Serious business deserves to be taken seriously



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 isnot open to Airbus ALNA but the company expects any would-be partner tomeet 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

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9 Responses to Serious business deserves to be taken seriously

  1. Wandering Aramean September 19, 2010 at 4:17 pm #

    I was actually a bit surprised at just how tightly Aviointeriors was wrangling press in their booth considering that it was the only way they were getting any press at all. I was almost tossed for taking pictures since I wasn’t wearing a press tag. I took my shots, talked to folks and wrote it up anyways, despite their “handling” of the situation.

  2. Mary Kirby September 19, 2010 at 5:08 pm #

    I was dismayed to be told by the firm that I am unusually tall and that people in Asia would not have the same problems with the seat. Fine. I am unusually tall – for a woman – but not for a man. And surely they are aware that people in Asia are getting bigger (fast food doesn’t discriminate). Then someone suggested an airline could offer a segregated zone with these cheap seats. So short, skinny people need only apply.

  3. AirBoss September 20, 2010 at 12:01 am #

    ‘Aviotorture’ is a product/firm that deserved to be treated as the mainstream joke it is.

  4. Dave September 20, 2010 at 4:54 am #

    So this company is racist against Asians in addition to being generally douchey? Jerks…

  5. David Parker Brown September 20, 2010 at 10:50 am #

    Prepared or not for “harder” questions…keep up the good work :)

    David

  6. Jetcal1 September 20, 2010 at 2:13 pm #

    The Ferrari of aircraft seating? Nice to look at, but not so nice to sit in?

  7. Bettany2901 September 20, 2010 at 4:18 pm #

    Hello

  8. IPADMAD September 21, 2010 at 11:55 am #

    BLUEBOX – Phantom media (Appropiately named)
    A few questions that should be answered honestly!!!
    So are they working to supply Ipads or not for Jetstar?
    What studios have they signed for late Window content?
    What Studios have they signed for Early Window Content?

    Have they agreed with Apple to supply this content on the players?
    What is the nature f that relationship? There are two standard relationships available.
    1. Apps developer – Very simple easy and well defined process, open to well pretty much anyone
    2. Enterprise – Simply put you can group players together. I.e. in an office environment where you want to develop specifically for that group. (Oh yeah open to anyone and does not require a special relationship with Apple)
    Neither allows for a company redistributing Hollywood Movies as a reseller (with or without Hollywood’s permission) on the platform. This requires additional agreements with Apple.

    Imagine this scenario. Mr Jobs sells lots of ipads to consumers. We all love them. We can legitimately go to the iTunes store and pay Mr Jobs to rent or download or favourite movie.

    So Far, Were happy Mr Jobs is happy and Hollywood is happy. We go onboard our flight take the ipad watch the movie have a wonderful experience and are happy.

    NOW. Bluebox needs to understand that you simply cannot say that you are an enterprise developer and that you can provide movies.

    A small lesson here in basic contract. Your contract as an enterprise developer does not allow you to provide movies and resell them. Why would Mr Jobs invest considerable sums of money developing a fantastic hardware product (Ipad) and a wonderful ITunes store to allow a “Shelf” company with little or no revenues to take his revenue stream?

    Furthermore many products were on display at the show that does not seem to have any license agreements in place from any of the background checking that I have done.

    So congrats Ms Kirby for saying it as it is. There are lots of innovations out there but it is really difficult for them to shine true if there are companies deliberately miss representing the Truth!

  9. Blossom Winfred December 17, 2010 at 3:14 am #

    Fine points, I’d say…. Indeed!

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