Full aircraft e-Enablement will take 5-plus years: industry expert

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NEWPORT BEACH: Inflight connectivity consultant Michael Planey has been bridging the gap between engineering and marketing for his airline clients for more than 16 years. So, when Planey took the stage with Inmarsat’s VP of Aviation, David Coiley at the APEX Technology Conference yesterday in Newport Beach to talk about the E-Aircraft concept as the future of inflight connectivity, people definitely listened.

While the E-Aircraft concept sounds simple enough – offering nose-to-tail connectivity to support airline safety and operations, plus crew and passenger applications – a concerted, industry-wide rollout of the concept has been anything but simple, a sentiment expressed this fall by international airlines.

RGN caught up with Planey after yesterday’s session for a quick chat on E-Aircraft, which is also referred to as aircraft “e-Enablement” in the airline industry.

“There are parts of the E-Aircraft concept that are starting to happen now,” said Planey. “But, in terms of populating the eco-system with flora and fauna and everything else, it’s going to be five to seven years before you see an aircraft or an airline that is really up and running with vibrant, real-time data sharing.”

“I mean, you get a 787 now from Boeing and you can buy, I think they call it, the ‘GoldCare Package’ for data, and they’ll be dumping gigabytes of data on you after every flight. But the airlines don’t always know what to do with the data. There are a lot of other questions to go with it and I think the biggest thing we’re going to see is that when you have real-time connectivity the airline needs to decide what [they] want in real time? What can [they] process after the flight lands? What do [their] partners need?”

He added, “The engine manufacturers are a big part of this and the maintenance shop is a big part of this if [the airline] has third party maintenance. Carriers will also have retail solutions, Duty Free solutions, all of those things can be enabled with an E-Aircraft, but, the airlines are really taking baby steps along that path right now.”

Part of the challenge for the APEX association moving forward, said Planey, is expanding the reach of the concept from the #PaxEx (passenger experience) arena into the entirety of airline operations. “The people here are not able to answer questions that the guys in the engine repair shop are going to have, that the people in the maintenance operations are going to have, or even that the customer service at the airport are going to have. We’re the progenitor of all of this, but we need to bring a lot more people into the discussions.”

Planey suggests that perhaps the best approach right now may be for APEX to take a “leadership role” in educating people from the airlines and outside partners alike on the concept. “Those are all things that APEX can do within the bounds of this association as it is today,” said Planey.

And lastly, Planey said it’s important to remember something Coiley brought up earlier in the discussion. ACARS, a datalink for transmission of short messages between aircraft and ground stations, “was created as the system to essentially make sure that the paid rates were accurate, so you got your times down, and now, 40 years later, ACARS is used for so many different things that it never would have been envisioned for before.

“That’s how I feel about this part of the network. Connectivity came onboard to start providing email to passengers but the reality is that 30 years from now, connectivity will be used for everything else beyond that. And how do we get from here through the next couple of years so that in 30 years we’ll have achieved that? Well, that’s what APEX’s role really is.”

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Photo above courtesy of Honeywell

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