In-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) providers are adding ever more layers to their portfolios as they attempt to stay ahead of evolving demands for increased bandwidth, greater coverage, deeper personalisation and more immersive experiences.
As they gathered in Hamburg to tout their wares at AIX 2019, a common theme emerged: passengers are increasingly bringing their on-the-ground entertainment expectations into the air with them, and airlines want providers to keep finding new ways to meet those demands.
It is no longer enough for a moving map to provide a two-dimensional image depicting the progress of a flight, for instance. Maps now need to use personalised data and 3D imagery to not only describe in detail points of interest along the way, but also tell passengers what kind of jet lag they can expect on a given flight and how to go about minimising its effects.
In terms of in-flight entertainment, a catalogue of pre-recorded TV shows is insufficient, as passengers are starting to expect to be able to stream live music concerts or sporting events directly to their personal devices.
Against this backdrop, Panasonic Avionics used AIX to announce the addition of a new integrated moving map and data analytics platform to its NEXT-supported suite of IFEC solutions.
The Arc in-flight map platform can be integrated with Panasonic's Loyalty personalisation programme, Marketplace e-commerce solution, and newly announced data analytics service Insights, to provide a 3D immersive map experience tailored to individual flights and passengers.
The system ties in with Panasonic's Wellness solution to provide passengers with information to help minimise the effects of jet lag by calculating time zones crossed, and arrival and departure times, without the need to manually enter data.
The map, which is designed and built by Tactel in Sweden, will enter service in the first quarter of 2020 with an as-yet-unidentified airline customer.
"This is the first truly personalised map application," said Panasonic head of innovation Andrew Mohr at a media briefing during the show.
IFEC developments from at Thales included the entry into service of its InFlyt360-powered Select passenger interface, a new IPTV live television solution, and a voice over wi-fi telephone service.
The Select interface is part of Thales' Core IFE system. Providing passengers with content that Thales InFlyt Experience vice-president marketing Richard Perrot describes as a "Netflix-like experience", it also integrates with a targeted advertising service which he claims can "multiply revenue generation by a factor of six for airlines".
IPTV is a "functionality Thales is developing" to offer "eight, 10 or 12 channels of live TV on aircraft" through the Inmarsat GX Aviation connectivity pipe. The wi-fi calling service will allow passengers to use their own devices to make in-flight calls and be "billed by their usual [phone] carrier" on the ground, says Perrot.
ViaSat believes the future of free in-flight wi-fi lies in sponsorship deals with the entertainment providers that passengers interact with in their day-to-day lives. For instance, ViaSat customer American Airlines has an agreement with Apple Music through which subscribers are given complimentary access to more 50 million songs, playlists and music videos while on board.
In November, American used ViaSat's broadband connectivity service to live-stream a Willie Nelson concert to passengers. ViaSat believes such moves are just the beginning.
"We're going to see a lot more sponsorships and you’ll be seeing a lot of activity from us. There are going to be a lot of different solutions across a lot of different airlines, and you need good wi-fi to do that. That's why Apple went with us," says Don Buchman, vice-president and general manager of ViaSat's commercial aviation business.
"Even on the same plane you could have multiple sponsors, but you have to be clever about it," he says. "It's really about matching up passengers on airlines with the brands they interact with on the ground."
IFC providers are also striving to increase their geographical coverage to secure airline customers in different regions. ViaSat is counting down to the planned 2021-22 service entry of its final satellite constellation, ViaSat-3, which will give it global Ka-band coverage.
Meanwhile, rival Inmarsat recently soft-launched its new European Aviation Network (EAN) hybrid air-to-ground and satellite-based connectivity service with British Airways, and is already talking about extending its coverage southwards and eastwards.
The UK-based satellite company is "looking at extending the reach" of EAN, says Inmarsat Aviation president Philip Balaam, with coverage reaching as far as Russia, Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa. This will depend on regulatory approvals and local investment, but "some airlines we're in discussions with are pretty interested in seeing an extension".
For more news, pictures and analysis from AIX 2019, visit our dedicated event page