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Is The Sky The Limit? This Is What Airlines Need to Know About Becoming a Data-Enabled Organization

Panasonic Avionics
04/01/20 6 MIN READ

Tight margins, heightened expectations, the drive to deliver innovative customer experiences. Adding to the routine challenges of driving profits and satisfying customers, consumer behavior is rapidly evolving. They want inflight experiences to mirror the ones they have at home, at work, and in social settings—and they want them fast.

For these reasons, it has never been more important for airlines to stay ahead of the game—and staying ahead means investing in new ideas and technologies.

Cloud and edge computing, IoT (Internet of Things), big data, AI (artificial intelligence), and ML (machine learning) are quickly making inroads in the aviation industry, promising to drive new streams of revenue and engagement. Technology on its own is not the most effective salve; it also takes new ways of thinking about these technologies to understand how they can meet consumer trends and serve airlines’ needs.

There are a million-and-one potential use cases for these technologies. Giving aircraft mechanics on-demand access to the latest data on a plane’s performance. Operational and parts supply chain data can boost airlines’ abilities to maintain their fleets. Data from passengers’ usage behavior, cabin IoT sensors, and even third-party data sources—e.g. flight times, latest movie ratings, Twitter feeds—can be collected for greater personalization and better product targeting.

With all the possibilities, how can an airline know what to focus on? And what’s attainable right now, versus in the next five, 10, 20 years from now?

Let’s dig in.

Is The Sky The Limit? This Is What Airlines Need to Know About Becoming a Data-Enabled Organization

Empowering Airlines to Deliver Relevant Content

When it comes to inflight entertainment, airlines not only want to understand what their passengers are watching—they also want to predict their preferences. More importantly, they want to know whether the content they are buying from studios is resonating with inflight audiences.

Data analytics can already fulfill this need, says Venkat Eswara, Director, Software Product Management at Panasonic Avionics: “Cloud-based analytics makes it possible to customize the content for every airplane and all routes, by doing the heavy data lifting elsewhere.” Data-driven insights are helping content managers quickly identify and respond to the latest passenger entertainment preferences.

Data analytics can also enable airlines to get a better return on their IFEC investments, by serving truly relevant route and destination-based offers via IFE marketplaces. For example, if a large portion of passengers on a flight to Los Angeles or Orlando appears to enjoy watching animated or comic superhero movies, they might also appreciate an advertisement for discounted theme park deals or discounted ground transportation options fit for a family.

These kinds of destination-based offerings open up new avenues for business partnerships and customer referral systems that airlines have been missing out on to date.

The Inflight Map, Only Much Better

Cloud-enabled data services are also enabling the development of aviation-specific use cases at a much faster rate than previously possible. Take, for instance, the humble inflight map.

Traditionally inflight maps feature aircraft speed, outside temperature, a little airplane icon traveling in “real time” over the set route—and that’s pretty much it. They were long overdue for an overhaul. Panasonic made ArcTM to deliver richer, more interesting and detailed information to passengers, such as up-to-date flight connections information.

Data-enabled inflight maps and other apps also provide airlines with an opportunity to show passengers destination-based services that are tailored to their interests, such as ground transportation options, restaurant recommendations, special tour promotions, and hotel discounts that are actually relevant to the passenger.

These personalization capabilities are becoming more critical in an industry with contracting margins. In a commission- or referral fee-based partnership, it’s in an airline’s best interest to make sure that these services are as accurately customized as possible, says Eswara.

“When people step inside a plane, it’s an ideal time for them to do their final planning or last-minute changes. Leveraging passenger data to then market destination-based services is a major ancillary revenue opportunity for airlines,” explains Eswara.

Having data-enabled IFEC systems gives airlines the flexibility to tailor content to a specific person. It also, in some contexts, can even give them insight into what the person is clicking on via the IFE/PED screen, which can in turn guide what types of products and services are advertised or recommended next.

“Cloud-based analytics makes it possible to customize the content for every airplane and all routes, by doing the heavy data lifting elsewhere”

Venkat Eswara, Director, Software Product Management at Panasonic Avionics. 

Onboard Retail Experiences Passengers Want

Many airlines have abandoned their inflight duty-free programs, but it’s not because people don’t want to buy items on board a flight. It’s because they don’t want to buy watches and perfumes—usually very personal purchases—inside a plane from a catalog, then have to travel with said item.

That doesn’t mean they’re against buying anything at all inflight, though. As we can see, people are willing to buy certain items—say, food and drinks—inflight. Fine-tuning those options has the opportunity to save vast amounts of food from landfill and reduce onboard weight, according to the International Air Transport Association. What gains could be seen from smarter overall approaches to retailing?

Data-enabled personalization and trends for targeted offers and campaigns are a key differentiator for airlines’ ancillary revenues. Social trends can uncover what kinds of products people are most likely to buy, and offer them multiple options for pickup and delivery. In turn, this helps airlines vastly improve their sales appeal. For instance, passengers may want to buy a product, select a delivery location based on their travel plans, or purchase digital products such as destination-based offers.

Cloud-based processing data on customers, routes, and sales trends—plus predictive analytics—help airlines create targeted offers toward passengers at every stage of their journey and enable them to be far more flexible in terms of the items they stock on each flight, and transition to a full digital retail experience.

Long-Haul Travel, Minus the Jet Lag

As flights get longer and longer, passenger health and wellness are being pushed farther to the front of airline leaders’ minds. How can passengers stuck inside a plane for 20 hours emerge from their flight feeling refreshed and ready to take on their day?

Eswara says research shows that improved sleep quality on long-haul flights can positively impact customer satisfaction and, importantly, reduce passenger stress. Personal data could be used to create personalized sleep schedules recommended to passengers via seatback screen or PED. The schedules can “suggest optimal times for sleeping, eating and drinking throughout a long-haul flight,” says Eswara. That’s on top of the other health and wellness offerings that IFEC systems are capable of delivering.

When it comes to the potential of data analytics, is the sky the limit? The answer is increasingly a resounding “yes.” The growing capabilities of the cloud, IoT, big data, and AI, combined with the speeds of modern satellite-based inflight connectivity, together are a compelling value proposition for airlines—one that offers an enhanced inflight experience, increases customer loyalty, and adds significant value to passengers.

Learn more about Panasonic Avionics’ NEXT Insights solution and how it can help airlines identify and rapidly respond to industry trends.

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