SITAONAIR desires middleware position for commercial aviation IoT

It would be fair to say that Runway Girl Network has had its eye firmly on SITAONAIR since the company’s recent reorganisation. With what seemed to be scatter-shot, uncoordinated media engagement from within the company and from contracted PR representatives, RGN was wondering whether the confusion signalled corporate turmoil.

It was in that context that SITAONAIR chief executive David Lavorel, newly appointed in January 2016 from inside the company (and, as SVP corporate development and head of the CEO’s office, from inside the C-suite), sat down with Runway Girl Network to discuss the company’s plans.

Among the numerous issues discussed openly and collaboratively: SITAONAIR wants to be the middleware for the commercial aviation Internet of Things, and it was with that point that Lavorel began our interview.

“What is missing today in the industry — and that is our strong vision — is kind of a middleware technology, an IT technology that needs to sit on both the servers on the aircraft and that needs to be much more open from an innovation perspective that bridges between the two,” Lavorel said. “That is something we have been offering more, and we are focusing at this minute on the aircraft management side of things, the operational data, because that is our DNA, our comfort zone.”

kontron newest“This is where we know we are relevant and we are capable of bringing something that is credible,” Lavorel continued. “But I have been discussing with my team that we need to gradually understand how we bring this IT technology innovation to bridge the gaps into the two things. And the difficulty if you look at the IT world the trick is, let’s put it this way: the old way of saying I am going to do it myself is over.”

“As I come from the IT world, I find it’s striking that there is a lot of proprietary thinking into the cabin space,” Lavorel noted. “I don’t want to point to any specific people around us here, but they are all thinking in terms of locking in the technology, owning every bit of the IT environment space because that has been the way this industry has worked. I don’t think it is going to bring passenger experience [improvements] if the industry does not evolve.”

“Look at how Silicon Valley is working today,” Lavorel said. “It works on the business of open technology, sharing ideas, fast turnaround. That is not what our industry is doing. Now, I am not discarding the certification side of things, which is really important.”

As an example of an alternative approach, Lavorel noted SITAONAIR’s “portal software. It’s not huge, but what we have been doing is spending quite a lot of time loading onboard the parts that need to be certified — the minimum set of IT — and then deploying more functionalities from the ground, on the cloud, to enable fast turnaround.”

“I think we are getting to the point,” Lavorel said, “that the vision we are having is that we need to increasingly be able to bring onboard the minimum work with all of the industry partners — to bring onboard the minimum set of IT capabilities that then are able to interface with the cloud technology and things.”

RGN posed the question of whether this approach worked better as a combined proprietary operating system or as a series of standards to ensure interoperability between the different providers.

“That is where the conversation is interesting,” Lavorel said, “because when we decided to form SITAONAIR we had quite an in depth conversation with our stakeholders. Our stakeholders are formed of probably the top thirty-five airlines in the world. We are representative of our stakeholders — we have historical national carriers which have been there. We have the advent of the Middle East and fast paced innovation. We have got JetBlue represented to our board. We have had Chinese airlines representatives. So we have broad representation of the airlines.”

“And they are increasingly a little bit concerned to be locked into technical choices and very strongly vertically integrated components and they don’t like it too much,” Lavorel noted. “So whether they are ready to push for standardization or generally they are pushing everybody to say ‘please work with open architectures and APIs’, I think the industry is not yet into standardization because everybody has huge investments and wants to protect their investment. But the customers I think are going to increasingly raise their voice in saying ‘you need to open up your platforms’. Some of those airlines are sophisticated enough to want to bring their own components into the game.”

RGN asked Lavorel for his views on whether the airline industry might be, in the wake of blood-soaked integrations or changeovers of legacy systems during either mergers or airline transitions (from LCC to full service carrier, say), more ready to look at a new standards-based technological approach.

“There is a famous Irish statement,” Lavorel concluded, “which basically, long story short, is ‘if I were you I would not start from where you are’. And that has been the situation with the IT systems of the industry. There has been long debate about it in the industry as to how people can really innovate and come with fresh views on IT innovation and start from scratch.”