Fleet tracking, pilot messaging

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Disappointment, Shock & Anger – Not the response you expect after you have purchased a new internet solution for your airplane. However, if you poll flight departments that have made such a purchase, these are several of their emotions and feelings.

Disappointment – Aircraft Internet sounds like an easy problem to solve but instead it has been mostly evasive. Something other than what was imagined. What the customer wants is the same service and capabilities that they have in their office and home. What the customer gets is significantly less.

The laws of physics are in play here. Bandwidth is the culprit and flying is the challenge. With a big enough antenna (which will not fit on most aircraft) and a large enough investment (commonly over 20% of the value of the airplane) you can get something that is pretty good for a few passengers (2-3). Frustration mounts when the passenger experiences the slow upload and download of files or trying to surf the internet for a specific website.

Several systems are limited to when and where they can be used. The largest provider uses Wifi which is disabled from the ground to 10,000 feet above the ground. If you consider that the average NBAA flight is 2 hours long, and the time from entrance door closure, engine start, taxi and climb to 10,000 feet is generally 15 minutes and again 15 minutes when descending, vectoring, landing, taxi and door opening there is an aggravate of 30 minutes that the internet is not available. Limiting passengers useage for approximately 25% of their time in the airplane. This was not the intended purpose of purchasing the product.

Shock – Receiving bills that are significantly larger than anticipated place the customer in apoplectic shock. It is surprising that some haven’t sent bills back to manufacturers for medical stress when seeing something that drastically affects the efficiencies they thought they gained by having an airplane. The stories are rampant. The bored passenger watches You Tube video’s and then they get a $10,000 bill about 60 days later. The son or daughter of an aircraft owner surf’s the internet and 60 days later a huge bill arrives. Potential customers are flown into the headquarters and while aboard try to use the internet like they would at their office. Same result. Yikes

Asking the pilot and co-pilot to manage the passengers and dole out who can and cannot use the internet has not worked well. Pilot’s are not prone to telling people “NO – you can’t” for fear that they will get negative reviews up to their boss and lose their job. It just isn’t in the pilot’s DNA to be intenet sheriff.

Anger – feeling like they were sold a bill of goods, the customer is told, “this is the best that is available”, or, “if you would have paid more you could have had”. Many flight departments have either placed an internet on/off switch in the cockpit or disconnected the expensive system to prevent the disappointment and shock as pointed out above. The finger-pointing begins from the avionics shop to the manufacturer to the pilot to the customer. This is not what constitutes a good and lasting business arrangement.

Buyer Beware – Not the message we want to give customers. In aviation the customer is looking to industry professionals to have done the research and present options with alternative features and benefits. The big dollar sale may garner a customer and satisfy the immediate revenue needs of the business. However, if that customer is then faced with Disappointment, Shock & Anger, this will create less business going forward.

An alternative solution – Because of physics, and more importantly cost implications, I suggest an alternative. Texting Consider texting as a subset of electronic correspondence. Texting can get information communicated in a quick and efficient manner, availability worldwide, anytime inside the airplane (from the ground up), at a significantly lower cost. Because a text message is relatively small (generally 140 characters or less) SBM – short burst messaging is available. These bursts enable low cost transmissions through the world-wide iridium satellite system.

Critically evaluate the needs for your passengers. How many passengers will need internet access and what benefit will that yield. If you need to have an internet solution, and can carry more than 2 passengers, my suggestion is that you supplement the electronic communications with a texting option. Once you go beyond a threshold of 2-3 people on the internet the experience is seriously degraded for all. Consider sending passengers other than C-level executives to the texting option. The relatively low cost for texting will keep the Disappointment, Shock & Anger to a minimum.