Icelandair brings 757s into this century by digitizing the fleet


Icelandair says it is “digitizing” its fleet of 16 Boeing 757s in a bid to generate fuel savings, improve flight plan accuracy, and drive other operational benefits from nose to tail.

In a remarkably revealing interview with the AirInsight consultancy, Icelandair project manager Einar Ingvi Andresson explained how the carrier is “e-enabling” its 757s even though the aged jetliners were never built that way.

“I’m a younger guy so I often joke that we’re taking analog aircraft and making it digital for the 21th century,” says Andresson, adding, “We are slowly but surely making the 757 digital.”

So what is the carrier doing? Icelandair has tapped Panasonic Avionics for a solution called ‘FlightLink’, which leverages Iridium’s low earth orbit satellite network to support flight deck voice and data, independent GPS, continuous real-time aircraft tracking, and weather data aggregation.

Noting that Icelandair “routinely flies latitudes of 77 or 78 degrees north”, is extending its route network to places like Anchorage this summer and is flying “more and more” to the west coast of the US and Canada, Andresson says the carrier wanted to increase its connectivity capability in the flight deck “and that is what Iridium provides us” since the satellite service is truly global.

A key component of FlightLink is TAMDAR, technology that collects high quality weather data from the atmosphere during the flight, and which is owned by Panasonic. TAMDAR “will give us more capabilities regarding flight plan accuracy” because it’s “ops-driven and we’re trying to create more accurate flight plans”, says Andresson.

Fuel optimization on long-haul flights from Iceland to the west coast is critically important “and what we’re doing is DDDM – data-driven decision making – dynamically optimizing our cost index and basically our map on the fly” with these enhanced communications. Panasonic currently provides turbulence forecasting within the web portal that Icelandair will be able to access, as well as icing information, which is obviously really beneficial to Icelandair, says Andresson.

He tells AirInsight that Icelandair will view its connected aircraft as “another node on the network” and that this solution will be cheaper than traditional ACARS.

Interestingly, while Icelandair selected Panasonic for these cockpit communications, it has tapped Global Eagle Entertainment for Ku-band satellite-supported cabin connectivity. Andresson believes Icelandair is the first carrier to take this particular hybrid approach. He says that while Global Eagle’s Row 44 unit is “constantly increasing their coverage” the carrier suspects it still won’t have cabin connectivity for about two hours on certain polar routes.

Crew tablets are also an important part of Icelandair’s e-enablement strategy. AirInsight’s interview reveals details about the carrier’s release of a RFP for crew tablets. “So yeah, it’s a holistic approach to digitizing the aircraft”, says Andresson.