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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

Source: www.experiencetest.net

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 (https://valourconsultancy.com/re-imagining-the-passenger-experience-in-a-post-coronavirus-world/), 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: william.calvert@valourconsultancy.com 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 JD.com’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: info@valourconsultancy.com

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.

The Battle for Business Jet Connectivity Supremacy

2019 was an exciting year in terms of new in-flight connectivity options for the business aviation market and in this article, we ponder whether the increased number of players each now offering a plethora of solutions can really be sustained longer term.

Historically, provision of wholesale cabin connectivity services for VIP and business aircraft has been dominated by four companies: Gogo, Viasat, Inmarsat and Iridium. Gogo now counts some 5,500 business aircraft on its air-to-ground (ATG) network, while Viasat lays claim to more than 1,100 cumulative shipments of its Ku-band system over the last decade. On the L-band side, Inmarsat and Iridium account for the bulk of the market and have done for some time. The former has built an enviable base of almost 4,000 aircraft that rely on its hugely-successful SwiftBroadband (SBB) service and over 600 using the Jet ConneX (JX) Ka-band solution. And with 10,000 aircraft installed with its services today, the latter estimates there’s a 90% chance a business jet will be using its voice services to power in-flight phone operations.

All this could be about to change, however. Over the last couple of years, a clutch of new entrants has emerged, presumably attracted by the higher margins on offer compared with the commercial aviation market. Global Eagle and Panasonic Avionics, for example, announced in 2015, their intent to target the bizliner and bizjet markets, respectively. While Global Eagle still harbours an ambition to pursue opportunities in the VVIP space through its ultra-high end PRIVA brand, Panasonic has stepped back and is concentrating solely on its role in IDAIR, a joint-venture with Lufthansa Technik.

Panasonic’s place in partnership with Astronics and Satcom Direct has since been taken by Intelsat and the trio launched FlexExec in October 2018. Installs have been temporarily suspended after the loss of the Intelsat-29e satellite, although expectations are that the service will re-launch in the early part of 2020. Until then, SES and Collins Aerospace will doubtless be looking to make hay with their new, rival Ku-band offering, LuxStream. Further down the line, OneWeb has vowed to revolutionise the connectivity market with a low-latency solution available for fitment on the lightest of bizjets that it plans to have available in the 2021/2022 timeframe.

Away from satellite-based connectivity, SmartSky Networks is in the final stages of completing its ATG network with entry-into-service and full CONUS coverage slated for 2020. Hardware is already installed on several business aircraft, including Embraer ERJs for launch customer, JSX. Rival, Gogo, as is the case with the other aforementioned players currently dominant, is not content to rest on its laurels and plans to launch an upgraded 5G ATG network the following year. Speculation persists that Gogo is also working with Gilat for its Ku-band tail-mount antenna. If true, such a solution would pit the company against Intelsat, SES and Viasat and allow it to address those business jets that travel internationally and that aren’t candidates for its bulkier fuselage mount 2Ku antenna.

Viasat hasn’t given up on its legacy Ku-band network and this year revealed new “Ku Advanced” packages with increased speeds of up to 10 Mbps and an easy migration path to its newer Ka-band system through use of existing aircraft wiring. Ka-band, of course, being a focus of Inmarsat, too. Despite its considerable early lead in this arena, the company continues to add capacity to the Global Xpress (GX) constellation. Inmarsat also has its eyes on supporting shorter intra-European flights having previously announced that the European Aviation Network (EAN) would be available for business aviation in “early 2019”, although timelines would appear to have slipped.

Last but by no means least is Iridium, which is seeking to tap into the increasing demand for backup communications systems with the recently-launched Certus solution. Due to its compact nature, Certus is also expected to find a place as a primary connectivity system on smaller aircraft for “lite connectivity” applications like in-flight messaging. As well as converting its existing customer base to Certus, Iridium will set its sights on capturing market share from L-band counterpart, Inmarsat.

But what’s so appealing about the bizav market that all these players with their many offerings are so intent on vying for a slice of the pie? As mentioned, margins in business aviation relative to air transport are much higher and while there is, surprisingly, a degree of price sensitivity around up-front equipment costs and on-going airtime fees, there is a willingness to pay for a good quality and reliable connectivity experience. Indeed, during the course of the research for our soon to publish study on the adoption of connectivity in this market, a common theme among interviewees was that non-functioning cabin connectivity is often cause to keep an aircraft on the ground. And it’s this level of heightened expectation that could make or break the prospects of those less familiar with having to provide a white glove service.

Simply put, business aviation is a very high touch market and connectivity providers need to cater to the specific demands of those operating no more than a handful of aircraft. A connectivity service needs to tie into the overall theme of making each aircraft or fleet of aircraft unique – something demonstrated by the fact interiors are often completely custom-crafted to match the exacting tastes of owners. Commercial aviation, on the other hand, is a higher volume market where low margin off-the-shelf products (premium cabin seats aside) are the order of the day. And as far as connectivity business models are concerned, airlines and their service providers have frankly struggled for years to make the paid-for approach work. For this reason, the likes of Intelsat and SES have been wise to partner with well-respected industry stalwarts like Satcom Direct and Collins Aerospace.

Though it’s impossible to say who will thrive and who might fall by the wayside in the battle for supremacy, it’s fair to say that we can most probably expect some level of consolidation in the market in the mid- to longer-term. We must remember that there is only a limited number of business aircraft that are viable candidates for many of the services being proposed. For fuselage mount solutions, there are around 500 bizliners that are large enough to accommodate large, bulky radomes. There are currently circa 6,500 large cabin jets and these – plus an extra 2,500 that are set to be added to the fleet over the next ten years – will be the prime target given that most can take a bullet-like tail radome but are not yet fitted with high-bandwidth Ku- or Ka-band connectivity. Beyond this, most of the remaining 16,000 super-midsize, midsize, light and very light business jets and a similar number of turboprops are only really suited to much less invasive ATG and L-band terminals.

A game changer will be the maturity of flat panel antenna technology, which has the potential to open up the total addressable market for high capacity satellite-based connectivity to much smaller airframes. A whole host of companies are currently working on solutions that aim to do just this but industry consensus is that we’re still several years away from market-ready products that overcome current challenges around power consumption, heat dissipation and cost. That being said, there will always be a significant chunk of smaller aircraft that never leave CONUS or Europe and are arguably most suited to an ATG solution. In this regard, the bases look well covered by Gogo, SmartSky and Inmarsat.

With all this in mind, it seems like a stretch to imagine that the bizav market can support so many different solutions. Those with ambitions to stay relevant in the long term need to ensure that they are best in class and not pursue an unwinnable race to the bottom on price, especially if it comes at the expense of a good quality experience. Anything less simply won’t be tolerated.

The competitive environment, market trends and the likely future adoption of connectivity in this space is explored in great depth in Valour Consultancy’s forthcoming report entitled “The Market for IFEC and CMS Systems on VVIP and Business Aircraftdue to publish in Q1 2020.

IFC Review: Gogo’s 2Ku on Cathay Pacific B777

One of the major upsides to my role at Valour Consultancy is having the opportunity to visit clients in various countries around the world. I certainly don’t claim to be a globetrotter, but last week I managed to add country number 39 to the list of those I’d visited; Israel. The purpose was to meet with a handful of the antenna manufacturers that are based in and around Tel Aviv as part of my current work on the future of flat panel antennas.

As an aside to the purpose of this post, for those that haven’t been, Tel Aviv is an amazing place with great food and very friendly people. I didn’t even get to scratch the surface of things to do and places to see (not taking the time to visit Jerusalem was a major error on my part). Nevertheless, from the little I did see, I’d strongly endorse it as a place to visit.

I flew to and from Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, with Cathay Pacific. I’ve previously had very good experiences with Cathay, and I really like the A350’s that service the route between Melbourne and Hong Kong. Three of the four segments I took to and from Israel were on A350’s, but the final leg (flight CX163 from Hong Kong to Melbourne) is serviced by one of the carriers 68 B777-300 aircraft, which are in the process of being equipped with Gogo’s 2Ku service. Our quarterly IFC tracker estimates 41 of the birds had been fitted with the associated hardware and activated by the end of September 2019. My aircraft, B-KQQ, was one of these 41.

Personally, I tend to side with the other 90 per cent of flyers that opt not to use the available IFC service when it is sat behind a paywall. But on this occasion, my IFE was not working to the point I was reliant on cabin crew (who were brilliant) manually adding movies to my screen. This, plus genuine intrigue around the performance of 2Ku, was enough of a justification to log on for an hour between movies.

I clocked on as we cruised over the Celebes Sea, and my first task was to carry out a speed test. Having paid for IFC in the past on various airlines, I was pleasantly surprised by the numbers, with a notable reported download rate of 36.7Mbps.

With an hour of uncapped data at my disposal (costing $9.99 USD), I decided to perform some tasks that I know are “higher bandwidth” applications than simply messaging friends and family on Whatsapp, most notably, FaceTiming my 1 year old in Melbourne (who wasn’t impressed at all) and watching a few YouTube videos (which included a few on the latest Brexit news). In all cases, the service continued to perform really well, and I’d actually go as far as to say the whole experience genuinely matched up with performance on the ground, with very little in the way of waiting around for content to load. You’ll notice that the picture when using FaceTime is clear with very little pixilation.

I tried to make the most of the hour I was online by conducting multiple speed tests to see if the numbers I captured in test 1 held throughout, which they did.

I’d, of course, like to be able to call upon a broader sample of speed tests spread throughout the entire flight as I recognise a crucial element of assessing service quality is consistency. In the absence of this it is perhaps worth noting that based on the coverage map below, the route taken on the day ensured we remained within the HTS coverage that Gogo is able to tap for its 2Ku network in the APAC region.

Source: Gogo

Summary

The need to pay for IFC will always put off a vast majority of passengers onboard, there is no getting around that. But until a free IFC service becomes a realistic prospect for ALL airlines, the objective for them and the respective IFC service providers has to be to demonstrate value for money to those willing to fork out for the privilege. What I was able to do across the hour on my flight certainly did that.

Based on this experience, it would seem the IFC service which Cathay Pacific is able to serve up on this route is one to be proud of and should give the airline the confidence to push its 2Ku connectivity harder to passengers.

Note: This is a completely independent review. The author did not receive remuneration of any sort.

Calm Seas and Smooth Surfing

Author: Steve Flood and Josh Flood

This is all in the future. But what about the future future? Almost all the projects described in the last article, bar one or two, are retrofits of existing vessels. They are the projects of specialist technologically advanced consortia. As the demand for autonomous shipping grips the maritime fleet owners, they will look to the shipyards to incorporate the sensors, controls and communications equipment in their newbuilds.

Larger fleet owners such as Maersk, COSCO, Hapag-Lloyd and MSC will be able to write exacting specifications when they approach a shipyard to build 5 or 10 autonomous vessels. Over 40% of the tonnage of trading vessels in the world consists of dry bulk carriers which are ideal for automisation, as are the 28% that are oil tankers and the 13% that are container ships. CSIC, Mitsubishi, Hyundai, STX and DSME shipyards will have the resources and be happy to comply with the requirements of the heavy hitters in the Merchant Navy.

Smaller fleet operators, say, with less than ten vessels, who order ships individually, will expect the shipyard to supply the automisation. The Korean and Singaporean yards already have smart ship projects underway, as do Mitsubishi in Japan. Yards in China, other yards in Japan and elsewhere will have to bring in expertise. Hyundai’s collaboration with Accenture to develop OceanLink is described as a ‘smart ship’ platform for the shipbuilding, shipping, and onshore-logistics sectors. Daewoo (DSME) shipyard has received Approval in Principle (AiP) from Lloyd’s Register for its collaboration with Korean marine system experts, marineworks, who use KVH communication systems for its smart ship solution (DS4) for new container ships.

Without completely destroying the romance, it is possible to describe a merchant ship as a big box with a large engine driving the propeller. To look after the engine, there is an engine control room into which all the parameters of the engine and ancillary equipment are fed and where activities can be scheduled to keep everything running in a tickety-boo fashion. To keep the ship heading in the right direction, there is a bridge or navigation control room somewhere up high where the helmsman can see the horizon.

Experience with drones has suggested that there is no need for the pilot to sit at the sharp end of a plane but can operate his vehicle from the comfort of his armchair in Texas. In the same way, the chief engineer need not man the engine control room aboard his ship nor the skipper pace the bridge. The major difference between a drone and a cargo ship is the sheer volume of data. Even in the most basic of cargo ships there will be hundreds of sensors on the engines and ancillary equipment plus CCTV, fire alarms, gas detectors, stress measurements, safety systems etc. The bridge will be equally bedecked with data points and all these are connected by tens of miles of wiring.

Admittedly the vast majority of data travelling these wires does not need to be transmitted instantaneously to any remote control room. Warnings, alarms and requests for action do need to be addressed in short order and there are plenty of these, even in the most well-maintained and efficient of ships. It may be considered that artificial intelligence (AI) can sort through these and deal with the most routine. Technically competent engineers and seamen who have not only the knowledge and experience to understand the potential problems and understand the coding needed to deal with this, in AI, are relatively rare. For this reason alone, progress needs to be considerate and systems commissioned to deal with failure and not just to comply with rules and specifications.

Typically a smart ship system can be described as an array of modules each designed to do the job once done by seamen. The accumulated data derived from the observations, decisions and actions of these pseudo-cyber-seamen modules can amount to Terabytes per hour. If live-streaming CCTV is added, there is going to be a need for a large amount of communication capacity.

And then there is the problem of the communication infrastructure – Low Earth Orbit (LEO) arrays such as Iridium, OneWeb, LeoSat, O3b and Elon Musk’s Starlink promise the potential of significant data transfer. Indeed, Samsung published a paper in 2015 proposal suggesting the provision of a Zetabyte/month capacity which is equivalent to 200GB/month for 5 Billion users worldwide. The problem for such a proposal is underutilisation. Such satellites orbit the earth every two hours and, of that, spend about one third over populated areas where they are used fully.

Geostationary arrays, such as Inmarsat, Intelsat and Echostar, and Medium Earth orbit arrays such as Galileo, GPS and GLONASS are positioned for populous areas but also have spare time on their antennae. To fully utilise these arrays, there needs to be users around the globe and the oceans have a relative dearth of need.

A quick look at marine traffic (www.marinetraffic.com) on an unremarkable Sunday 21st July 2019 shows that there are over 200,000 marine vessels large enough to be fitted with an AIS tracker sailing the oceans blue. All of these are currently being tracked by satellite. Admittedly they don’t send a lot of data back home, just enough for tracking purposes. If they were all smart or smartish, then there is a need for a large data pipeline back to headquarters.

The serendipitous, or not so serendipitous, advancement of autonomous shipping and satellite communication has potentially many benefits – cheaper trade, safer ships (it is estimated that 75 to 96% of shipping accidents involve human error), less pollution, greater fuel efficiency – one research project by MUNIN (Maritime Unmanned Navigation through Intelligence in Networks) predicted savings of over $7m over a 25-year period per autonomous vessel in fuel consumption and crew supplies and salaries.

Of course, there are downsides, for instance, a large initial capital expenditure in technology, not only for the ship itself, but also of onshore operations to monitor fleet movements. There is also the danger that occurs during in any transition between current manned marine fleet and any unmanned vessel. A lack of crew will also make maintenance of moving parts incredibly difficult on long voyages and breakdowns could result in significant delays.

Something that is scantly regarded is the removal of benefit of international inter-reaction. Each of these ships will have crews of international origin. This is estimated at 1,647,500 seafarers, of which 774,000 are officers and 873,500 are ratings. China, the Philippines, Indonesia, the Russian Federation and Ukraine are the five largest nationalities of all seafarers (officers and ratings). The Philippines is the biggest supplier of ratings, followed by China, Indonesia, the Russian Federation and Ukraine. While China is the biggest supplier of officers, followed by the Philippines, India, Indonesia and the Russian Federation. These crews rub along quite well generally, and as one who has spent some time at sea, the writer can state that one of the great pleasures of sea-time (and one of the great annoyances) is inter-reacting with all the foreign crew members and learning about their culture and cuisine.

However autonomous shipping is steaming over the horizon and it must be welcomed into port if our general prosperity is to increase. The really interesting time comes after autonomous shipping when AI takes over the logistics and trading, assessing cargo prices and starts re-routing ships to maximise profit.

For more information on Valour Consultancy’s maritime connectivity, digital applications, cybersecurity, autonomous maritime vessel and other maritime reports, please contact   info@valourconsultancy.com and “Maritime Research” in the subject line.