The future of Aviation Connectivity (Q&A)
Neale Faulkner, Inmarsat Aviation Regional Vice President, Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA)
Tell us about your organization, in particular the services you provide to the Aviation Sector?
Inmarsat Aviation is the leading provider of global satellite communications to airline and business aviation markets across the world. With 30 years’ of specialist aviation experience, we offer a range of powerful connectivity solutions, from vital operations and safety communications for pilots and crew, through to reliable, high-speed inflight broadband for passengers. Our solutions are renowned for their innovation and performance. The award-winning GX Aviation, for example, has set the industry benchmark for passenger inflight broadband, allowing users to stream, browse, game, shop and more, using their own personal devices whilst travelling on a flight.
We’ve been named the ‘World’s Leading Inflight Internet Service Provider’ for four consecutive years at the World Travel Awards and for specifically to the Middle East, we were also named ‘Satellite Network Provider of the Year’ at the Aviation Achievement Awards 2021 in Dubai.
Who are your target customers in the Aviation Sector?
Over the past decade, airlines and business jet operators have recognised how fundamental high-speed and reliable connectivity is to enhance their passenger experience. Today, we provide inflight connectivity services to many of the world’s leading airlines, including Qatar Airways, Emirates, Kuwait Airways, AirAsia, Air New Zealand and Lufthansa, in addition to thousands of business jets throughout the world.
Our aircraft safety and operations services are also trusted by over 200 airlines and are used onboard more than 13,000 aircraft around the world. This means that we process tens of thousands of aircraft position reports in a single day and over 50 million position reports annually. These services also maximise operational efficiencies in a number of different ways, from optimising flight planning and reducing fuel burn to minimising risk and avoiding unscheduled maintenance, making aviation safer, more efficient and less expensive.
Where is your biggest opportunity for growth in the Aviation Sector?
In terms of regions, the Middle East is a major area of growth. The Middle East is not exactly a new adopter of inflight connectivity, in fact, the region has acted as a trend setter for the inflight connectivity during its infancy some ten years ago. But with the next generation of satellites and related technology, airlines in the region are ready to “upgrade” the experience for their passengers.
Our Passenger Confidence Tracker – which is the largest global survey of airline passengers since the pandemic began – found the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated digital appetite in the region more so than elsewhere in the world. Half (50%) of UAE passengers agreed that onboard Wi-Fi matters more today than ever before, compared with 39% globally. This shift in passenger behaviour will undoubtedly have a knock-on effect on carriers in the region.
Airlines are finding increasingly clever ways to not only recoup the initial cost of the investment, but also to turn it into a revenue stream. Some are earning ancillary revenues by sharing passenger usage data with third-party advertisers, which allows for tailored and targeted inflight offers. Others are working with sponsors to offset access costs and allow passengers to access Wi-Fi free of charge, driving uptake rates and passenger satisfaction.
Qatar Airways, for example, has enjoyed the benefits of offering free-of-charge Wi-Fi, and the positive impact it can have on take up rate of the service. There is a lot that LCCs can learn from this to turn Wi-Fi into both a revenue generator and a point of difference from their competitors.
The deployment of Wi-Fi by low-cost carriers (LCCs) is a huge growth opportunity. Traditionally it has been challenging for connectivity providers to demonstrate the value of onboard Wi-Fi to LCCs, which must work within tight margins to keep customer costs low. However, this is now starting to shift as airlines and connectivity providers, like us, continue to find new and effective ways to monetise the service without passing on access costs to passengers.
What will be the post-COVID-19 impact on your company and industry?
Encouragingly, we’ve not noticed a downturn in the appetite for inflight connectivity over the last 18 months from our customers. Many leading airlines are continuing with their inflight connectivity plans – such as Qatar Airways, which marked the rollout of its 100th aircraft with our GX Aviation inflight broadband last year.
We believe connectivity is an essential tool for airlines looking to rebuild passenger confidence. Health and safety will continue to remain at the foremost in passengers’ minds, even as we look beyond the pandemic. Offering digital services, underpinned by connectivity, is a great way of reassuring passengers that their safety is paramount.
Our Passenger Confidence Tracker revealed that destination status alerts, real time luggage tracking and pre-clearing immigration on the plane are amongst the most cited passenger demands of the post-COVID onboard experience. These are all enabled by cabin Wi-Fi. Airlines can therefore demonstrate their appreciation of a ‘new normal’ by bolstering digitisation in these areas as they look to rebuild loyalty and trust.
What are the key projects you are working on this quarter?
We are working on a major new project that will allow passengers to explore a range of digital services, including duty-free shopping, secure online payments, and content streaming – from the comfort of their own device. As well as bolstering the passenger experience, the project will critically help airlines monetise inflight connectivity in new and innovative ways.
We also have a few exciting projects in the pipeline with new and existing airline customers in the Middle East, but you will have to wait to find out more about that. Watch this space!
What is the vision for your company over the next 5 years?
We’re investing more than ever to develop the most advanced satellite network in the world. Our ambitious technology roadmap will ensure that we stay ahead and consistently meet the needs of our global aviation customers for decades to come.
Today we own and operate 14 satellites powering seamless safety and mission-critical communications around the world. To meet ever more complex demands, we will launch a further seven satellites by 2023 and significantly expand our ground network. This includes five in geostationary orbit – adding speed, capacity, and resilience – and two in highly elliptical orbit, which will deliver the world’s only commercial mobile broadband service in the Arctic region.
Our next satellite launch, GX6A, is scheduled to take place later this year. GX6A is the first satellite in the Inmarsat-6 L-band fleet – the most powerful and flexible satellites ever developed.
What Sustainability/ESG initiatives do you have planned?
Sustainability is no longer a choice; a thriving aviation industry is dependent on us being able to quickly minimise the environmental impact of travel. We are working in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) on the Iris programme to modernise the global aviation industry by paving the way for more efficient air traffic management.
By enabling better communications between flight and ground crews, Iris allows airlines to minimise delays, save fuel and reduce the environmental impact of their operations. For example, pilots and controllers using the service can collaborate on flight trajectories, calculate the shortest available routes in real-time, cruise at optimum altitudes, and use continuous climb and descent paths.
The project is currently being tested as part of Boeing’s ecoDemonstrator programme, to assess the service in a commercial flight environment. The full rollout of Iris will commence by 2023 and will initially benefit Europe’s congested skies, with a global rollout expected over the next decade.
We are also one of nine organisations that are part of The Airspace of the Future (AoF) Consortium in the UK. The group works to integrate drone services within the wider UK transport ecosystem. Advances in electric and autonomous flight technology (drones), are expected to increase mobility and reduce road congestion, further helping reduce the environmental impact of aviation across the globe.
Last Updated on August 17, 2021 by MEA Aviation