I arrived home on Thursday night, after spending five days covering the co-located Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) and Aircraft Interiors Expo Americas (AIX) exhibitions in Long Beach, California.
My cat - justifiably angry that I was away for so long - peed all over my laundry, but thankfully she spared the furniture (forgoing her usual routine).
During both shows, I wore a number of different hats - moderator, emcee for the first annual Passenger Choice Awards
(a truly amazing experience), show daily reporter, blogger, videographer and tweeter. The trip was equal parts exhilarating, exhausting and instructive.
I am incredibly excited for the in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) and aircraft interiors industry, as there now appears to be a vast ocean of opportunities available to innovative, honest, hardworking firms. And thankfully a wealth of IFEC and interiors companies fit those descriptions.
At the same time, however, I am worried about what appears to be a growing trend by certain companies to forgo credibility in return for 'here today, gone tomorrow' news headlines. Torture chamber advocate Aviointerior's apparent stand-up seat stunt at AIX comes immediately to mind (lose weight Americans!?!
), but I also wonder what "iPad as IFE" prophet BlueBox was prattling on about at the recent AIX show
in Hamburg in light of evident challenges in the content arena.
In any case, shouldn't companies' proverbial feet be held to the fire to back up their claims or even - dare we dream - to simply tell the truth? I'm gonna go out on a not-too-distant limb here and say yes!
IFEC and aircraft interiors have enjoyed soft-core media coverage for far too long. It's little wonder that even the biggest manufacturers and service providers employ minimal public relations staff. They don't need a lot of flacks. In some instances, we journalists are doing the PR job for them.
When a journalist dares to ask a hard question, some companies act like children by putting their fingers in their ears and chanting "lalalalalalala" until the nasty person goes away. Others get defensive, and immediately assume the journalist has some sort of agenda or an axe to grind. And then there are the firms that appear so stunned to be fielding a not-so-soft question that they serve up an inaccurate statement (either accidentally or purposefully) that lands them squarely in a PR nightmare and in trouble with their partners.
Airbus/SITA joint venture OnAir found itself in just such a nightmare late last week, after the firm's new CEO Ian Dawkins told me
- on video - that no Airbus connectivity hardware would be fitted to Qatar Airways' Boeing 787s as required by the airline and Boeing. Sources with knowledge of the situation say Ian's comment is untrue.
They say Qatar's IFEC provider for the 787, Thales - not Boeing or Qatar - ultimately decided not to use Airbus' ALNA hardware because the European airframer would not be able to meet the time-line for equipage.
Boeing has little interest in letting anything else delay its 787 deliveries, least of all connectivity. Equally, Airbus is busy with its own knitting right now (hello A350 XWB). Why would it race to help knit a sweater for Boeing?
Consequently, Thales - which had originally engineered its fourth generation IFEC platform for the A350 - made the decision to bring in other hardware suppliers and adjusted its system accordingly for the 787, say sources. Qatar's initial 787s will feature Thales' i8000 platform
, but the firm is working to introduce the 4G platform - with Android operating system - on the airline's later 787 deliveries, in the 2013 time-frame (yep, around the same time-frame the A350 is scheduled for EIS).
Mobile connectivity provider OnAir, meanwhile, is now in the market for new hardware partners, while maintaining its relationship with Airbus. The company clearly knows it needs to be available on multiple platforms and those platforms need to compete on schedule, features and price and win business in the open market.
Thales will bring the 'connected' IFEC to Qatar, while OnAir will bring the mobile connectivity. Inmarsat's SwiftBroadband aeronautical service will support the solutions.
Boeing, meanwhile, has given no indication at this juncture that it is
not open to Airbus ALNA but the company expects any would-be partner to
meet spec and schedule requirements. That's the really important bit. Boeing has not declined to have Airbus connectivity hardware on the 787.
I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt (and I hope others do the same for me). So, in this particular instance involving OnAir I'll assume Ian's comment was merely borne out of surprise at my question. But had he simply said: "I am bound by a non-disclosure agreement and cannot say anything further", the ball would be back in my court to find out the real story.
Whether Thales or Airbus would have coughed up the answers in light of the non-disclosure agreement is another matter entirely and beside the point. In any case, we could have avoided all this
NOTE: I am also aware that, having not seen the nondisclosure agreement, there could be more factors involved than reported here.
But as I said before, my week in Long Beach was quite instructive. IFEC and interiors specialists have a new-found bounce in their step and deservedly so - they are doing great things to improve the passenger experience. It is out of respect for their accomplishments that I and other journalists in this field are trying to cover the industry as it deserves to be covered, by digging deeper than the press statements when time allows or the story warrants.
There are certainly instances where a product piece is suitable (lord knows we should highlight the bold and brave innovators among us, and I will continue to do so on this blog).
But a serious industry also deserves to be taken seriously by media. Anything less will enervate rather than invigorate the industry.
Now where is my cat? We've got some serious business to attend to.
(Photo above from Kudumono's Flickr photo stream