In Conversation Transcribed: AIX 2019

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John Walton: Hello, and welcome to Runway Girl Network In Conversation, a deep dive into aviation and the passenger experience. I’m RGN deputy editor John Walton, and today we have a bumper episode because I’m in conversation with our editor, Mary Kirby, and with RGN journalist, Marisa Garcia. This episode, we’re wrapping up the Aircraft Interiors Expo 2019 live from Hamburg. But first, thanks to our sponsor. In Conversation is brought to you by Boltaron, a SIMONA company, purveyor of high performance thermoplastics for tomorrow’s aircraft interiors. As you draw the latch of your tray table, consider the texture and form of the tray, shaped specifically for in flight service convenience. That’s Boltaron. Learn more at the all new

John Walton: Now, Runway Girls, welcome to the show.

Mary Kirby: Thank you so much, John.

Marisa Garcia: Thank you, John.

John Walton: We have so many areas of discussion today. We’re going to talk about the 737 MAX, about maps, about IFC, about touch surfaces, but I think first we do have to talk about 737 MAX. The Initial report from the Ethiopian investigation has just been released. We haven’t had a chance to fully review that, but there are passenger experience implications of what’s happening in the industry around the MAX at this point. Mary, I know you’ve been chasing that story all day. Do you want to bring us up to date?

Mary Kirby: Yes, absolutely. So effectively when the story broke this morning that the Ethiopian airline pilots actually had done what they were supposed to do and executed on, in fact, the FAA approved procedure in the event of an MCAS situation, it kind of changed the trajectory of my day, because I had set up all of these different interviews with different companies to learn about seats and product and services and everything else, and suddenly it was that we need to now understand the impact to our industry of the MAX potentially being grounded for a fairly substantial amount of time in our world.

John Walton: Well, and indeed in everyone’s world.

Mary Kirby: Yes.

John Walton: I was speaking with a CEO who asked be kept nameless, but a major CEO here at the show, who said that that person has been asking around the show all the people they come into contact with to say how long they think the MAX will be out of service, and the average that the CEO told me was two and half months.

Mary Kirby: Okay. Yes.

John Walton: And I’m just one person … I think that’s probably low-balling it.

Marisa Garcia: Yes. I was hearing three to six by some people on the show floor today.

John Walton: Yes. I would be surprised if we have a wrap-up episode at APEX in September and it’s flying.

Mary Kirby: Which is … it’s kind of stunning really. I think a lot of us are in a little bit of shock at everything that’s transpired and how it’s all happened.

John Walton: Yes, particularly the how. That was really difficult. So let’s talk about the implications, Mary. What are they?

Mary Kirby: In the immediate term, what we are hearing from suppliers to the MAX is obviously sales have dropped off the cliff. That’s not going to surprise anybody, but if you’re providing a product on the 737 MAX, your projections, your targets that you had for that aircraft and your sales, suddenly it’s a very cloudy area for you. I was hearing from folks that, “We’re really excited about being a part of the MAX now”, saying, “Okay, hang around, we have to change our targets because of this”.

Mary Kirby: That’s the immediate … the sales drop-off is the immediate, but we’re also hearing about some airlines rethinking … in fact, the airlines that had ordered the MAX and of course, there’s plenty in China and India that had, rethinking whether they’re going to take those aircraft or not, and then also looking at whether or not they can potentially get some A320s, which is not as easy as you know snapping your fingers and making that happen, because Airbus is years out with production.

Mary Kirby: So then, what does that mean with suppliers? And so I talked to some of the suppliers on the show floor that are linefit offerable on the A320 that say on one hand, this could be beneficial to them because they might get new business, but on the other hand the sentiment is that overall this is a negative for our industry. There’s a lot more scrutiny now on how the FAA handles certification because EASA operates in lockstep with many things that the FAA does, there may be pain then that pivots over across the pond and around the world, and so the ripple effect is already starting to happen.

John Walton: And of course the loss of trust in aviation.

Mary Kirby: Yes. The credibility issue is a big one right now.

John Walton: It’s a big problem.

Marisa Garcia: Well, that’s exactly right. And you have to take the end customer in mind and passengers are very concerned right now, and if passengers are concerned about the story, they’re concerned about safety, then what’s going to need to happen is there needs to be a definitive answer on “we have fixed this”. That’s not an easy one to give because you’re not talking about a particular piece part that you can say, “Oh, we’ve replaced this screw”, or “We’ve replaced this battery”. Now you’re talking about a software fix and that is a completely different animal.

Marisa Garcia: So Boeing will really have a challenge ahead of them. I think they’re up to it. It’s not as though they lack engineering expertise. I think they’re up to it, but they have been in this story on a defensive from the beginning and that’s not a place to be. You want to be proactive, especially in today’s social media kind of, and face rapid sharing of information. For them to hold to the old school, “We’ll get back to you when we are formally allowed to speak” is understandable, but it’s out of sync.

John Walton: Yes.

Marisa Garcia: They needed to have been out there. They could have been sharing technical guides for journalists from the beginning. “This is what we think. Here, explore this. Here’s an explainer”, and open it up to the public. They could have taken this message and made it clearer so that it was dominated by information rather than by doubts. They failed to do that so I think they’re going to need reverse that trend now and regain trust. With the investigations underway, that’s not going to be easy.

Marisa Garcia: Even with peers, the FAA is right now in hot water with peers because from the moment that the peers announced grounding before the FAA did, we knew we were in uncharted waters. It’s just unusual. So yes, it’s a time of great uncertainty, but the most important thing to remember is that there was loss of life, and that cannot not be happening, period. There’s a zero tolerance policy on safety in aviation, so whatever it takes at this point to be able to tell the flying public, “You’re okay to get back on this aircraft, we can promise you you’re going to be fine”, and for everyone to feel comfortable with that, including people within the industry, do it, whatever it takes. They have to.

Mary Kirby: Who’s going to be willing to make that promise though?

Marisa Garcia: I think EASA is going to be stuck with a big part of the burden.

John Walton: I would agree.

Marisa Garcia: And also the Canadian authority is going to have to give it a vote of confidence.

John Walton: Transport Canada is going to have to do a lot of it.

Marisa Garcia: Yes, Transport Canada, exactly. It’s not going to be … the FAA has to be in a position of service right now to those fellow peers, and say, “Okay, this is what you need from us. Here it is. We’re getting you the information. We’re going to be totally transparent with what we’re doing”. Boeing had that meeting of people to come and hear about the new system, EASA representatives did not show up.

John Walton: Yes, they gave them the cut direct on that one.

Marisa Garcia: They had zero interest in being there. What the exact reasons — I’ve asked, but I haven’t heard back on the exact reasons why they didn’t show up — but the fact was they were not there. Boeing sort of reversed that that a little bit yesterday with Bjørn Kjos showing up to test the system and giving it a big thumbs up. He’s a fighter pilot, so that’s a huge vote of confidence, but at the same time, he has a vested interest in seeing the aircraft fly again, so it’s not exactly an impartial opinion.

Mary Kirby: And the reception on social media has not been kind. They see it as a PR stunt.

John Walton: And you can’t join Twitter and do a thing and not be accused of a PR stunt.

Mary Kirby: Yes, that’s fair.

Marisa Garcia: At this point, that’s the problem. The messaging was off from the beginning, so now regaining credibility is going to be difficult unless they come with clear, transparent, technical information. That may be painful. They may even end up having to disclose things that they believe are proprietary, that they may not want to disclose. But if that’s what it takes to reassure the public and regulators that they’re doing the right thing, at some point they’re going to have to make that hard decision.

Marisa Garcia: We do know that we’re not going to live in a world without Boeing because we’re in a duopoly, we’re going to need to have Boeing around. I think as you said, I don’t think it’s likely that the airline industry is going to write off the MAX either 100%, but they can fly without it even if it’s not the A320, if they have to revert to standard—

Mary Kirby: Pull some MD-80s out of the desert, you know!

John Walton: We were talking about that the moment that it was grounded. The narrowbody crunch is a problem.

Marisa Garcia: It is.

John Walton: I think one of the options is, if you’re an airline, returning to what you’re saying, Mary, one of your options is you fly what you’ve got for a bit longer. The other option is about the A320neo is essentially full at this point, so your choice is to upgauge. I bet you could get a few relatively inexpensive widebodies if you’re an airline and let’s say you have 15 flights a day between, I don’t know, New York and Los Angeles on a narrowbody. Maybe you could upgauge one of those to a widebody, and use those planes for something else. Another option is, I suspect that questions have been asked in Mirabel in Montreal, just how many Airbus A220s, I was going to say Bombardier C Series, can be produced quickly. If you’re an airline, you no longer have confidence in MAX, you want to send a message, do you purchase a large number of CS 300’s and how quickly can you have them.

Mary Kirby: And to be clear, Airbus from the very beginning, ever since the Ethiopian crash, is not happy about this turn of events on any level at all. Even though they may ultimately benefit because of what we’re talking about, their CEO came out with a statement right off the bat saying, “We wouldn’t wish this on anybody. We don’t wish this on Boeing”.

John Walton: Agreed.

Marisa Garcia: Well, as I said earlier, in this the industry has a little bit of a superstitious nature and rightly so. You do not take glee in other people’s misery, that’s — it could happen to anybody. It’s something that you want to just respect the key thing, which is that people have lost their lives. People have lost their families, the UN has lost great charitable people who were doing important things to help advance the human condition, so as I said, it just needs to be a trustworthy fix. I do believe as you both said, there are other aircraft options available, and lessors may have an answer. They’re sitting on a lot of inventory that could fluctuate. I hear there’re a few aircraft from WOW Air that could be… [laughter]

John Walton: …repositioned relatively swiftly. Indeed. Look, I was not expecting the MAX to dominate AIX, but on the final day it did.

John Walton: And I think that’s … I was wondering just how deeply aviation is intertwined, whether it’s from Airbus experiencing similar issues with similar suppliers to Boeing on things. It’s bringing it back to interiors, bringing it back to engines. These are similar problems, on what are essentially similar platforms at this point.

Mary Kirby: Yes.

John Walton: And it’s interesting and little bit troubling to think about what the implications are for the passenger experience industry.

Mary Kirby: Absolutely. How it might ultimately also, from the vendors’ standpoint, not discounting on any level the passengers’ standpoint because if you’re on social media you see passengers that are vowing that they’re never going to fly the MAX. You even see some folks saying that maybe Boeing’s going to have to change the name, or just go back to it being known as the 737 end stop, because the MAX is kind of like a pariah now.

John Walton: Yes.

Mary Kirby: So from that standpoint, it’s palatable, the fear out there. But also from the vendors’ standpoint, they’re concerned because it costs a lot of money to interface with Boeing’s IP. So they’ve invested time and money in order to get on the MAX in the first place. and cold comfort now that these are all being parked and that their targets now are all falling off the cliff. The reverbation is just stunning really.

John Walton: Yes.

Marisa Garcia: The recovery on R&D is…

John Walton: It’s going to be prolonged. Yes. So this show, this AIX, the Aircraft Interiors Expo, I didn’t even get over to the catering side of the show, in the sunlit uplands of West Berlin across the street where there’s fruit and natural daylight. For me, this show is really split into two sections at this point. There’s the IFEC, so inflight entertainment and connectivity for those playing on at home to the north end of the show, and then really the rest of passenger experience, the cabin interiors side in the three huge big halls. So let’s start at the top. Let’s start with next generation IFC architecture and infrastructure. Mary, you were all over this like a…

Mary Kirby: Like a rash! [laughter] Yes. You know this is one of my favorite topics, the connected aircraft, and it’s really going beyond passenger experience. Of course, it’s the nose to tail connected aircraft and everything that you can do with a broadband pipe. And really what we’re starting to see is this next generation antenna technology, and there’s a number of players out there that are edging into this space. It’s going to be a few years, because right now what we have is kind of phased array, electronically steerable antennas that we’re going to see the first line of product coming from these manufacturers. But in order for them to be able to really gain their stride, you might be looking at the second generation before it’s really where it needs to be, but they’re all talking about it now.

John Walton: Like with the current generation antennas, right?.

Mary Kirby: Absolutely. Absolutely. And so the timeframe that we’re hearing is a lot of kind of 2021, 2022, but at that point you have to also imagine that a large percentage of the world fleet, in terms of at least the premium carriers and obviously a lot of the regional low-cost carriers even at this juncture, will have already equipped. What will their temperature be to now take a system off and replace it? So one of the messages that I heard loud and clear this week is that making that process as easy as possible is the name of the game. And so this is where the MROs are now starting to step up and say — and I had a great conversation with Lufthansa Technik today and they said — “We are now starting to see this next generation coming online”, because Lufthansa was one of the original Connection by Boeing customers. They’ve got a bit of experience because—

John Walton: Who remembers 2007?

Mary Kirby: Exactly.

John Walton: Life before iPhones!

Mary Kirby: Exactly. So they’re accustomed to taking kit off, and then of course Panasonic Avionics came in to fill the void that Connexion by Boeing had created, so Lufthansa Technik is feeling kind of very well placed now as this next generation of: it’s a slimmer antenna, these are conformal antennas, so you’re not going to see the large hump, bump, wart, whatever you want to call it. I’m a fan of the wart because it means a connected experience, but you’re going to start seeing a slimmer profile. It began I would say fair play to Gogo with the 2Ku solution. We’re going down that direction of more slim, and ultimately, which is really fascinating to me and now it’s going to take some time, ultimately looking at the possibility of integrating the antenna into the fuselage.

Mary Kirby: And that means building it from the ground up, and that means Boeing and Airbus having those conversations very, very early on and saying, “This is a totally disruptive idea for commercial aviation, and what does it mean and how can we do it safely?”.

John Walton: Right. Yeah, yeah, and you know his means we’re looking at 2030 at the earliest for that sort of thing. Once we start talking about new fuselages…

Mary Kirby: It sounds like pie in the sky, but the last 20 years in my mind have kind of flown by in some ways, so it will be there in a heartbeat.

John Walton: Absolutely. Absolutely. I thought it was really interesting what you were saying about everyone looking towards the upgrade path? I was at Safran RAVE’s stand. I was not expecting to see antennas at that stand.

Mary Kirby: Yes. That was amazing, and that’s for Inmarsat GX.

John Walton: Yes. And they were very clear that, “Look, this can take your smaller radome, we also have a solution for, if you picked the bigger radome last time around, we can put that just on there and it’s fine, and you don’t have to change anything apart from literally the radome and what’s underneath it. That’s really interesting. Now, what I also find interesting, this is the first time that from multiple suppliers I’ve heard the message that, “We know what the future looks like”, and the future seems to look like Ka-band, to me, and I’m … Mary, you’re nodding. This is great radio! [laughter] We’ve all seen many claims about Ku vs. Ka.

Mary Kirby: Yes.

John Walton: I think at this point, the future has been won by Ka.

Mary Kirby: I think a pivotal moment came last fall during the APEX Expo actually, when Panasonic announced, just right in advance of the show, that they had forged a strategic relationship with Inmarsat. Now, for those who haven’t been tracking the industry for a long time, once upon a time, Inmarsat and Panasonic were arch-rivals in the space. To the point that, if I could go back into some of the historic headlines that I’ve written, it got kind of ugly at times, so it was monumental when Panasonic said, “No, actually we are now going to become a strategic partner, effectively a value-added reseller, that is collaborating now and effectively selling the Inmarsat Global Xpress service, which a is Ka-band solution”. When you have the largest inflight entertainment company in the world pivoting to Ka on that level and saying that that will be a primary sales tactic, that’s right when the narrative started to really change.

John Walton: And indeed the largest provider of Ku and one of the earliest providers of Ku.

Mary Kirby: Again, they filled the void left by Connexion, which was a Ku solution and that which was Boeing effectively, originally. But we are heading in that direction. Of course, Viasat has really set the standard from a passenger experience standpoint. The expectation has been set for high capacity Ka.

John Walton: I remember that chilly December morning on JetBlue with you and a whole bunch of other stalwarts of aviation journalism just sort of being wowed, us kicking that thing and trying to make it fall over and it didn’t.

Mary Kirby: To be Skyping in-flight, it remains the best test flight I’ve ever been on, and I believe you have either, in terms of inflight connectivity test flights, and I’ve been on a few.

John Walton: Yes. And that was a good few years ago now, Mary.

Mary Kirby: And it remains the best experience, from a test perspective, that I’ve ever experienced.

John Walton: Yes.

Mary Kirby: We see it on social media, and of course, we’re all living on Twitter and we see the positivity and the talkability around the Viasat solution, and that really has had an impact, and it’s also causing these other inflight connectivity providers that compete with Viasat to say, “Okay, we’re stepping up our game, and how do we support a free model, how do we support a free tier, how do we support Netflix and Hulu and  all of that”, and so it’s helped elevate the entire situation.


John Walton: And people with exposure to the JetBlue experience are now asking for it. When Viasat got in in Europe with the Scandinavians and the Finns, people were saying, “Is this going to be the JetBlue experience?”.

Marisa Garcia: And it is.

John Walton: It really is.

Mary Kirby: And you both have written about it, actually, which has been wonderful.

John Walton: Yes. And both on the two airlines. I still have questions, right? On the streaming tier, the wizardry behind the scenes means that you’re streaming what is basically a medium-def — charitably, a medium def — piece of content? How long is it going to be until people realize that actually if I’m watching on Netflix on the plane, I could download it in my terminal at Helsinki where there’s free 400 Mbps Internet, and in 25 seconds and I could download it in HD and just watch on the plane. That changes your business model but what else changes our business model is that Air New Zealand is giving away GX for free.

Mary Kirby: Yes.

John Walton: What happens when what has been a premium chargeable service is now a hygiene factor?

Mary Kirby: Yes. It really is confirmation that passengers, and we’ve all known it for a while, they expect to be connected, they demand to be connected, but they don’t want to pay to be connected because of the experience we have on the ground of being able to connect with our own mobiles, of course, but also in cafes and hotels and everything else.

John Walton: Expectation not applicable in Germany!

Mary Kirby: Exactly. So how does the industry respond to that because this is not cheap. It’s expensive and it remains expensive.

Marisa Garcia: But as you said, I think there is a perspective. You said the other night at the Crystal Cabin Awards when you gave such a wonderful background on this, such a wonderful speech, it’s a human right at this point, and the Finns have determined this as well. It’s really a matter of being able to communicate and being able to advance yourself, so I don’t think there’s going to be a big appetite for people to treat it like a premium luxury product, and we’ve said that from the beginning really. You’ve both been predicting that.

John Walton: No, absolutely. So where does this leave inflight entertainment? Is it just the moving map? I knew that to be honest, most of the time when I travel I’ve preloaded my own content, because I travel enough that even if I’ve just watched the movies on the way out, there’s nothing new on the way back if I’m going back the same month. So what’s in front of me is a moving map, and I look up every so often and I take a look at it, and I’m all, “How nice, a shipwreck”. We’ve seen a lot of new map stuff, this show. Let’s jump into the map.

Mary Kirby: Yes. It started at 7:30 am at the Panasonic Avionics booth on Tuesday, at the top of the show.

John Walton: Wasn’t that four years ago? It feels like four years ago at this point.

Mary Kirby: Yes. It does. When Panasonic announced that it is going to offer its own kind of native map to its own system, it was kind of a shocking moment because Panasonic has partnered all these years with different companies to offer maps. They sell to airlines their hardware, and then various different map providers supply the software. Those include the Collins Aerospace Airshow Solution and Flightpath3D. So it was a bit of a stunner, if you’re following the inflight entertainment side of the equation, that Panasonic was moving into the map scenario. Certainly, there will be interest. I know, Marisa, you had a chance to get to see some of this on the stand.

Marisa Garcia: I think it’s just really a fun upgrade, if you will. In fairness, I think anybody could do it in a development phase, but they did, so it’s there now and that’s going to set the next bar. I wouldn’t be surprised if others come along and say, “Well, we can too”. As you said, using crowd-sourced data instead of curated data, it doesn’t matter, but I love the idea of kids being able to travel back in time and fly a pterodactyl, and I love the idea of being able to use your handheld device to fly like a bird over the landmass.

Mary Kirby: Oh yes! This is saying that Panasonic has Dino-Maps for children now.

Marisa Garcia: Yes, exactly.

John Walton: What dinosaurs used to live on the ground where we’re now flying over.

Marisa Garcia: Yes, and they literally reshaped the land mass. That type of engaging — it’s content. It’s definitely, as you said, sometimes that’s the content that you need. So I think it’s just a new dimension and I wouldn’t be surprised if they get some competition coming there really quickly with that.

Mary Kirby: Yes.

John Walton: Yes.

Mary Kirby: At the end of the day, Flightpath3D, to be fair to them, have really kind of set the standard on the map.

John Walton: They’re the ones who raised that bar.

Mary Kirby: Yes, they raised the bar and now everyone’s chasing them at this point. They’ve got over 50 airlines, they’re on seatback screens, they’re on wireless, and as you say, they’re crowdsourcing data. They’re going into social media and finding out the things that people really want to see.

John Walton: I keep going back to when I fly, I’m always like, “Oh good, it’s Flightpath3D”, like it’s going to be a good map and I’m going to be able to see things.

Mary Kirby: And you see it on Twitter as well. Passengers are posting like, “Oh my goodness, look at this moving map. It’s amazing”.

John Walton: Yes. What I find really interesting is that nobody yet has, and I’ve asked a couple of providers this, nobody yet has the “What am I looking at” option. There needs to be a button of “What am I looking at” right now?”, and it can tell whether you’re in a seat on the left hand of the plane or the right hand side of the plane, and it will know what the field of vision should be, and it should know if you’re passing over the sleepy hamlet of Snenizhogorsk, and that what you can see is probably Mount Snenizh, right, or the beautiful taiga forest of Khuvlovluvov, right? That’s the kind of thing that I always want to know.

Mary Kirby: You want more point of interest. Yes, okay.

John Walton: Yes. What am I looking at?

Mary Kirby: Okay.

Marisa Garcia: The Arc system seems to hint at that, it looks like there is pointers on the map that you can gloss into-

Mary Kirby: This is the Panasonic system, yes.

Marisa Garcia: Yes, exactly, the Panasonic Arc system, and so they’re headed there if it’s not already there. Remember they’re just giving us a little taster. We don’t know exactly what’s going to be behind the curtain to what, but just the fact that they’re offering for you to fly the plane like a bird yourself, that shows that they’re really delving into the geography, so it’s definitely flexible to evolve. You’re absolutely right, that’s where it needs to be because people feel isolated on the plane, they feel removed, and not everybody has a window seat — some of us fight for that. [laughter]

John Walton: Right, and this can work in the virtual window thing that — I almost said Rockwell — that Collins Aerospace was showing from the Emirates Suite.

Mary Kirby: And they were a finalist for the Crystal Cabin Award for inflight entertainment and connectivity, which was interesting.

John Walton: And let’s say you meld a “What am I looking at” and “What could I be looking at”, and that starts getting really interesting. I think that will start to do all sorts of really interesting things for passengers. They’ll start feeling a bit reassured, you’ll understand where you are, you’ll be able to place yourself. And there’re beautiful parts of the world to fly over. One of my favorite things is — and I actually always will choose a connection over this. From my home airport in Lyon, I have a number of connection options in Europe to other places in Europe, not a lot of non-stop flights. I will choose to fly via Munich, because you fly up a side of the Alps, and it is the most beautiful hour and a half of flying. Mountains stretching out for days, lakes and little valleys and villages, and what I’ve started doing is I’ve started pre-loading Google Maps on my phone, as if I was driving.

Mary Kirby: Have you really? You’ve become the preload man. I preload my movies and I preeload my maps.

John Walton: That’s what they call me, Mary. And so, I can, “That’s the Swiss village of Beneublehausen’, right? I realize I’m a pathological geographer in that way, but it’s a kind of what people want. Listen, I was talking to Panasonic, I was talking to Andrew at Panasonic who is part of the Stockholm-based team that designed this, who is also a very young and funky and kind of not very Panasonic-y kind of group. It was very clear that it’s young people and-

Marisa Garcia: Well, they’re developers, they’re-

John Walton: Yes. Kids with septum rings. There’s a lot of wider industry stuff going into the passenger experience which I’m 100% in favor of, and you say, “That’s a really good idea. Well, we’ll look into it”, and that’s the kind of thing that this show is fantastic for, is whether someone from the media goes, “Oh, have you thought about this?”. The exhibitor says, “No, but why not?”.

Marisa Garcia: Yes.

John Walton: And we’re in a place of “No, but why not?” rather than, “No, that’s not our thing”, right? And I really appreciate that.

Mary Kirby: And those who have set the standards in maps and elsewhere, as you know yourself, John, on the show floor have been protecting a lot of what they’ve done now with protecting their IP, and they have to because it’s getting very, very competitive on this front. I remember years ago it used to always be about the boxes and the hardware, and now it’s becoming a lot more about the software and the cloud and the digitization of our industry and it’s a different world.

John Walton: Yes.

Marisa Garcia: And that’s one of the things that I was covering with the Passenger Technology Solutions forum meetings this week. It really is like we’ve the three dimensions in the cabin, and we’ve been thinking in 3D the whole time, but okay, you have only so much space and they’re limited, and people are now getting into that fourth dimension of time and the only way to open that up is through the digitalization because you have access to everything. You can expedite all of the experience, you can expedite your processes, so there’s a gain for airlines, there’s a gain for passengers, it’s definitely the way to go.

John Walton: It’s not just digitalization of the screen, it’s the new intelligent touch surfaces you were talking about, Marisa. Let’s run people through them. What were you seeing at the Panasonic booth?

Marisa Garcia: Well, I was seeing some extremely exciting stuff from a designer perspective because you’re talking about beautiful finishes and beautiful surfaces that when they are not illuminated are just a delight to have there. But then they can be turned on to be smart. Both in revealing information with very clear lighting, very clear numbers, easy to read, there’s no interference whatsoever, it’s just transparent, and also tactile response. So you can actually touch a nice wooden panel and have it respond to your touch and pull up a menu. It blows my mind. Same thing with a leather armrest. It can be responsive. So that level of tactile, beautiful digital experience to me is much better than… a screen is great, I’m not putting down screens!

Mary Kirby: Don’t you be dissing those screens, Marisa! [laughter] We’re double and triple screening in-flight!

Marisa Garcia: But if you think about putting in on a wall monument, great flight information updated, even the newer maps just being shown up, you think about it being in your armrest, instead of having to have buttons to control your seat which will … I don’t know about you guys, but for me they always get in the way of something, either my purse or my ribs, something.

Mary Kirby: Exactly.

John Walton: Or that’s the way you rest your arm naturally, and some of your seat moves. “Oh, what on earth happened?”.

Marisa Garcia: Or you turn off the IFE by accident.

Mary Kirby: I do that a lot.

John Walton: Yes. There’re so many touch screens, you don’t realise what you’re doing now, and I find it really interesting at this show there are quite a few people saying, “Well actually, what if we didn’t need a screen?”.

Marisa Garcia: Yes.

John Walton: What if it will give you what you want without a screen? RAVE was showing us that. They have that amazing 4K projector, the clarity of that was insane, and actually the luminosity as well, because we assume that a projector is going to be dim in a lit cabin, and so that’s going to be fine if it’s not daytime. But this was actually pretty good. Laurent Stritter, who we all may remember from the time at Zodiac, as was, now has a new consultancy called Style and Design, and he was on the MGR Foamtex stand, a really interesting concept called “Moments”, again a Crystal Cabin Awards entrant, saying, “Well, actually what if we put a projector instead of a screen, what if we projected it on a surface that could become a massive table that just folds down very simply and that’s your surface. What if? What if the buttons were not clicky metal buttons, but actually you just printed what the word was on top of the armrest, and the button was under the fabric of the armrest”. What if, what if, what if.

Mary Kirby: What is amazing is some of this technology was teased, goodness, nearly 20 years ago. I go back to the World Airline Entertainment Association, WAEA, now known as APEX, but 20 years ago there was a company, I think it was Delta Beta I think was the name of the company, and they were looking at projector technology on the tray table to allow you to type on the tray table back when that was a big deal.

John Walton: Back when we thought keyboards were still going to be a thing. [laughter]

Mary Kirby: Yes. But it just amazes me how sometimes things come around full circle.

John Walton: Yes.

Marisa Garcia: Well, keyboards are still a thing as far as I’m concerned.

John Walton:  Me too, but you know what? I’m trying to think of the number of people who I saw taking notes on laptops vs. iPads vs. phones this time—

Marisa Garcia: No, that’s true, but thumbs are becoming increasingly important typing tools.

John Walton: Yes, absolutely.

Mary Kirby: I’m a touch typist so I’m still a laptop gal, but—

John Walton: I remember my Mavis Beacon!

Mary Kirby: I can always be a secretary if this doesn’t work out.

Marisa Garcia: You need to see my keyboard now with all the letters scratched out. People look at it and say, “How do you know what to type?”, and I’m like, “Who looks?”.

John Walton: You could be a CEO if this doesn’t work out.

Mary Kirby: Oh, thank you.

Marisa Garcia: Absolutely. You are a CEO!

John Walton: These surfaces are amazing and what we can do with these surfaces is incredible. Whether that’s the microLED stuff that Collins is showing, whether it’s Kydex Lumina. Kydex, of course is the new, old name for Sekisui SPI and Lumina is essentially … you remember that Infused Imaging product from a few years back, released a few years back, it was the first time I had a real “wow” thermoplastics moment, because you could put anything on that and it doesn’t stretch, doesn’t warp, it’s amazing. This is basically that but 3D. And it is hard to write about this because you can’t talk about this unless you’ve seen it in action.

Mary Kirby: You need to see it.

John Walton: It is absolutely incredible, and you can light it behind by a cheap five dollar strip of LEDs.

Mary Kirby: Yes. Another Crystal Cabin Award finalist. Amazing.

John Walton: Yes. Can we just have a moment to shout out to Crystal Cabin Awards and how they consistently pick great technology, and the number of categories where I was like, “There is no clear winner here. All of these products are-”

Marisa Garcia: Deserving.

John Walton: Are deserving.

Mary Kirby: Very much so, very much so. One thing, and I’m very honored to be a judge for the Crystal Cabin Awards and I get a chance to work with the engineers that have been in the industry for the last 40 years sort of thing, and get a chance to really learn from them as well and also bring some fresh thinking to the table, and it’s just amazing every year the innovations are better and more impressive, and I think we had nearly a hundred submissions this year around the world. It’s just incredible.

John Walton: I was talking with your fellow judge, Zuzana Hrnkova of ATR the other day at their stand, and they are doing some amazing work for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing.

Mary Kirby: Yes.

John Walton: This was fantastic. They had been working with an association for the Deaf and hard of hearing and realized that there was a big problem in the cabin because there was a lot of external noise, which is harder if you are hard of hearing, if you have hearing aids, if you have hearing implants, if you have cochlear implants, this is really problematic. There is a standard out there that aviation has essentially not been using, and it’s the T-position standard. What that does is that it uses a magnetic wire loop and magnetic induction to transmit audio into waves, and then that is retransmitted inside your device. It was so interesting, and they brought one of the members this association to explain, to essentially outline the problem to folks in the aviation industry.

Mary Kirby: Great.

John Walton: It was fantastic. What they’re doing, is that they have this initial thing which sends you adds a sort of U-shaped coil, a magnetic coil, over the back of the seat, of the headrest. What that does is that lets the inflight announcements, whatever is coming through the PA system go from PA audio into essentially magnetic waves into the hearing implants of people who have turned their hearing aids or implants to “T”, which makes it possible to hear, significantly less stressful, so less confusing. You’re getting your vital safety messages. It was one of the — actually quite a number of things, where I thought, “Why are we not doing this already?”.

Mary Kirby: Accessibility is having a very serious moment now in our industry which is so impressive. I think the ball started getting rolling, believe it or not – they don’t get the credit for it as they should – but about five/six years ago it was Air Canada that rolled out accessible embedded IFE on the 787. Then of course last year we had Bluebox, a Crystal Cabin Award winner for its accessible portable IFE on the iPad for the blind.

John Walton: Shout out to Emirates and Patrick Brannelly as well for the audio description work as well-

Marisa Garcia: Yes.

Mary Kirby: Yes, absolutely. And the Deaf and hard of hearing are a kind of … and I appreciate this, because they’re really sounding the alarm on social media and saying, “What about us?”, because it seems like our industry is figuring it out for the blind passenger and the passenger that has difficult sight, but the Deaf and hard of hearing are still waiting for parity and equality and part of the reason why we don’t have that is because we’re only getting a percentage of the content with captions, with true captions.

Mary Kirby: We’re not talking about subtitles, we’re talking about true captions, closed captioning. So it’s only a percentage, and also on the regulatory front, including in the United States, efforts that were to push this forward have been stymied by our current administration. There’s lots of reasons for that and anyone who wants to talk to us individually about why that’s happening and the two steps forward, one step back, one step forward, two steps back, but it’s happening and please feel free to reach out. But there’s a real push now for accessibility, and that’s the reason why United Airlines in partnership with Panasonic won the Crystal Cabin Award for the inflight entertainment and connectivity. They have a truly accessible experience for passengers on the 787 and it’s impressive.

John Walton: But it goes back to some of the most obvious and basic things like why are the little placards, the plastic printed placards that say “fasten seatbelt when seated”, not in braille?

Marisa Garcia: This is where I get excited about the finger sensors that I mentioned at Panasonic, because they have this haptic quality that is not only bumps and vibrations, but it’s also temperature. So technically, it could be used to transmit braille if someone wanted to do that. It could be used just to help a person who is blind experience a product that is on a magazine and actually someone who is sighted, anyone, can experience the product that is from a picture and really feel it. I thought it was very good. And then you have also in terms of the Arc, going back to the Arc, another push from the industry which IATA is really behind is helping people with invisible disabilities, people who have learning disabilities, people who are autistic.

Mary Kirby: Yes.

Marisa Garcia: … there’s a real push to help those passengers too and recognize their needs. And something like the Arc technology, the moving maps that can give people something to focus on: autistic children tend to really enjoy something that they can really concentrate on, it makes them feel at ease, there’s no reason content can’t be a solution for those passengers.

John Walton: And it’s about meeting needs of all passengers. We talk about diversity quite a lot at Runway Girl Network and it’s important. It’s not just about the protected characteristics that we talk about, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability status. It’s about making sure that everyone is served and everyone feels welcome, everyone feels included.

Marisa Garcia: And safe.

Mary Kirby: And when you see this push in industry for accessibility, you have to also look inwardly and say, “What am I doing? Have I cleaned up my house on this front?”, because you can’t preach about it unless you do something about it. So, for example, what we need to start doing is, with these podcasts, is to offer a transcript of the podcast.

Marisa Garcia: I agree.

John Walton: I agree.

Mary Kirby: And it’s factoring in … there is a cost to this, there is a cost, and I know some companies offset the cost by getting sponsorship for improving their accessibility, but it’s something that all week long has been kind of in the back of my mind and like, “Okay, how can you preach about it if you’re not doing it?”

John Walton: I’ve been thinking something similar. Yes.

Mary Kirby: And so we have to do it and we have to find a way, and so we’re all going to kind of collectively get there together.

John Walton: Yes, I agree. We were talking about safety just now and you saw something very interesting at Adient. Aydient? Addient, Adient? Tomato. Tell us about it, Mary.

Mary Kirby: They have been rather kind of secretive, I suppose, it’d be fair to say, and they’re kind of in the opposite end, they’re in B1 of the hall so they’re at the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to the interiors, which has worked kind of in their favor because it’s added some kind of excitement around it because everything’s behind closed doors.

Mary Kirby: But what I saw today was their baseline product which is going to launch on Hawaiian Airlines, right? This is the story you wrote for us, John, on the 787, but they have an even more baseline product than that that they’re selling and you have to opt in to the privacy divider going all the way down. Because you’re so close to the person beside you, in a #MeToo world, together you and your seat mate, if you want that privacy divider to go all the way down and give you the maximum space for sleep, you have to press the button together to get it to go all the way down and that means consent. And I have never in 20 years of covering aircraft interiors seen consent baked into a seat.

John Walton: Agreed. Bake it right to the hardware.

Mary Kirby: Yes.

John Walton: We’ve seen a lot of these dividers and sometimes you have a shared understanding, sometimes you don’t. Usually you just put it up and it stays up and that’s fine. This is an excellent way of actually really thinking about, “Okay, what are the implications for people of the technology I am developing?” And kudos to Adient, Addient, for that. That’s the kind of thing that more of us in the industry should be thinking about, asking those questions.

Mary Kirby: For sure. Marisa, you had a good idea earlier about how inflight sexual harassment and sexual assault is a real issue. The FBI is investigating many, many now cases. What are your thoughts on that?

Marisa Garcia: Well, Mary, What I was mentioning was that it was just sort of a lightbulb moment the other day. I thought, “Why isn’t there a silent reporting feature in IFE?” It’s something that would be really easy to add on, and as you mentioned, it could help people who are being trafficked to report themselves as feeling in danger or could help anyone, any passenger who’s feeling harassed to simply report. With the technology we have nowadays, it’s really easy to flag that on our flight attendant’s app, and they can report it to the captain and they can make a decision on how to handle the matter, but it’s more discreet than a woman or someone else who feels vulnerable having to press a button that the passenger next to them obviously sees.

Mary Kirby: Yes.

Marisa Garcia: And that could be added to something like the safety briefing at the beginning, and letting people know that that’s available to them and they could touch a button or touch any kind of interface that will make them comfortable.

Mary Kirby: IFE as a safety device just is really interesting.

John Walton: That’s transformative.

Mary Kirby: It really is.

Marisa Garcia: I think it’s something that is just a missed opportunity. I can tell you I’ve been traveling since my twenties, which has been a little while though, and on my own as a woman, and I’ve had so many uncomfortable, really uncomfortable moments on aircraft because I always, mostly travel economy, where you just feel like you don’t have an out. You’re in between two men on a triple and both of them are making you… one or the other one is making you… what do you do? Do you raise the alarm or do you just sit there and take it? I’m not very much a “take it” kind of lady, so I-

Mary Kirby: You don’t say, Marisa.

Marisa Garcia: So I’ve had some very marked confrontation.

Mary Kirby: Yes.

Marisa Garcia: In Spain, we have the tradition that, if I need to slap you, I will, thank you. I haven’t actually slapped anybody on the plane but I’ve come close. So nobody wants to be in that position. Nobody should be in that position.

Mary Kirby: Yes.

John Walton: But it’s also up to men who are observing this sort of behavior to say something. We are in a position of power and privilege, in that a man can say to another man, “Wait, calm down buddy. What on earth are you doing?”, and that’s really important.

Marisa Garcia: And then again is the benefit of adding this “make me feel safe” feature, is that it also raises awareness that there is vigilance onboard. It raises awareness that the airline is conscious of this problem and will be watching you. It’s almost like Big Brother comes in to help.

Mary Kirby: Yes.

Marisa Garcia: In a good way.

Mary Kirby: It’s amazing. It’s almost an extension of … I know American Airlines uses its dropdown screens as a kind of a safety device because if there, for example, is an emergency on board and they need a doctor, everybody will see signage saying, “If you’re a doctor, please come to—”, which is fantastic. It’s using the technology that’s on board beyond the entertainment, beyond the connective experience to something that makes everybody feel more comfortable and more safe. It’s amazing.

John Walton: Yes. And you know, I think we have to close this podcast by challenging everyone in the industry, to try to figure out in what they do, whatever it is they do, if they are on an airline, if they’re in an OEM, if they’re a supplier, if they’re a sub-supplier, if they’re a programmer for IFE, if they work in any form of hard or soft product, anything to do with aviation — think about what you can do to contribute to this, to make everyone on board feel safe, welcomed, accepted, comfortable, and like they belong.

Mary Kirby: It’s number one. Safety is number one.

Marisa Garcia: It is.

John Walton: On that note, that is it for today’s conversation. We certainly hope you enjoyed it listeners, and we are always keen to find out what you think. Please feel free to email me at with any suggestions. Thank you to our guests. Marisa, where can folks find you online?

Marisa Garcia: @designerjet on Twitter, elsewhere too.

John Walton: And of course on Runway Girl Network, where you’ll find Mary Kirby.

Mary Kirby: Yes, absolutely. And please email us your thoughts at We want to hear from you.

John Walton: As ever, you can find me on Twitter, @thatjohn, and everything from RGN and all of us on Twitter @RunwayGirl and at If you’re enjoying these conversations, please leave a rating and review wherever you get your podcasts. That’s especially important and thank you for listening.