One-on-one with Gogo’s new COO John Wade

Gogo recently promoted longtime industry veteran John Wade to the role of executive vice president and Chief Operating Officer with responsibility for the company’s operations, quality control, commercial airline account management and commercial sales. Wade, who previously served as general manager of Gogo’s Business Aviation division, did not replace anybody at Gogo. Rather, several “existing functional organizations” have been merged into the new role of COO, he told RGN after the announcement hit the wires. “You can think of it as being a very traditional COO function,” he said. Wade will still maintain oversight over Business Aviation, but Gogo veteran Sergio Aguirre has been promoted to serve as senior vice president and general manager of Gogo’s business aviation division. Whilst we had Wade on the phone, we peppered him with questions. Our Q&A is below.

Why appoint a COO now?

JW: I think if you look at the success that 2Ku has had over the last few months, we’ve announced over 1,200 aircraft for 2Ku, a very big backlog and we’ve got multiple airline partners selecting 2Ku on a global basis and therefore the company is really ready to expand its international and global capabilities. I have a background of 30 years in aviation and have delivered to many airlines globally and really understand what it takes to become a highly capable and efficient aviation supplier and so the timing was very appropriate in terms of the global expansion of Gogo into the global aviation market.

What are your main priorities for Gogo in this role? What do you see as the most important next steps for the company?

JW: We are very close to the point where we are going to be deploying to multiple airlines globally and multiple airframe types globally and the installation rate of 2Ku is going to go up dramatically here on. So the timing is very much triggered by the rapid arrival and deployment of the 2Ku feet.

What is more important for Gogo at this point – gaining requisite STCs and completing installs as part of the aforementioned ramp-up or securing new customers?

JW: I think both have importance to Gogo moving forward. It’s clearly important to our current customers that we execute flawlessly and that the rollout of 2Ku meet their expectation s,and we firmly believe that the technology is capable enough to demonstrate its market superiority and will inevitably lead to more airline customers.

How is Aeromexico’s Netflix promotion faring? Is 2Ku easily handling the video streams?

JW: We have seven [Aeromexico] aircraft installed today and we have very successful streaming capability with Netflix on those aircraft and we’re seeing multiple passengers doing multiple streams of Netflix and I don’t think we’ve had a single complaint yet. We do know that the response from passengers have been very positive. Whether Aeromexico decides to continue [with this particular promo], I’m not sure. But I can say clearly that 2Ku will enable a new capability for passengers to stream and watch videos.

So as Delta rolls out 2Ku and switches it on, passengers should expect to be able to stream videos? What will that look like? Pricing?

JW: Yes, I think it will look like – you log onto your Netflix account and you click away and watch videos to your heart’s content. We’re still in the process of finalizing all of that [price points/whether there will be a new tier] with airline partners, so it’s premature to get into that so watch this space. I have yet to fly 2Ku personally but I know those who have are all delighted with the performance that they’re seeing.

So there is enough Ku capacity over the US to support a good streaming experience?

JW: We are extremely confident about our ability to add capacity whether over the US or internationally. [CEO] Michael Small has been making the point quite rightly that the capacity of Ku constellations easily exceeds the amount of capacity we’ll need in aviation so we see no issues at all in terms of capacity.

The competition is fierce; Panasonic claims it will have 12,000 narrowbodies fitted with its solution by 2025; are you making any similar forecasts?

JW: No we are not. I am curious about how they do the math to come to that number. We are extremely confident in how 2Ku performs compared to the competition and over the coming months, there will be more opportunities for passengers and airlines to test 2Ku. We think it’s a winner and think airlines will make the decision for 2Ku. Whether Panasonic is right about the overall [future] market adoption remains to be seen but I’d certainly question their [current] market share compared to ours.

What about getting into maritime, and diversifying like Global Eagle is doing? Any interest?

JW: No, we very much focus on aviation. We think there is benefit and competitive advantage in being focused on a single market. We are absolutely focused on our airline customers; they have no need to be concerned that we’ll get distracted with other markets, and can rely on Gogo to be number one in performance in aviation. 

Panasonic and other inflight connectivity providers are eyeing the RJ market. Is Gogo studying satellite connectivity solutions for its large ATG-installed RJ base?

JW: Gogo is by no means new to satellite. If you look at my previous role, we’re the world’s largest supplier of Iridium for many years and have a massive fleet of satellite solutions for business aviation so we’re very familiar. My own view is there is no one network that will satisfy all of aviation. There will be a need for ATG, a need for satellite, and we’ll look and be involved. All I see for regional jets [from PAC] seems to be a tail mount antenna and based on my experience I don’t think the regional carriers will want to go to a tail mount solution If that is indeed what they plan to bring forward. I don’t think that will replace the dominance of ATG today for smaller aircraft.

The Gogo BizAv side of the business is still selling Inmarsat Global Xpress (GX); what has the interest been like for this product in bizav and how does it compare to 2Ku in commercial?

JW: There is not really a true comparison. GX or Jet ConneX as they call it for business aviation is very well suited for bizav because the capacity demand that you have for bizav is radically different from mainline commercial transport. We in bizav see Jet ConneX as very relevant and I’d argue [it’s] the most relevant for transoceanic business aircraft. But that comparison breaks down when you look at the capacity needs of commercial transport and when you look at the capacity for Ku and the cost of Ku, and that’s demonstrated by the way the airlines are making decisions today. It plays back into the concept that there is no one killer solution for aviation; different networks are optimized for different [models].

Do you see a need to partner with any embedded IFE firms going forward to offer a full IFEC package or is this not necessary?

JW: I think it’s a great question. The entire world as it relates to traditional embedded IFE – and that’s how I cut my teeth 25 years ago – is about to change. The traditional players will have to reinvent themselves and we pay close attention to what’s happening there and in terms of our strategy we’re evolving it and you’ll see more from us in the near future but it’s changing faster than the IFC world is today.

How are you progressing with obtaining linefit offerability?

JW: Very well, we’re progressing very strongly with Boeing and Airbus and I think the OEMs are recognizing the success that 2Ku is seeing with the airlines, and [see it as] a technology that is applicable to their future.

Consolidation continues to be predicted for the industry, and even some competitors are predicting Gogo’s demise. What do you say to that?

JW: It’s great to be the target for everybody predicting our demise; it means we’re winning. We’re very well positioned for the future, we have a healthy balance sheet, market leading technology and [strong] backlog and I think those betting against us will regret it in the end.

300-x-300_v-planes[2]Are there any lessons from running the Business Aviation side of Gogo that will transfer to your new role?

JW: I’d go beyond my experience in bizav to the other programs I have been involved in which required a very rapid expansion of our capabilities. What makes this a successful organization is a clear focus on quality, process and how you get to a very lean and highly effective organization. Those lessons I’ve learned over the years in the three generations of technology are very applicable to what Gogo does today and we’ll be seen as a very, very efficient organization.

Gogo is hiring lot of new employees – how many people to you need to support the 1,200 aircraft on the orderbook? Do you need to grow your own engineers focused on STC packages, for instance?

JW: We obviously will continue to grow as the company grows but I don’t think we’re that far off in terms of where we need to be in terms of headcount. We’re very much today a global company and people probably see us as US-centric but we’re global so in terms of talent, our main headquarters is in Chicago, and we have capable groups in Colorado, in Southern California and in Seattle, and we’ll continue to develop regional capability around the world. Any highly capable folks out there looking for a job, please send us a resume!