Last month the Minister for Energy, Anne Trevelyan, announced the launch of an Energy Digitalisation Taskforce in the UK. Under the chairmanship of Laura Sandys, this group is assessing the country’s energy needs and infrastructure to understand how to modernize and decarbonize it, so the UK can transition to net-zero emissions. British Airways Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner G-ZBKO (4) What lessons can aviation take from the significant overhaul currently happening in UK energy supply? Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.
The key objective of the taskforce is to position digitalization as a core element of the transformation of the energy system, not least because the implementation of new eco-technologies depends on an ability to communicate with the operators of the networks and market platforms. Thinking differently The drive for digitalization isn’t a new concept. In fact, Laura Sandys has been a powerful advocate of reinventing our energy infrastructure for some time, suggesting that tinkering from the edges as we have been is just not acceptable.
She believes that for change to be effective, we cannot just build upon our existing foundation, but we must rather engage in the kind of ‘outside the box’ digital thinking that many countries have embedded into their systems. When I say many of the world’s systems, I should highlight the energy sector as an exception, as it has continued to embrace the thinking of Edison, Tesla and Westinghouse from over a century ago. That’s not to take away from these pioneers of their time; it’s just that things have changed just a little in the last hundred years or so.
Digitalization of aviation is coming, but how fast? Image: Dominic Walters Is aviation really ready? Another sector that is due a dramatic transformation is aviation, where the term “digitalization” has been bandied about for decades, without the “light bulb” moment occurring to drive real change. Many argue that change in infrastructure takes time, costs immense sums of money and safety must come first. There is no question that is true; however, these same requirements apply to the energy sector, which owns national infrastructure that is critical to our everyday lives.
Yet, the world’s governments are bravely considering how to change this core infrastructure to meet the needs of our rapidly evolving world. Like the energy sector, aviation and its infrastructure have not changed dramatically for decades. That’s not to say that ground-breaking ideas and new technologies don’t arise frequently; it’s our passenger experience that needs attention. We still traipse through various sections at airports, stand in queues to pass through security, and wait around at passport control. It’s time to be brave and invest in transformation.
Delta Biometrics It’s time for the brave to invest in change. Photo: Delta Air Lines It’s no secret that airlines operate on a knife-edge when it comes to profit margins that are highly dependent on fluctuating market forces, such as fuel prices and now global pandemics. Yet, despite the risks, it is necessary for the industry to look beyond costs if it is to realize the potential that digitalization has to offer. Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests. Recognizing the possibilities of connectivity As the world puts pressure on the industry to improve efficiencies, lessen impact on the environment and speed up the transportation of passengers, products and more, the time has come to assess how best to achieve these things – and aircraft connectivity is an obvious enabler.
The world of satellite communications is seeing a space race ensue, as some of the biggest and best manufacturers build and launch high-speed satellites capable of delivering super-fast connectivity with pinpoint accuracy anywhere in the world. Intelsat Gogo The communications space race is bringing high-speed internet to all corners of the globe. Photo: Intelsat On the ground, another host of operators are transforming our 4G and 5G networks into highly capable connectivity solutions that can operate on aircraft.
The hardware produced to enable connectivity in the air gets lighter and better every day. Yet, this groundswell of technology hasn’t yet been enough to convince airlines to see past upfront costs and recognize the true possibilities and significant potential rewards. The brave will lead change Aviation needs to do more than dip its toes into the water when it comes to digitalization. The integration of data is going to be vital in transforming the passenger experience. So too is AI, which can improve everything from how passengers move through airport experiences to the decisions they make on the plane.
The Dot-com boom twenty-odd years ago saw millions of people effect change on a rapid and massive scale, resulting in the digitally driven world we live in today. With the internet as the backbone of this progress, the world embraced change, and did so quickly because the right infrastructure was in place. And that rapid change has led to inventions and transformations that we could not have imagined just a few decades ago. For aviation to drive this kind of transformation, airlines need to look beyond cost per megabits per second and comprehend connectivity’s capacity to revolutionize the industry.
Delta WiFi viasat Connectivity has the potential for so much more than just keeping passengers connected. Photo: Delta Air Lines If the industry takes the leap of faith required and integrates AI, data and technology with our existing knowledge applied, the possibilities could be immense. We could see fuel efficiencies on a scale not envisaged, huge cost savings, exciting revenue opportunities, enhanced passenger engagement, increased safety, better passenger flows through airports, faster transfer of products, and so much more. However, just like the energy sector, accelerating change is going to take more than a few innovators.
It’s going to need a meaningful shift in the mindset of the industry and its professionals. To attain the rewards, we need to first employ a little courage along with our imaginations so that we can bring these exciting new possibilities to life. Aviation shouldn’t see connectivity and digitalization as a daunting expense but rather as the promising future.
Dominic Walters Photo: Dominic Walters Dominic Walters spent 4.5 years working with Inmarsat Aviation, helping to promote the business and its products, overseeing the publication of the industry-leading study – Sky High Economics – and becoming a passionate voice for the importance of connectivity across the aviation ecosystem. Dominic is the author of a powerful leadership book. Photo: Dominic Walters Author of ‘Cutting Through the Bull – Harnessing the Power at Your Fingertips,’
Dominic Walters now advises ambitious businesses and leadership teams on how to shape effective marketing communications strategies that drive launch, transformation or business growth objectives. A leading marcomms professional with more than 20 years’ experience, he applies practical solutions and simplifying complexity. He has advised and held senior roles in a range of organizations, including BAE Systems, Network Rail, Inmarsat PLC, BP, Shell, PizzaExpress Hong Kong, EY.