Passenger’s most important carry-on? Their data
In aviation, the changes brought about by digital transformation have tremendous potential to impact flight efficiency, customer service, maintenance and security, with more than just airlines realizing the benefits. Air traffic control, airports and passengers are just a few of the groups that will be impacted by the digital transformation in this ecosystem.
Airline passengers are already experiencing some of these transformations first-hand through in-flight broadband access, enhanced entertainment options and other services. Thales is at the forefront, with more than 750,000 airline passengers using our InFlyt Experience systems every day, and delivering capabilities that allow a broadband Internet connection and live TV viewing at 36,000 feet in the air.
The connected airline also gives air carriers an enormous opportunity to link aircraft, airports and their third-party service providers in a way that will help them understand their passengers’ DNA and provide a new level of customer service, whether an aircraft is in the air or on the ground.
Just like an online consumer at home who is constantly fed a set of recommendations, airlines will soon be able to use data in the same way to help them improve their passenger experience and, in the process, achieve greater revenues. This ability already exists in the terrestrial consumer world; Thales is working to apply it to the airline passenger world as well.
The same algorithms that provide information about online consumer purchases can help airlines know their passengers even better. For example, airlines will see the flight patterns and preferences of their frequent fliers. Taken to the next level, airport and passenger data could be used to help a mother traveling with kids find helpful services, products and destinations during an airport layover. During the same layover, business travelers, seniors and young couples could be similarly identified and notified of services that would create a unique, tailored experience.
Driving this transformation, of course, is an insatiable appetite for the connectivity of personal digital devices, and the expectation that they will be connected anywhere and at any time. It’s relatively easy to stay connected at home, in the office and in the airport, so why not on an airline?
The barriers to seamless in-flight connectivity are falling quickly. Naturally, there is some additional infrastructure buildout required to remove the barriers that remain. This infrastructure buildout, primarily space-based, will ultimately support broadband access to all airlines around the world.
In the meantime, “personalization” is going to remain the key word for airlines, and work is underway to enhance the experience with better advertising and shopping content by destination, and the creation of access to an always-connected travel experience – including scheduling/rescheduling information in the event of a delay, re-routing or cancellation.
Soon, we will enable pairing of personal electronic devices such as smart phones, tablets, fitness trackers and smart watches – allowing airlines to monitor an in-flight micro-social network, with insight into what is “trending on board.”
These capabilities will give airlines a critical look at passengers to enable more personalized experiences for each passenger, which will drive brand loyalty, greater client satisfaction and stronger auxiliary revenue streams.
Enabled in part by global air traffic modernization and other systems coming online, big data analytics will play a major role in the digital transformation of the aviation ecosystem. With close to a terabyte of information generated from each passenger airline flight – and even more from newer models such as Boeing’s 787, Airbus’ A350 and others – we are in possession of an embarrassment of data riches, which we are now able to leverage for our customers’ benefit.
Data analytics are predicted to be one of the strongest transformation factors for airlines because of big data’s potential to improve ground operations, support faster turn times and enable more effective airspace management solutions. All of these improvements will inject efficiency into the system and generate savings for airlines that are typically operating on the slimmest of margins (an estimated 4% for 2015, according to IATA).
This new wealth of data is also leading us to a connected airline that understands more about its customers and meets their connectivity expectations – from booking a ticket, to arriving at the airport, taking a flight and beyond. The right amount of in-flight bandwidth and the effective use of big data will get us there.
According to airline executives, industry leaders who want to stay competitive have no other option but to engage in this digital transformation as quickly as technology will allow.
Today, 60 percent of U.S. business travelers demand in-flight WiFi. Recently, JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes acknowledged that within 5 or 10 years, ubiquitous in-flight broadband connectivity feet is going to be a basic requirement for 100 percent of air travelers. So industry leaders who move early will have a tremendous advantage, he says.
But when he considers that some airlines still don’t think that digital transformation is about giving customers what they want – by controlling or limiting Internet access, for example – he says, “It’s enough to make your head explode.”
At Thales, we will continue to work with industry leaders to bring about the digital transformation that the airlines and their customers demand.