Via Satellite

Singapore Airlines Exec Reflects on IFC Developments in 2018

Singapore Airlines (SIA) is one of Asia’s flagship airlines and also one of the pioneers when it comes to In-Flight Connectivity (IFC). The airline is constantly looking to improve these offerings to passengers as it looks to take its strategy to the next level. In an exclusive interview, SIA Vice President (VP) of Product Innovation Ng Yung Han told Via Satellite about the airline’s plans.“Our in-flight connectivity roadmap includes providing our customers with personalised product and service offerings that enhance their overall travel experience,” he said. “Examples are the complimentary Wi-Fi that was rolled out to our Suites, First Class, and Business Class customers and SIA’s PPS Club/Supplementary Card members in early 2018, and our in-flight Wi-Fi portal with enhanced User Experience (UX).”

He said the airline is also constantly looking to improve its service onboard by leveraging in-flight connectivity. An example is providing its crew with real-time operational data updates and conducting in-flight sales transactions more efficiently.

For any airline, one of the key initial goals is to have all of its fleet connected to W-Fi. In terms of when this might happen for SIA, Ng said the airline remains on track to provide its customers with enhanced IFC on all aircraft. He said work is in progress to upgrade its Sitaonair L-band Swift Broadband (SBB) equipped aircraft with high-speed Ka-band Global Xpress connectivity. In addition, new aircraft joining the fleet will be equipped with broadband connectivity services provided by Panasonic Avionics and Sitaonair, so customers can experience high-speed in-flight Wi-Fi.

In a recent interview with Andy Middleton, head of customer experience at EasyJet, he said no airline had “cracked it” in terms of finding the right business model for monetizing the passenger experience through connectivity. I asked Ng whether he agrees with this statement. “A balanced approach is key in formulating the ideal commercial model for in-flight connectivity,” he said. “A critical element in achieving this is to work with like-minded connectivity providers who also understand what customers need and want. As connectivity elevates the customers’ in-flight experience, staying connected continues to gain significant momentum. Hence, the central focus is on looking at the growing expectations of in-flight connectivity amongst customers.”

Given that SIA has been providing complimentary in-flight Wi-Fi to customers travelling in premium classes, as well as to its Frequent Flyer customers (PPS Club members) travelling in any cabin class, since early 2018, the company’s Wi-Fi plans have stepped up a notch. “Recognizing the importance of providing eligible customers with seamless access to complimentary Wi-Fi sessions on board, SIA collaborated with its two Wi-Fi service providers, Panasonic and Sitaonair, to customize and implement a fuss-free Wi-Fi redemption experience that extends the right amount of complimentary Wi-Fi to the right customer at the right time,” says Ng. “Through this initiative, eligible customers simply provide their last name, seat number and email to start enjoying their complimentary Wi-Fi session, regardless of whether customers are travelling on a Panasonic or Sitaonair equipped aircraft.”

The deal with Panasonic was announced earlier this year. As part of the deal, the two companies will aim to deliver a broadband-connected, personalized, immersive entertainment experience across the airline's entire 787-10 fleet and A350 Ultra-long-haul fleet. The deal will see Panasonic deliver connectivity and in-flight entertainment solutions that are custom-tailored to SIA’s vision for an enhanced KrisWorld experience on board their B787-10 aircraft and A350-900 Ultra-long-haul aircraft. SIA will be the launch customer for both fleets.

Alibaba

While deals with the likes of Panasonic and Sitaonair are important, the airline wants to also find new ways to boost the passenger experience. One of its most eye-catching deals this year was with Alibaba, the Chinese retail giant. It is a comprehensive deal that extends to areas such as flight ticket sales, loyalty programs, marketing initiatives, cloud services payments, and logistics. Alibaba has more than 600 million monthly active mobile users on its China marketplaces. Both companies see the deal as part of a seamless convergence of online and offline retail experiences into a digital first reality. While the two companies have been working together since 2013, the latest deal this year was seen as a significant extension, and an example of SIA’s innovation in the IFC space.

The airline looks well on track to continue to be one of the leaders in this space. “Listening to our customers’ needs and preferences and digitizing them (where applicable) continue to be important elements of our strategy, as we continue to enhance our customers’ experience. Considering the range of factors that may impact a customer’s in-flight connectivity experience (e.g. satellite availability and coverage, weather, concurrent users), there remains a challenge to provide customers with an equal ground-like connectivity experience. At the end of the day, it is about understanding and catering to the different needs and wants of our customers in-flight. With digitization, the need to stay connected anywhere, anytime is now more important than before and it will continue to gain significant momentum,” says Ng. VS