Peter Hill is known for being a straight shooter. So, when the Oman Air CEO agreed to answer some of my questions for an Airline Business feature about the in-flight connectivity boon, it didn’t surprise me that he came back with honest, forthright answers. It did make me feel very grateful, however. Peter, this is gold, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Check out the news article now running on Flightglobal’s IFEC channel about Oman’s in-flight connectivity strategy for passengers, and then read on to learn what Peter thinks of the operational benefits of having a highly connected aircraft.
Question: From an operational standpoint, does Oman see ways in which it can harness SwiftBroadband (SBB) connectivity to improve operations, maintenance, etc?
Answer: There is no doubt that we are on the brink of a technological advance that will see benefits flow on to areas of operations that was originally unforeseen. I think that it is obvious that this revolution in in-flight connectivity will have the capacity to improve many other areas of an airline’s operations.
Up to this point, it has been traditional for ground-to-air communications via Satcomm systems which can be expensive and restrictive. The use of SBB could for example, could allow communications between cockpit crew and ground-based crew, for example to send in advanced, pending in-flight engineering maintenance issues to prepare Line Maintenance and hence reduce turn-around time.
SSB will also allow for an increase in the amount of data that can be sent back to our operation and engineering areas, allowing more engine data, fuel data and position reporting points to be fed back into our day to day flight watch, thereby increasing the safety level, security and efficiency of our operation.
Another example, is in-flight crew being able to communicate to ground-based crew about a whole range of operational matters, eg lost baggage, flight transfers, special “meet and greet” requirements, hotel arrangements, tour bookings etc.
It could also, for example be used to text or email on-board passengers, details of their connecting flights, departing gates and revised departure times, including the receipt of their next boarding pass, essentially offering a personalized customer service or one-to-one customer relationship management.
Question: Some carriers are viewing their connected aircraft as a node on their IT network. Does Oman see the benefit in this?
Answer: This is an area that is still under review. However, we are mindful that one of the developing technological trends is something referred to a “cloud computing”.
Essentially, this phrase is used to describe the process whereby computing requirements (including applications, storage space etc) are provided via the Internet as a service, as opposed to using in-house IT infrastructure.
This concept is not new and many readers will be familiar with using Gmail, hotmail and yahoo mail as their personal email service, whereby the computing service is via the Internet.
From a user’s perspective, all that is needed is a web browser (like Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome etc) and internet connectivity. This approach will dispense with the need to build and manage complicated IT infrastructure.
However, the key to cloud computing success is “availability” and “security” from both a privacy and integrity point of view.
Hence my original statement that this area is still under review, as there is obviously substantial benefit for the airline to allow users to access directly into the “Internet cloud” as opposed to via a node on the airline’s IT network.
Question: Lufthansa is bringing Ku-band connectivity to its overseas flights. Other major carriers, including Emirates, have stepped up their studies in this regard. Could you envision doing the same for Oman, or do you believe the connectivity appetite of your passengers will be satiated with the OnAir solutions?
Answer: At the moment, Immarsat’s SwiftBroadband (SBB) is the standard on all new Airbus long-range aircraft.
It supports data rates of about 432 kilobits per second which is sufficient for light Internet use and in-flight GSM/GPRS connectivity offered by OnAir.
By contrast, Ku-band connectivity is expected to support much faster data transfer rates.
Of course, such an increase in speed does sound attractive but the initial introduction of the OnAir product will allow Oman Air time to fully digest and review the uptake of this revolutionary service.