Global Eagle makes big data play with masFlight and navAero buys

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There is a lot of talk in the aviation industry about how to drive operational efficiencies at airlines by leveraging data from broadband connected aircraft. But while stakeholders have proffered a number of big picture scenarios about what this new paradigm will look like, and a few airline programs have offered hints – such as Delta’s connected crew initiative and Lufthansa’s real-time electronic flight bag (EFB) applications for pilots – there have been more questions than answers, and a lack of truly granular detail. Eager to connect the dots for airlines by taking raw avionics data off aircraft, transmitting it to the ground via connectivity, and translating it to support real-time decision making, Ku-band connectivity provider Global Eagle Entertainment has announced it will acquire airline operational data powerhouse masFlight and leading EFB and cockpit data solutions provider navAero.

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The acquisitions will form the foundation of Global Eagle’s new GEE Operations Solutions business line, which will also include some existing Global Eagle products, and will launch with a high-profile base of global aviation customers served by masFlight and navAero. The end goal for Global Eagle is simple: be the first to market with a “complete connected aircraft solution” that will help airlines improve operations, realize cost efficiencies, and enhance the overall passenger experience (#paxex).

Josh Marks, founder and CEO of masFlight, will head up the new business line. Speaking to RGN today, he highlighted the strengths of both firms, noting that navAero’s team “is extremely skilled at the hardware integration side of EFB, and that’s critical because you have to build that link between cockpit and connectivity systems, and that’s what navAero does well”. Simone Giordano, president of navAero, says the integration “will accelerate adoption of connected EFB solutions and offer new capabilities for customers, such as real-time weather, flight re-route analysis and situational awareness for both pilots and operational managers”. The company’s proprietary equipment is already installed on more than 3,500 aircraft worldwide.

Bethesda, Maryland-based masFlight, meanwhile, “understands the soft angles of this and how to create information that is usable and provide tools that are necessary for pilots, and allow airline operations [centers] to make the right call in real time”, says Marks. “The two companies fit together hand in glove, and fit into Global Eagle’s overall plan.” The masFlight founder’s comments could be seen as modest. A source who has worked directly with Marks and masFlight in the past tells RGN that the company boasts “a unique strength” with a cloud-based intelligence platform for operational data that big data rivals in the market haven’t been able to match.

Runway_Girl_Gogo_Advert_-01Do airlines need to be inflight connectivity customers of Global Eagle in order to leverage the services of its new GEE Operations Solutions line? In a word, no. “When you look at an airline like United, which is a significant customer of masFlight and navAero – and uses a diversified package of inflight connectivity systems – our platform will work with whatever conduit the airline has chosen to use. The connectivity piece depends on bandwidth; it needs a high-speed connection so the constraint is not the vendor, but the quality of the connection that matters. We want to maintain an open architecture and work with whatever provider. So this does not depend on any single connectivity vendor.”

With that said, Marks notes that there will obviously be incremental value added for Global Eagle connectivity customers. Kevin Trosian, VP investor relations at Global Eagle, says the firm’s new deal with flydubai to bring connectivity to its Boeing 737NG fleet “included a provision for operational solutions and as far as them knowing what was going on, they understood what our plans were”. To have everything be integrated – Global Eagle connectivity + masFlight + navAero solutions – is ideal, “but we also can be agnostic”, adds Trosian.

For Marks, the dream of being able to ensure avionics data gets into the hands of end analysts in real-time has always been a fantasy, but “that fantasy is coming true” with today’s announcement.

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