What CIOs Can Learn From An Upgrade Of Inflight Web Services

Airline CIOs are going to have to make some tough in-flight internet decisions
Airline CIOs are going to have to make some tough in-flight internet decisions
Image Credit: Christopher Doyle

Back in the day, airline passengers could be assured that their time in the air meant that they had an excuse to unplug and step away from the constant need to do more and more work. Since they could not be connected to the Internet when they were in flight, they were released from their obligations. However, now because of the importance of information technology airline CIOs may be able to extend the Internet to their airplanes – how will passengers react?

What Does It Mean To Access The Internet From A Plane?

Before the people with the airline CIO job can consider connecting in-flight planes to the Internet, they need to first solve the problem of how exactly to establish that connection. It turns out that the answer has to do with satellites. In-flight wi-fi service is currently available on some planes; however, because the airlines charge top dollar for this privilege, only about 5% of the passengers on a plane take advantage of this service.

Even if airline passengers log into the available wi-fi today, they are generally going to be disappointed by the quality of the service that they will be receiving. Generally speaking, a plane today can only provide its passengers with < 0.5 Mbps of Internet bandwidth to serve the entire plane. This is all set to undergo a major change. New Internet systems that make use of next generation satellites will be able to provide each plane with up to 50 Mbps of bandwidth.

Once this increased bandwidth becomes available for each plane, the airline CIOs will need to make decisions about what new services they want to offer to their passengers. High on their list is the ability to broadcast live sporting events. Additionally both music and video streaming services can be supported. This could allow an individual passenger’s entertainment system to make personalized suggestions to them about what to watch during the flight.

How Will This Internet Access Help Airlines?

As useful as this new connectivity will be to airlines in order to help them generate more revenue from passengers who are willing to pay for connectivity, there is another benefit to placing planes onto the Internet. Every plane is a complex system that is constantly generating information. Connecting a plane to the Internet means that it can report on its current status all of the time.

Airline CIOs are looking to use plane broadband connectivity to accomplish two key goals: lower maintenance and operational costs. The arrival of more bandwidth is allowing more innovative things to happen in these areas. The goal is to use more real-time data to predict a plane’s maintenance need for parts. The belief is that this information could save an airline up to 10% on maintenance costs.

Another exciting possibility has to do with an individual plane’s weather radar. Each plane can measure the weather out in front of it for roughly 300 miles with the equipment that it has on board. However, if multiple planes were all interconnected via the Internet then an accurate up-to-date weather map that covered thousands of miles could be both create and shared with every plane. This would allow for smoother trips and potentially fewer flight diversions.

What All Of This Means For You

CIOs from the airlines have some interesting challenges before them. In the past, they didn’t have to worry about extending the Internet to work on their airplanes simply because once the planes were in flight there was no way for them to connect to the Internet. With new satellites, this is all changing.

With the new ability to have in-flight airplanes connect to the Internet, the people in the airline CIO position are going to have to pick and choose what services they offer to their passengers. These services can include inflight video services and streaming real-time sports. The ability to connect a plane to the Internet is also going to have benefits to the airline. A plane will be able to exchange maintenance data with the ground and make use of other plane’s radar data in order to select a smoother flight plan.

The arrival of Internet connected planes means that airline CIOs are going to have to make some difficult decisions. They’ll want to provide their passengers with new services that they’ll actually use. No, these won’t be easy decisions to make, but as long as they ask the right questions and are willing to make changes as needed, their planes will never need to go offline again!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: Can you think of an Internet service that airline CIOs probably won’t want to make available to their passengers?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As CIOs we understand the importance of information technology and so we go to great lengths to secure our corporate networks. Since most of us end up doing a great deal of our work from home, we also do our best to secure our home networks also. However, it turns out that there are forces working against us here – our children. They may not mean to cause security issues at home that can be brought into work, but they can. What can a CIO do when the threat is this close?