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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

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[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="no" equal_height_columns="no" menu_anchor="" hide_on_mobile="small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility" class="" id="" background_color="" background_image="" background_position="center center" background_repeat="no-repeat" fade="no" background_parallax="none" parallax_speed="0.3" video_mp4="" video_webm="" video_ogv="" video_url="" video_aspect_ratio="16:9" video_loop="yes" video_mute="yes" overlay_color="" video_preview_image="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" padding_top="" padding_bottom="" padding_left="" padding_right=""][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" layout="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" border_position="all" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding_top="" padding_right="" padding_bottom="" padding_left="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility" center_content="no" last="no" min_height="" hover_type="none" link=""][fusion_imageframe image_id="5303|full" max_width="" style_type="" blur="" stylecolor="" hover_type="none" bordersize="" bordercolor="" borderradius="" align="center" lightbox="no" gallery_id="" lightbox_image="" lightbox_image_id="" alt="" link="" linktarget="_self" hide_on_mobile="small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_direction="left" animation_speed="0.3" animation_offset=""]https://valourconsultancy.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/12c51ea9ed7611a127aa27f26be64ef1e9390fd9-scaled-e1585144762134.jpg[/fusion_imageframe][fusion_separator style_type="none" hide_on_mobile="small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility" class="" id="" sep_color="#ffffff" top_margin="20" bottom_margin="20" border_size="" icon="" icon_circle="" icon_circle_color="" width="" alignment="center" /][fusion_text columns="" column_min_width="" column_spacing="" rule_style="default" rule_size="" rule_color="" hide_on_mobile="small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_direction="left" animation_speed="0.3" animation_offset=""] 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 [/fusion_text][/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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.

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[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="no" equal_height_columns="no" menu_anchor="" hide_on_mobile="small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility" class="" id="" background_color="" background_image="" background_position="center center" background_repeat="no-repeat" fade="no" background_parallax="none" parallax_speed="0.3" video_mp4="" video_webm="" video_ogv="" video_url="" video_aspect_ratio="16:9" video_loop="yes" video_mute="yes" overlay_color="" video_preview_image="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" padding_top="" padding_bottom="" padding_left="" padding_right=""][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" layout="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" border_position="all" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding_top="" padding_right="" padding_bottom="" padding_left="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility" center_content="no" last="no" min_height="" hover_type="none" link=""][fusion_imageframe image_id="5197|full" max_width="" style_type="" blur="" stylecolor="" hover_type="none" bordersize="" bordercolor="" borderradius="" align="center" lightbox="no" gallery_id="" lightbox_image="" lightbox_image_id="" alt="" link="" linktarget="_self" hide_on_mobile="small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_direction="left" animation_speed="0.3" animation_offset=""]https://valourconsultancy.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/airplane-4702807_1280.jpg[/fusion_imageframe][fusion_separator style_type="none" hide_on_mobile="small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility" class="" id="" sep_color="#ffffff" top_margin="20" bottom_margin="20" border_size="" icon="" icon_circle="" icon_circle_color="" width="" alignment="center" /][fusion_text columns="" column_min_width="" column_spacing="" rule_style="default" rule_size="" rule_color="" hide_on_mobile="small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_direction="left" animation_speed="0.3" animation_offset=""] 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. [/fusion_text][/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]