Seven Key Benefits of Aircraft Digitalisation

by | Apr 7, 2022 | Airlines, Digital Transformation, News, Travel Tech

Valour Consultancy has published a new report, “The Market for Connected Digital Applications – 2022”, which offers an in-depth analysis of seven key applications for aircraft connectivity.

  1. Document management platforms
  2. Electronic flight folders (EFF)
  3. Crew tablets/cabin reporting
  4. Weather, charting and navigation
  5. Performance optimisation
  6. Point of sale solutions
  7. Telemedicine


Bye-bye Paper Logs

As Valour Consultancy explains: “Airlines want to see EFBs [electronic flight bags] (and cabin crew devices to a lesser extent) become increasingly holistic platforms which operate in an integrated system rather than as lots of standalone apps which operate in isolation; however, they also want to retain the ability to select solutions from different vendors to suit their users’ needs. Marrying these two desires is one of the major challenges facing the industry, and efforts to do so are already well underway. This trend will be one of the primary drivers of growth over the coming years.”

Airline industry veteran and Jetliner Cabins author, Jennifer Coutts Clay also covered this trend in a recent article for Inflight Magazine. As she writes, the days of paper-based flight logs and charts are at an end. “[T]he advent of apps has fundamentally changed the traditional cabin-management process.” Cabin crew can now use their airline-issued PED (Personal Electronic Device) to offer superior and more personalised passenger service. With access to live information on passenger food preferences, the status of a passengers’ flight connection, or recent complaints about the journey, cabin crew can quickly address issues and foster loyal flyers.

So what does that look like for the passenger journey? Take an example of an average digitally savvy passenger who has booked their reservation online, obtained digital documents for travel, dropped off their luggage at a digital self-drop location, helped themselves speed through the security line and boarded the aircraft using biometric ID. When they board the aircraft, they will likely want to either use the seat-embedded in-flight entertainment (IFE) or stream content to their own personal electronic device from the airline’s wireless IFE platform. A number of airlines have already made their systems compatible to link with passengers’ own electronic devices so they can queue up content ahead of boarding that will begin playing whenever they like at their seat. But more than that, passengers may want to pre-select their meal options, or order a-la-carte from the menu of snacks and beverages available onboard. Having a ‘smart’ cabin means that passengers could use either their PED or their seat-back screen to place their FAB orders. The inventory system in the ‘smart’ galley could automatically assign dishes top passengers seats, updated to crew’s PEDs so they know who gets what, and keep a running stock in real-time so that passengers can be offered alternatives either by the application or the crew when their first choice is no longer available. The data gathered from that process can help inform the airlines’ catering choices, ensuring less food waste onboard, and adequate stock of more popular items on a specific route. Less food waste is not only better for the environment, it also represents a significant boost to the airline’s bottom line.

On a connected aircraft, passengers can also be alerted on the status of their RFD-tracked baggage, and on the status of their connecting flight. Informed passengers will have fewer reasons to seek-out help from customer service representatives either on the ground at the airport or at call centres or on social. That passengers can self-serve through digital tools to be in control of the journey saves both the passengers and the airline time and money.

Valour finds the effort companies are putting into these cabin digitalisation  developments is yielding returns, even in harsh market conditions. “Despite the impact of COVID-19 on airline expenditure, many cockpit and cabin application vendors have performed resiliently in the face of extremely challenging market conditions. Indeed, some have even emerged stronger from the past couple of years. This is because applications such as performance optimisation solutions and electronic tech logs (ETLs) offer considerable cost savings to airlines by either saving on fuel or improving turnaround times,” they write. “Still, significant challenges remain. The market remains fragmented and the dual effects of integration difficulties and dependency on connectivity, which some applications require to have full functionality, means growth is hindered to a degree.”


The IoT of planes


The integration of various digitalised cabin systems is another challenge ahead, as Valour points, out. But vendors are actively working to ensure that happens.

As I reported for the Runway Girl Network last year, in an interview with Diehl about their new CANSAS [cabin area network system and services] platform, data exchange standards are in the works to support a variety of PEDs, applications, and ‘smart’ cabin systems onboard. The German manufacturer has joined other industry stakeholders, including include Jeppesen, Rolls-Royce, MTU Aero Engines, SAP, and Lufthansa on the OpsTimal Research Project, which aims to define protocols to guide the development of secure interoperable systems.


The Role of 5G

While recent headlines have drawn attention to ‘teething’ issues with 5G roll-outs near airports in the United States, the technical benefits of this new high-speed connectivity both on the ground and in the air will boost airline digitalisation, addressing some of the barriers to growth that Valour Consultancy identifies.

SITA has offered some insight on this and a promising view of what lies ahead.

“In a world where some three billion of us – and counting – have our world on our smartphones, people’s dependence on universal, ‘always-on’ mobile connectivity is set for surefire growth,” SITA writes. “And this is just as true onboard the aircraft, as on the ground. When our predecessors conducted the first inflight cellular data transmission more than a decade ago, no one would have anticipated having to adjust to life in a pandemic. But in the today and tomorrow of the post-COVID-19 flying experience, new inflight mobile services, offering expanded capacity and capabilities, will become increasingly relevant to airlines and passengers.”

SITA concludes: “While there is a famous lag in the time it takes for terrestrial trends to land in the cabin, it’s just a matter of time before inflight 5G comes onboard. And when it does, it’ll not just enable an improved and unified passenger experience. It’ll have the performance and capacity necessary to handle fast-mounting rates of mobile and connected device usage, and all the innovation potential that lies within.”