The speed at which new information and communication technology is emerging in the business aviation industry is mind-boggling, and the advantages it offers are irresistible.
Inflight and otherwise, the information technology services at passengers’ disposal that were once considered “perks” or value adds are now “must-have” expectations.
There’s no question that having access to inflight connectivity is critical for business travelers who rely on private aircraft to serve as their time machine so they can continue working while on board.
In fact, so insistent are corporate travelers about their access to data and other information technologies that it sometimes seems like it’s more important for the data to work than the engine!
“I want bandwidth and I want access to files,” they demand, and the technicians, flight attendants and even the pilots must deliver.
Corporate passengers are on their smartphones, their laptops, they’re participating in conference calls, and much more. Yes, there are high-end, inflight entertainment systems as well, but for today’s traveling executive, it’s his or her demand for work-related data that’s putting huge pressure on the flight department.
That pressure translates into necessary new skills and experience for nearly every member of the flight crew. Every day, jobseekers in aviation are learning that, in order to compete for positions, they have to become more tech-savvy, and their resumes have to reflect those skills. That goes especially for flight attendants, who, as we all know, are the executives’ first points of contact. To remain competitive in their job market, flight attendants must develop and display these new technology skills.
The “Airborne Office Assistant”
It’s true: this new age of inflight data needs is having a tremendous impact on how corporate flight departments and their personnel are viewing—and doing—their jobs.
As Jeffrey Lee, Vice President of Aviation for a Northeast-based Fortune 500 organization points out, “We are challenging flight attendants to be more than simply safety and service providers. We are challenging them to become airborne office assistants, facilitating our need for serviceable onboard printers, iPhones, iPads, internet access, and smooth connections to the satellites they’re logged onto. It’s really expanded the scope and the criticality of their jobs.”
Lee is well aware of this “growing pain.”
“We’ve thrust people into new roles,” he explains, “which brings a new importance to everybody. There’s a steep curve on growth and development for technicians and flight attendants both. Today, it’s really everybody that needs to know about aircraft communications.”
Knowing Technology is a Requirement
One company that’s perhaps closer to this increasing phenomenon than nearly any other is Satcom Direct®, a Florida-based technology innovator that has emerged as one of the leading providers of aeronautical connectivity solutions for flight deck and cabin communications.
Satcom Direct’s founder and CEO, Jim Jensen, describes a contemporary flight environment in which voice communications are used less and less frequently and data rules the day.
“Technology is no longer an option; it’s a requirement,” he says, echoing Lee’s sense of the changing aviation technology environment. “The aircraft is becoming a true branch office.”
But, like any other new technology paradigm, the transition from very little airborne technology to the present, burgeoning environment has some challenges. One of them is making sure that inflight and technical maintenance personnel are well enough trained to keep the services intact and to handle the occasional troubleshooting issue that arises in the air or on the ground.
To answer that need, Jensen and his team have debuted the Satcom Direct “AeroIT” training course and certification. It’s aimed precisely at aviation personnel, and is designed to provide them with knowledge and skills necessary to meet the ever-increasing demands of training for onboard networks. AeroIT is a CompTIA certification that is on par with other professional technology credentials, such as Network+.
Indeed, much of the inflight technology in use today was, in fact, pioneered by Satcom Direct. Although it might seem like ancient history, back in 1997, the company introduced the Global One Number (GON) service—a technology that enabled callers on the ground to reach an aircraft in flight via its direct dial GON telephone number, no matter where the aircraft is located.
That innovation was followed by AeroV, the first Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) solution designed and built specifically for aviation. AeroV enables use of an individual’s smartphone to be used as an extension of the aircraft phone system for easy and efficient communication during flight, and it works over multiple satellite networks.
More recently, Satcom Direct has taken on-board technology one step further, with the launch of its GlobalVT service. Now available to business aviation, GlobalVT expands beyond the capabilities of AeroV to enable the use of one’s own smartphone numbers for making and receiving calls and SMS messaging during flight at any altitude, anywhere in the world.
Catching Up: Meeting Demands for BizAv Inflight Connectivity
The issue of aviation staff readiness for this surge in technology is as complex as it is critical.
As Jeff Lee points out, there are flight attendants in the back of the aircraft who have to deal with a rate of technology change that’s occurring at a faster pace than what the pilots themselves are accustomed to.
But for all aviation staff—pilots, technical crew and flight attendants alike—“technology” has taken on far more meaning in their job descriptions.
In his business aviation department’s case, Lee says that he’s proud of how his team is rising to the occasion to ensure that everyone involved with corporate flight is up-to-speed on the latest technology and its fundamental operation in flight.
“For one thing, we’ve hired an aviation IT specialist who helps become the interface between our corporate IT world and our flight department world,” he says. Additionally, he notes, his department has partnered with the team at Satcom Direct, to avail themselves of some of the training opportunities that company provides.
While there is much work remaining to bridge the gap between the dazzling sophistication of aviation-related technology now being introduced in corporate aircraft and the flight professionals’ ability to administer it with confidence, it’s corporate aviation business organizations that are leading the entire flight industry toward that goal.
But, as Lee notes, the future is always changing, always shifting. “If you look at technology—your handheld phone, for example, you get something new every year. You’re already looking toward the horizon. It’s like chasing the rabbit; that’s the pace of business, and that’s the pace of technology.”