Technology in The Cabin Part 2: The Transformative Power of Technology

Technology in The Cabin Part 2: The Transformative Power of Technology

Part two of our Technology in the Cabin series focuses on how technology has the power to enhance and transform every journey. In-flight entertainment is set for a massive overhaul in this new decade, with new systems and gadgets making their way to the skies. Read on to find out more.

If you missed part one of this series, head here to read it first.

Keeping in touch with the ground

As outlined by Gogo’s Blane Boynton, the benefits of connectivity go beyond keeping in touch with those on the ground, reading emails or browsing the internet. It is also about providing passengers with more choice over what they watch or listen to, and how they choose to consume it.

Interestingly, IATA’s Global Passenger Survey reveals a shift in attitudes to onboard technology. In 2016, 51% of customers preferred to use their own devices. Now, 54% would rather use seatback devices, with only 36% still choosing a personal device. This trend may reverse following COVID-19 and worries about the spread of disease on surfaces.

The global in-flight entertainment market continues its path on an upward trajectory with the sector expected to grow at a CAGR of 10.8%, with an anticipated value of $12,419.7 million by 2027. Airlines have been quick to embrace this opportunity, creating rich passenger experiences onboard, but emerging technologies will continue to disrupt the IFE market.

More third-party content coming to planes

A panel of industry experts came together at PEC 2019 to discuss how to innovate and improve the passenger experience. The panel talked about everything from new business models to the opportunity to drive high-value engagement through third-party content producers.

One example of third-party content came from Don Buchman, Viasat’s Vice President of Commercial Aviation. They recently live-streamed a Willie Nelson concert to all connected American Airlines planes using Viasat’s service capabilities.

Another third-party partnership was also announced by Erwan Perhirin, managing director of Customer Experience and Onboard Products at American Airlines. It had partnered with Apple Music to give passengers access to more than 50 million songs, playlists and music videos for free on any domestic flight equipped with Viasat Wi-Fi. The landmark agreement makes American Airlines the first commercial airline to provide free access to Apple Music through its in-flight Wi-Fi.

“We believe sponsored access models will help remove friction-related cost barriers and ultimately uplift the passengers’ journey.”

Speaking about the collaboration, Perhirin believed it signalled a ‘new era in IFEC’, and has enabled the airline to ‘think differently, and discover new partnerships that they didn’t think were possible.’

Viasat’s Buchman added: “We’re looking at how we can help airlines change the fee-for-service model and enable all passengers to be connected in-flight. We believe sponsored access models will help remove friction-related cost barriers and ultimately uplift the passengers’ journey.”

Expanding portfolios mean better choice for passengers

As demonstrated by American Airlines and Viasat, airlines and IFEC providers are expanding their portfolios to stay ahead of evolving passenger demands for more onboard personalisation and immersive experiences.

It’s not just in-flight entertainment under the spotlight. Even with a range of options available via IFE systems, maps are still a popular customer choice. However, a static 2D map plotting the plane’s progress is no longer good enough. Today, 3D maps that inform the passenger of the flight progress but also provide additional journey information are making their way onboard.

Panasonic Avionics used AIX 2019 to announce the addition of its new integrated moving map and data analytics platform to its NEXT supported suite of IFEC solutions. The ARC in-flight map platform can be integrated with Panasonic’s Loyalty personalisation programme, Marketplace e-commerce solution, and newly announced data analytics service Insights, to provide a 3D immersive map experience tailored to individual flights and passengers. The system ties in with Panasonic’s Wellness solution to provide passengers with information to help minimise the effects of jet lag by calculating time zones crossed without the need to enter data.

Speaking at a media briefing at AIX in April, Panasonic head of innovation, Andrew Mohr revealed it was the ‘first truly personalised map application of its kind’.

Creating immersive experiences

While partnerships with on-demand streaming providers may meet current passenger expectations, new technologies that exceed and delight are fast emerging. There are new opportunities to keep passengers entertained onboard using virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) technology.

With VR and AR the opportunities are endless but largely untested. From aiding those with a fear of flying by transforming the cabin into a calm environment of their choosing, to enabling aviation enthusiasts to see outside of the cabin and fly along with the plane like a bird high above the clouds. Anything is possible and plenty of experimentation is still needed.

Airlines, such as Iberia, have been quick to trial the technology with the announcement of a six-month IFE trial. It will enable passengers to experience 3D and VR content including games, films, city travelogues, documentaries and immersive experiences, such as dives into the Red Sea.

Speaking about the Iberia trial, Nikolas Jaeger, founder and managing director of Inflight VR, said: “We think virtual reality has great potential and it can change the air passenger experience as a part of the in-flight entertainment programme. The viewer is no longer a mere observer but can take a stroll in the city he or she will be visiting, or simply relax before arriving at the destination.”

Flying in virtual reality

Iberia is not the only airline to start testing the technology with both Air France and Alaska Airlines having previously offered VR in-flight entertainment. They have also been exploring its uses as a cabin crew training tool, design aid and way for passengers to experience a cabin. The latter was used by Lufthansa to showcase Premium Economy before boarding with several passengers then going on to upgrade their seats.

Further demonstrating the possibilities of VR onboard, AIX 2019 exhibitor SkyLights revealed its 3D, virtual reality Allosky headset.  The headset has been successfully integrated with Stelia’s compact, staggered Opal seat to offer cinematic and virtual reality experiences. It has also been combined with a ‘rumble and vibration strip from InSeat Solutions’ and is set to provide a full 4D cinematic viewing experience for passengers.

Join us next week as we look at catering and how it will be affected by the technology of the future onboard.

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Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) is the world’s leading cabin interiors event where airlines and the supply chain to meet and has been for over 20 years. AIX plays host to the latest innovations, technologies and products for the cabin interiors, inflight entertainment and passenger comfort industries.

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