The aviation industry is at the tipping point of a significant transformation that will impact all aspects of travel from passengers to flight operations to cabin crew and even airspace management. Several industry catalysts have been pushing the industry forward including the evolution of IT programs, development of next-generation aircraft, and the growth of IP-enabled networks. These catalysts will ultimately transform the way we fly today.
Evolution of IT Programs
Skyrocketing fuel costs in 2008-2009 drove the use of technology to keep costs down. While fuel cost pressures have subsided in recent years, the technology trend has evolved to become a way of operating. Airlines continue to invest in new technological systems to drive long-term savings and efficiency.
Over the past decade, IT programs have advanced dramatically to manage highly functional tablets and smart phones. One such example has been the replacement of the traditional (and heavy) flight bag with the electronic flight bag (EFB). The AirInsight EFB Research Project shows that tablet-based EFBs are now the industry standard. The report stated in 2013 85% of respondents were using tablets and by 2016 this had risen to 92%.(1) The main driver for airlines transitioning to EFB programs is fuel cost savings.(2) Another example of an evolving IT program is technology in the cabin with inflight services empowered with handheld technology. United Airlines has issued 50,000 Apple iPhones and iPads to its flight attendants, as well as gate agents and other front-line employees. United is also partnering with IBM and Apple to drive greater levels of functionality.(3)
Development of next-generation aircraft
New aircraft are more technologically advanced than their predecessors, and as aircraft have advanced so has the number of sensors and the capability to collect data. A Boeing 787 now has the ability to generate more than a half terabyte of data per flight. The Airbus A350 has 250,000 sensors installed.(4) In comparison to the Boeing 787, the Airbus 350 has the capacity to produce more than double the amount of data.(5) Aircraft are fundamentally flying data centers and in the era of “smart” products, it’s expected that aircraft innovation will continue to advance.
Growth of IP-enabled networks
There hasn’t been and there will not be a shortage of data from aircraft. The challenge has been accessing and leveraging the data, which is where the rise of IP-enabled networks come into play. According to Euroconsult, 6,500 commercial aircraft were providing connectivity to passengers at the end of 2016 – a 24% year-over-year increase.(6) As more cabins are connected, interest in connecting the cockpit is increasing as airlines are realizing the value proposition of connectivity is far beyond just passenger-usage. One of the most beneficial aspects of an IP-enabled aircraft is the ability to improve aircraft operations and reduce cost through real-time aircraft and flight data. “The opportunities of onboard IP network with the union of sensors and aviation systems is tremendous, but the first step is getting the aircraft connected,” said TJ Horsager, Director of Product Management for Gogo.
Right now, we are on the tipping point. The aviation industry is continuing to invest in and embrace technology like mobile devices. Unlike other industries, sensors collecting and generating data is not a new thing in aviation, but the amount of data from next-gen aircraft has ramped up. The game changer for the aviation industry is leveraging real-time data made possible through IP-enabled networks. Real-time data allows airlines to drive operational efficiency such as optimizing flight routes, avoiding weather and turbulence events, driving predictive maintenance, and much more. There is no doubt that big changes are underway for the way we fly and whether you are a passenger, pilot, ops engineer, or a flight attendant the impact will be felt.