Remote Control: How WestJet Is Cutting Media Load Times by 85%

Panasonic Avionics< Panasonic Avionics
09/15/21 5 MIN READ

Loading media, content, and software onto aircraft has long been a time-consuming, tedious process. It required frontline technicians having to board planes to make manual updates. All told, a shipment could take weeks.

Now, it takes a couple days—with no in-person loading required.

Between December 2019 and May 2020, Canadian carrier WestJet transferred 4.6 terabytes of data using Panasonic’s new remote loading service, ZeroTouchTM. It’s made a huge difference to the airline, especially as it grapples with the industry-wide effects of COVID-19, says Kris Valckx, Sr. Fleet Engineer at WestJet.

“When we implemented ZeroTouchTM, we were able to realize immediate reduction to the monthly on-wing support that we typically required to support software, media, and content updates. This has allowed us to focus our manpower on maintaining our industry-leading on-time performance in a safe and efficient manner,” says Valckx.

“We’ve also been able to nimbly make adjustments to our product offering in response to market changes much more efficiently.”

ZeroTouch’s timing on the market may coincide with COVID-19. However, it was built to respond to the mounting challenge of tighter-than-ever turn times, which was becoming an increasingly important issue even before the pandemic. Now that we’re in the COVID-19 era, whatever can be done remotely, should—for safety reasons, to attenuate the effects of smaller workforces, and to add value to airlines’ passenger offerings at this critical time.

Whatever the reason for an airline’s implementation, though, the possibility of quick, remote loading is an exciting breakthrough for the airline industry.

The nuts and bolts of ZeroTouchTM

At its core, ZeroTouchTM is a remote content loading solution that uses over-the-air (OTA) connectivity to upload and offload media and data onto aircraft. This is a night-and-day shift from the longtime industry standard, which relied on sending techs into aircraft to manually load content onto each seatback device.

ZeroTouchTM is designed to handle thousands of file deliveries per aircraft, with file sizes measured in gigabytes. This exceeds current COMS and CDS2.5 capabilities. We also designed it with the user in mind, giving customers the ability to manually or automatically manage approval gates for the delivery and activation of new content, media, and software.

Here is a breakdown of some of its key features:

1. A user-friendly, customer-facing release management process

2. A file transport system

3. Security

A ZeroTouchTM Q&A with WestJet’s Sr. Fleet Engineer

Now that you’ve seen the inner workings of ZeroTouchTM, you may be wondering how it really works—as in, the customer’s experience of using it.

We asked WestJet’s Valckx to share his experience of using the solution.

Q: What does ZeroTouchTM allow you to do, that wasn’t possible before?

KV: ZeroTouchTM allows WestJet to maintain greater control over changes to content and software without having to engage our frontline Technical Operations team. Because of this enhanced level of control, our team can continue to focus on safely maintaining our fleet and our operations, while ensuring our guests continue to enjoy a great inflight entertainment experience.

Q: In your opinion, how do the WestJet guests benefit—directly or indirectly—from ZeroTouchTM?

KV: While our guests will continue to enjoy our excellent inflight entertainment offerings, they will see new features and products become available to them at a much quicker pace. With ZeroTouchTM, we’re able to quickly ascertain guest trends and pivot our product to match demand without overly stressing the manpower historically required to introduce new features to the fleet.

Q: Has ZeroTouchTM taken on any new or additional relevance/significance to WestJet in the COVID-19 era?

KV: Yes, ZeroTouchTM has taken on a greater relevance during these unprecedented times. [It] has allowed us to maintain control of our IFE product offering as our aircraft cycle in and out of service, to meet the changing demand in the marketplace. By moving away from the traditional on-wing support model for IFE, our Technical Operations team has been able to focus manpower on critical maintenance along with enhanced cleaning/disinfecting for safety.

We’re in it together

With ZeroTouchTM, we’re really embracing Panasonic’s iterative ethos: that every solution is a stepping stone—not a destination—toward something greater. In ZeroTouch’s case, it’s a starting point that will help move the airline industry away from manual on-wing loading and toward remote content management.

This comes at a time when tens of thousands of jobs are being cut due to pandemic profit losses, and when the airline industry was forecasted to lose $84 billion by the end of 2020, by IATA’s count. If airlines struggled with tight turn times and out-of-service planes before, they are now playing an all-new, high-stakes ball game.

It’s incredibly tough in this business right now—which is why it’s a perfect moment to rethink and reassess the status quo. Inflight connectivity and entertainment are, together, an area that will be pivotal to recovery and future profitability. Gaining new efficiencies while simultaneously expanding services is precisely what the doctor ordered. The cherry on top is using it as an opportunity to deepen cross-industry collaboration to build up its resiliency.

Valckx can already picture the next iterations of ZeroTouchTM.

“There is a lot of potential yet to be realized with this product. I know we’re only scratching the surface as we start using this,” he says. “It’s been a great learning opportunity for us as an airline, and for Panasonic as we work together to identify new ways to use this amazing product. I think there’s a tremendous opportunity amongst the airlines to learn from each other’s experiences, and to coordinate how we want this product to continue to develop.”

To learn more about ZeroTouchTM and what it can offer, click here.

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