October 17, 2021

Innovating with integrated IFE

Integrated IFE systems can help boost inflight sales and optimise logistics in the post-COVID era. Martijn Moret tells April Waterston how...

Martijn Moret is a co-founder of AirFi.aero. Prior to founding AirFi, Martijn ran an aviation innovation consulting company, and worked as an aviation technology consultant at Accenture. He is based in Singapore.

Q: From your perspective, how has COVID transformed the passenger experience? How have your customers’ priorities changed?

A: As COVID-19 took hold, IFE was, for both airlines and passengers, the lowest priority. There was only a small number of flights operating, with a small number of passengers onboard and IFE was the last thing on the airlines’ minds. Even our customers with big domestic markets like Vietnam and Korea made IFE their last priority. 

At the same time, passengers in Asia had a very high interest in hygiene. At the airports there was, and still is, full PPE, protective gear and people with masks and double masks. Hygiene was the priority, and so was touching as little as possible on the aircraft. Several governments also ordered the removal of magazines and menus from the aircraft. 

In the last few months with load factors increasing (some domestic markets are now at above 60-70% again), the focus has come back to serving passengers. Airlines, like everyone else, have gone through a digitisation realisation. They also realise they need to have a big focus on cost saving and generating revenue. 

Q: Tell us about your work with Scoot Airlines on ScootHub.

A: Scoot was already using our point of sales solution to control its sales onboard for both F&B and other ancillaries like seat upgrades and in-seat power. 

We had been talking to all our customers to see where we could support them post-COVID and Scoot made a radical choice to go fully digital. 

There’s only one way to maximise onboard ancillary and that’s by going digital. To do that quickly you need to avoid the need of installing all sorts of systems inside an aircraft. Scoot chose our product because we have a fully-integrated solution almost ready-to-go. We were given the green light in September and by December 2020 it was live. 

We addressed the concerns of different stakeholders in the airline – crew, ancillary, marketing, catering, duty-free, engineering, and others. And now we are rolling out subsequent phases to prepare for the ‘big return’ of flight capacity. There will also be an expansion of the revenue generating opportunities such as advertising, special offerings through microsites for brands, e-commerce offerings, attraction parks, interactive destination information, and other. We started with a smaller offering when the number of flights and load factor was low, but now month-on-month we’re delivering additional capability as well as helping Scoot fully commercialise their offerings.

There’s only one way to maximise onboard ancilliary and that’s by going digital

Q: Have you had much feedback?

A: The load factor is still quite low due to the social distancing measures, but  we can see that games and maps are very popular amongst passengers. We can see how passengers are evaluating the buy-on-board product menus and that data is very valuable as feedback for the catering company. The expectation is that once the passenger numbers are back, the revenue coming from onboard sales will have grown significantly. 

Q: What benefit does this technology have for catering? 

A: Catering companies usually guess what passengers like to eat, so it’s interesting to be able to give them data on how their offerings are actually being received. We are also heavily involved in the process of stock counting. With access to real-time stock levels, knowing when a product is about to go out of stock is invaluable if the aircraft has more flights to do. Digitisation within the catering companies, to align their processes, ensures they can deliver a better service with fewer people, in a less labour-intensive way. This, in combination with much more data, allows them to make better management decisions about what to put onboard. It is another step towards improved revenues. 

Q: What is in the future for IFE?

A: This is the ‘crystal ball’ question! The ‘entertainment’ aspect will come into focus again once the airlines see it gives them a competitive advantage. Passengers are currently looking more at price, flight availability and risks of quarantine. It might be that the old models – where airlines paid quite a sum of money for a few movies  evolves to more of a pay-per-view model, or one which offers a much faster-changing landscape for content onboard. Airlines need to step up to create more relevant content for passengers and with cost levels under pressure they should aim to get more for less. Content providers will need to adapt to serve these new models.

Q: What’s next for AirFi?

A: Pre-COVID we announced low-bandwidth connectivity, a low-cost solution for aircraft without wifi. This has a number of uses, such as last-mile services in the air which can be used to book a hotel or taxi so it is ready on landing. From an operational point of view, knowing and being able to communicate the fact that a popular product is close to being sold out whilst the plane is still inbound gives the catering company time to react and prepare to replenish the stock before the next departure.

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