility applications, specifically the military sector and aviation, where price sensitivity is minimal, reliability is crucial, and discretion is king. There are also other operators still pushing ahead with commitments to build NGSO constellations, most notably; SES with its O3b mPOWER MEO constellation, Amazon (with it Kuiper project), Telesat and China’s proposed Hongyun and Hongyan constellations. There could also yet be a reincarnation of OneWeb that goes on to succeed where v1.0 failed – we’ve seen that before.

But what should become clear is that there is now a greater pressure on ESA manufacturers to build confidence and stand out from the crowd by forging partnerships with GEO, MEO and LEO operators, as well as influential end-users such as government departments. None of which will happen without possessing the technology to back up the rhetoric.

Linked to the above, Isotropic Systems continues to work toward a 2022 launch of its terminal designed for SES’ O3b mPOWER constellation, having been chosen as a preferred supplier, along with ALCAN and Viasat. Similarly, Gilat Satellite Networks and Ball Aerospace are just two of the vendors to carry out ESA demonstrations with Telesat’s Phase 1 LEO satellite. The former performed what is thought to be the first in-flight test of an ESA over a NGSO satellite. Telesat has also doubled down on its intentions to build a LEO constellation of 300 satellites in a March 2020 investor call. Finally, in May 2019 Boeing Phantom Works announced it will deploy its in-house built ESA on new U.S. Navy MQ-25 drones as part of a wider military contract it had won.

In summary, the fall of OneWeb by no means kills off the ESA story. Far from it. But from my point of view, what it does do is both delay the arrival of commercially ready solutions hitting the market and speed up the rate at which manufacturers will drop out of the ESA race. The intensity has been turned up a notch and what we should now see is the cream to rise to the top.

Pandemic Will Propel Commercial Delivery Drones

Drone Carrying a Box

By Joshua Flood, Valour Consultancy

With most of the cities around Europe, North America and Latin America (except perhaps Brazil) deserted and the majority of populations locked away in their homes, the start of 2020 has not been best. The service markets, such as restaurants, gyms, co-working spaces, have come to a grinding halt and many businesses and industries will be damaged for years to come. The tax hikes after this pandemic will be eye watering. It’s a strange period, and also very sad, with the high risk of fatality to vulnerable people with underlying health conditions or the elderly in our communities.

Nevertheless, with every negative, there will be positives. Supermarket sales soared in March and companies like Walmart, Carrefour, Tesco, Sainsburys and many more will have surpassed all their past Christmas sales records but there have been additional costs that weigh heavily against potential profits. Home exercise equipment manufacturers have been inundated with unexpected demands for stationary cycle bikes, treadmills and rowing machines. Consumer entertainment content platforms will be tallying up new subscriptions like someone seeing their winning lottery ticket balls slotting in, unless your platform relies on live sports. In today’s environment, I think I could create a global sport phenomenon in camel racing.

One of those positives will be a huge increase in home delivery, Tesco has added an additional 145,000 weekly home delivery slots, enabling it to make 805,000 deliveries each week, or 20% more than before. With social distancing and people staying in their homes for periods for unimaginable periods of time, drone deliveries make unparalleled sense

Irish drone company, Manna Aero, is to trial delivery services in Moneygall, a small village halfway between Dublin and Limerick in Eire in the second week of April 2020. Currently, the service is focusing on medicine delivery to vulnerable people locked in their homes. However, this could expand to food if successful.

Zipline, a US company renown for its work in Rwanda and Ghana, is applying with the FAA to launch its own medicine delivery service in the USA and UK. Also in the US, Matternet has teamed up with UPS for medicine deliveries in North Carolina, and with SwissPost, in Switzerland, for deliveries of lab supplies. Chinese internet conglomerate’s first delivery was to a village near Baiyang Lake in Hebei Province in the north of the country in February. In China, hotels were using robots to deliver food to rooms, although this is not an unmanned aerial system.

Alphabet’s Wing drone service has reportedly performed more than 1,000 deliveries in Australia and the US in the last two weeks. Wing drone service opened up for service in late 2019, working with Walgreens, FedEx and Super Magnolia (a local Virginia grocery store chain). The new service, in Christiansburg, Virginia, has allowed customers to purchase roughly 100 different products, over the counter medications or pre-built packages. The FAA approved Alphabet’s drone delivery program in March 2019, and the company announced its plans for ‘store to door’ delivery of more than 100 products in Virginia six months later. The delivery drones are claimed to have the ability to fly up to 120 km/h (almost 75 mph).

The delivery service which was rolled out in Christiansburg, Virginia, which is actually within a short distance from Wing’s testing zone – it has been testing drone delivery as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Integration Pilot Program since 2016. For Wing, approval of its U.S. operations marks one of several major steps throughout 2019 that included a green light from Australia regulators who allowed public deliveries from the company in 2019 too. Its speed of acceptance has outpaced that of Google’s main competitor in the commercial drone space, Amazon, whose service, Prime Air, plans to deliver the company’s products straight to consumers’ doorsteps.

From a logistics industry’s perspective, drones represent one cusp of revolutionary change that will forever alter the way on-line goods are delivered. For food and small package delivery over the ‘last mile’, it can make little or no sense to send a ton of metal and a human to steer it. Replacing delivery drivers and couriers with lightweight energy-efficient UAVs, environmentally friendly, is accepted as the solution. In addition, there is no human to human contact.

It is believed there are at least 34 countries running or testing drone delivery services, either for medical, postal, food including pizza and coffee. In addition to those already mentioned, these include Australia, India, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vuanatu in the Asia-Pacific region.

In Europe, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany (pizza), Iceland and Ireland have all tested or initiated drone deliveries. In the UK in December 2018, Vodafone tested drone deliveries in Portland Bill using their 4G mobile network rather than a radio transmitter and Amazon Prime has made a minimum of two trials of long-range drone operations near Cambridge and, in 2018, a fully piloted flight in East Sussex over a seven-mile route at about 400ft.

Also, German UAV company, Wingcopter is collaborating with UPS Flight Forward to develop a next-generation delivery drone solution for packages. UPS announced the launch of UPSFF in 2019, after getting FAA approval, Part 135 certification in September 2019, paving the way for the delivery service to fly further into the consumer market. UPS has since partnered with drone delivery company Matternet to ferry medical samples via drone at WakeMed hospital in Raleigh, N.C. Wingcopter and UPSFF will next seek regulatory certification for a Wingcopter unmanned aircraft to make commercial delivery flights in the United States.

Drone deliveries will never be a fit all solution but in circumstances such as today, drone deliveries make a lot of sense. In our latest commercial UAS platform report, we estimate nearly 3,000 systems were actively being used globally for drone deliveries. This figure will skyrocket in 2020 and 2021 beyond our highest predictions. We estimated the drone delivery service market was estimated about $2.3 million last year. By the end of 2020, this number of likely to be around $20 million as we see much greater deployment of systems, more start-up companies and also more partnerships and collaborations. For more information on our latest report, please contact us here.

For The IFC Vendors Agile Enough To See Out COVID-19, The Need To Be Connected Will Be Greater Than Ever

By William Calvert, Research Analyst, Valour Consultancy

At this point, the assumption is that readers are fully aware of the context surrounding COVID-19, both in terms of cause, spread and implications, globally. Rather than focus on repeating what is already known, let us instead jump straight into reviewing the effects of this pandemic on the In-Flight Connectivity (IFC) competitive environment.

Fall in Active Installed Base

Amongst the early priorities for those in the IFC value chain is how to deal with existing IFC contracts that in almost all cases have become void because of the grounding of connected aircraft. Most, if not all, airlines are unlikely to be in a position to pay even the smallest portion of the contracted IFC fees without planes in the air and with very little room for negotiation this will very quickly hit service providers, especially those that have ongoing fees to pay to capacity owners.

Even assuming the spread of COVID-19 is brought under control in the coming weeks, it is difficult to envisage demand for travel by air returning to any sort of normality in 2020. We’re therefore not talking about a short-term fix here, but instead looking at renewed terms between all parties, perhaps an alternative approach to the longer-term business model and, in some case, vendors collapsing under the financial burden.

Stalled or Reduced Installation Programs

In the medium term, we must consider what the new commercial active fleet will look like. The fact airlines around the world are now the subject of sizeable government bailouts suggests we could see the vast majority survive long enough to see passenger demand return. But events like the 2008 global financial crisis also suggest we should expect to see airlines using the downturn in demand to retire aircraft early and slimming down fleets.

On top of this, the significant cost control measures now in place will almost certainly affect IFC retrofit programs throughout 2020 and will likely lead to delays, or the complete cancellation, of aircraft on order that are also ringfenced to have IFC hardware equipped at the factory.

In summary, what remains of the industry once all of this is over will more than likely be reduced versus the active fleet at the end of 2019. This in turn will impact IFC service providers, several of which have built sizeable backlogs, through delays/reductions to installation programs or potentially cancelling them all together.

Airlines Remain on the Fence

In the longer-term, a combination of prolonged cost cutting and the broader uncertainty that COVID-19 generates within the IFC supply chain could lead to implications for IFC adoption. Both factors represent significant change from the status quo and could justifiably lead airlines that are either in active negotiations around IFC implementation or were considering putting out an RFP, to push back the decision-making process until more certainty returns.

To help stimulate demand, what we could now see is the emergence of increased flexibility, in a number of areas linked to the provision of IFC. This could be an acceleration in the adoption of open industry standards to help keep services switched on if specific vendors do go under or if contract terms become unmanageable. It could also be greater flexibility in the business models agreed between capacity owners, service providers and airlines, with a greater share of ancillary revenue opportunities provided to those at the top of the chain.

The Need to be Connected Going Nowhere

So, is there a silver lining in all of this? I think so, and it comes down to our need to be connected. Sure, the existing business model is far from ideal, but this need to be connected everywhere was enough to encourage airlines of all sizes to activate Wi-Fi services and this demand will still be there when things get back to some level of normality.

There is even a case for self-isolation to be seen as an accelerator of the trend toward increased connectivity. In March 2020 alone:

  • U.S. telco Verizon has reported a 75% increase in gaming traffic in just one week.
  • Online shoppers have increased by 80% year-on-year in Brazil, 45% in Australia, 32% in France and 29% in Italy according to the Financial Times.
  • Disney+ is just one of the OTT suppliers reporting increased subscriber numbers, with U.S. numbers tripling across a two-day period.
  • Teleconferencing app, Zoom added 20 million mobile users in one week, according to Sensor Tower.

Whilst for many, this change in behaviour may only be temporary, some are likely to alter the way they view and partake in online activity forever, both socially and for work. There is every reason to suggest this change in behaviour could lead to increased use of IFC, either as improved take rates or demand for bandwidth. This should be something for the IFC value chain, whatever that looks like by the time demand does eventually return, to remain focussed on and prepare for.

Valour Consultancy will feature a more in-depth forecast for 2020 IFC installations and beyond in its ‘Future of IFC – 2020’ report, which is expected to publish in the coming months. For more information on this upcoming report, or Valour’s IFC Quarterly tracker, please contact us at:

Re-Imagining the Passenger Experience in a Post Coronavirus World

Airlines the world over have grounded large parts of their fleets and announced plans to lay off thousands of staff as they attempt to survive a near shutdown of international travel amid the widening coronavirus pandemic. The severity of the crisis has prompted carriers to turn to governments for a lifeline and according to IATA, the global industry needs bailout measures of between $150 billion and $200 billion if it is to survive. And even then, the pandemic is likely to reshape the industry with many airlines sadly failing and entirely new groupings emerging. It will also have huge ramifications for the way people fly once this is all over and whilst it might not seem like a high priority right now, airlines need to think about how they’ll adapt to the needs of entirely different passengers post coronavirus.

It goes without saying that there will be a huge amount of trepidation about travelling for many years once a semblance of normality resumes – especially amongst those from countries that have been hardest hit by the outbreak. Face masks and maybe even gloves will become standard garb for passengers keen to minimise their risk of infection, cleaning routines between turns will be stepped up a level or two and extra screening measures to detect signs of fever could emerge as the new norm in an already stressful airport experience. Even so, these steps will not be enough to reassure many passengers of their safety on-board and their behaviour will change forever. And by extension, so too will the way in which they interact with on-board technology.

While airlines will no doubt shout from the rooftops about how thoroughly they clean and disinfect tray tables, in-flight entertainment (IFE) screens and head rests pre- and post-flight in this brave new world, it is not hard to imagine passengers adopting a cocoon-like state during their journey, fearful of what, and who, they might come into contact with.

This could very well entail reduced interaction with seatback screens and passenger control units (PCUs), with a possible knock-on effect for ancillary revenue generation through these systems. Expect IFE vendors to ratchet up the wellness angle another notch and mimic seat manufacturers in announcing new, self-cleaning screens that involve the use of antimicrobial coatings. Panasonic Avionics has already moved in this direction with its nanoe air filtration system, a feature of the forthcoming NEXT platform that can extract pungent smells from the cabin and remove airborne pathogens.

New user interface technologies like eye-tracking and gesture control could also have an important role to play. Thales has previously demonstrated a prototype for next generation business-class seats, which include iris-tracking to detect when passengers are looking away or when their eyes are closed. However, both technologies are clearly immature in terms of their use on-board aircraft and far from perfect replacements for the touchscreen we’ve all become accustomed to using with expert dexterity. Indeed, it could even be that hand or arm gestures from those in adjacent seats actually decreases the feeling of distance – a concept all of us are rapidly becoming familiar with.

Despite growing familiarity with smart speakers in our everyday lives, it seems a stretch to imagine that voice control will soon become the de-facto IFE control mechanism. Offline voice recognition of multiple languages/accents would presumably take a fair bit of computing power, while in-flight connectivity (IFC) – if it is even installed alongside IFE – is not quite at the point where it could handle the sending and receiving of a huge amount of data packets to and from the cloud for analysis. Nor could cash-strapped airlines afford the associated bandwidth costs. And then there’s the not-so-trifling issue of how to filter out the array of always-present background cabin noise.

More likely then is the use of the passenger PED as a remote control for the screen in front. Interaction with one’s own device is fraught with less “danger” and many of us already use our smartphones to control other smart devices at home. Rather than a YouTube-style PIN approach to pairing PED with seatback, a more hygienic method would surely involve the use of Bluetooth or NFC. Coronavirus or not, Bluetooth will become a standard feature of IFE to enable passengers to use their own headphones and both Safran (Zii) and Panasonic Avionics have recently introduced Bluetooth capabilities on the RAVE Ultra and eX3 and NEXT systems, respectively. NFC, meanwhile, can also be used to process payments from contactless cards and mobile wallets – a key consideration now that the spotlight is firmly on the unhygienic nature of handling cash.

The use of NFC will, of course, have an important role to play as the self-service model rises to prominence. Passengers may limit their interaction with flight attendants and browse digital magazines and food and drink menus on their PEDs or on seatback screens controlled by PEDs instead of flicking through oft-touched paper versions stored in germ-harbouring seat pockets. LEVEL’s award-winning payment system, developed by Black Swan, does just this and can even save card details for simplified repeat purchases on board.

One could even make the argument that coronavirus may finally succeed where IFC and later, wireless IFE (W-IFE), failed in killing off the humble seatback screen. Airlines will be under immense pressure to shed operational spend and the high up-front and on-going costs associated with embedded IFE could be too much for some to bear. How early window content (EWC) – which has helped prolong the life of this form of IFE – is eventually dealt with by Hollywood studios will have a huge bearing on how things eventually pan out. As a result of the pandemic, many of the films that recently hit the big screen or were slated to still be in theatres are instead heading straight to home entertainment release. Trolls World Tour, for example, was due to be in cinemas on April 10th but will now be available on streaming and digital services without making a theatrical debut. This begs the question, for how long will the streaming of EWC to passenger PEDs be prohibited?

The myriad of W-IFE vendors currently active in the market will doubtless be following these events with a keen eye. If more airlines ultimately opt to eschew embedded IFE post coronavirus, what is the optimal way to consume W-IFE? Right now, many systems are installed on aircraft where there is no in-seat power, which is mind-boggling given that the two technologies are inextricably linked. No power? No IFE! And even where in-seat power is present, consuming content on a PED whilst charging the device can be uncomfortable for passengers and becomes more difficult during mealtimes when the tray table is in use. Astronics and SmartTray have sought to provide an answer to this “hold and power” question by developing a dock style wireless charging hinge mechanism integrated into the back of the tray table. Could the next step involve the use of an inductive surface above the meal tray and some sort of PED-sized “pocket” to prevent devices falling to the floor?

While there are several other benefits of inductive charging, there are numerous problems still to be ironed out. For one, the power efficiency of inductive charging pads is currently 60-70%, compared to >90% for traditional outlets. This requires bigger, more expensive power supply units with more heat dissipation, which could nullify, to some extent, any cost savings realised from not installing seatback IFE in the first place. Additionally, wireless charging takes longer, which may be of more concern on shorter journeys where W-IFE is more likely to be installed.

Heightened hygiene and sanitation concerns could, conceivably, impact on newer forms of IFE too. Portable solutions have witnessed phenomenal growth in recent years but their very nature means they are frequently touched by cabin crew, ground handlers, catering and cleaning partners. New “zero touch” portable units that can be plugged into the on-board power supply are not taken on and off the aircraft with anywhere near the same degree of regularity and could be in increased demand going forwards.

There are many unknowns at this still early stage of the outbreak and we really ought to re-iterate that medical experts believe the risk of catching a virus on a flight to be incredibly small. However, it is important for airlines and their suppliers to start looking forward and planning ahead in these unprecedented times. To this end, Valour Consultancy will continue to share unbiased insight and analysis on key trends relating to IFEC and cabin technology and our reports will be as comprehensive as they’ve always been. If you have any questions or queries about our research or want to reach out for a quick chat to brainstorm ideas, our door is always open.

Stay safe and healthy!

Valour Consultancy

Using Connectivity to Enhance the On-Board Experience and Drive Passenger Loyalty

Countless whitepapers, studies and technical analyses of the connected aircraft have published in recent years. Much of these – including our very own research here at Valour Consultancy – have tended to focus primarily on the potential for airlines to realise cost savings through deployment of various connected aircraft applications. Very few papers have zeroed in on the many ways in which connectivity can be used to indirectly enhance the on-board experience, drive passenger loyalty and boost revenues via increased ticket sales and repeat business. And that’s precisely the angle this new paper – developed in conjunction with our friends at Intelsat – takes.

Click here to check it out and learn about some of the innovative things airlines are doing with today’s connectivity solutions. Hear from industry leaders on pain points, success stories and how they are making passenger connectivity work for their business needs.

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