First time at a convention? Check. First time conducting in-person interviews as a journalist? Check. First time to stumble into an exclusive story, while flying for the first time in a Grumman HU-16 Albatross seaplane? Um, check and check! These are just some of the things I can cross off my bucket list after attending last month’s Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) conference and exhibition in Long Beach, California.
I’m a newbie in the world of aviation journalism, and the APEX EXPO gave me the opportunity to dive in headfirst and see if I could stay afloat. Before the EXPO, I had never met anyone on the APEX News Daily editorial team in person, and, as you know, you only get one chance to make a first impression. I was determined to do it right the first time. Heck, we were about to push out three show daily newspapers!
When the EXPO doors opened, I was stunned at the elaborate nature of the exhibitors’ booths, as well as the sheer overall size of the show. As I walked to the newsroom, I was greeted by large displays of high-end aircraft seats with huge personal monitors, a giant Airbus A380 model made with impeccable detail, and even a recreation of the set of the movie Back To The Future, courtesy of JetBlue Airways subsidiary LiveTV.
As a so-called “aviation geek” or #AvGeek on Twitter, I found it fascinating to see the level of detail that goes into the design of aircraft interiors and IFE. Exhibitors at the show ran the gamut of the industry – from airframers all the way down to a company that sells tray tables with a little grove in it for tablets.
My first big story came from Gogo, the well-known in-flight Internet provider to many US airlines. In an interview with me for the APEX News Daily, Gogo divulged details about upgrading Delta Air Lines’ entire domestic fleet to its new, faster ATG-4 network. On top of that, Gogo announced that Delta would be signing up for fleet-wide streaming video to passenger devices.
Streaming video turned out to be a big overtone of the EXPO. Big companies like Panasonic Avionics, and small competitors like digEcor, were all offering wireless IFE solutions, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes the next big thing in the passenger experience. It brings many of the benefits of traditional IFE, with only a small percentage of the weight burdens. It enables a passenger like me to use my own device, though ‘early window’ movies are still off limits, as Hollywood studios are concerned about security.
Also at the EXPO, in-seat power company Astronics AES revealed its newly-developed USB charging system, which can charge 4 iPads at once. That may not seem like a big deal, but with streaming IFE coming, and many passengers already “double- and triple-screening”, devices will need to be powered in-flight.
While I was out on the show floor conducting interviews, some major announcements were made. Boeing revealed plans offer inflight connectivity and wireless IFE as linefit options across its aircraft portfolio. And Airbus announced that the Global Communications Suite (GCS) from Panasonic Avionics will be offered as a linefit option for the A330.
Once these plans are implemented, airlines will no longer need to rip apart brand new aircraft to install these systems.
During the week of the EXPO, I ran from booth to booth, conducting interviews with some seriously interesting companies. However, some of the most interesting content came from unexpected places.
Here’s how I scored a scoop about Row 44, which is in the midst of fitting Southwest Airlines’ entire fleet with inflight high-speed Internet, and counts a growing list of other airlines as customers.
Our fantastic photographer Ian Billinghurst secured me a promotional flight on Row 44’s test aircraft, the aforementioned Albatross. It’s one thing to put a satellite antenna on top of a convention center roof to show attendees how your inflight connectivity system works, but this ride on the Albatross provided me with an opportunity to test Row 44’s service under real world conditions.
Before we took to the air, I noticed something interesting, and inquired about a little box with white antennas. Little did I know that I had stumbled onto a brand new product, not yet announced by Row 44. It turns out that Row 44 has an in-flight GSM solution, which is ready to roll out! Row 44 simply did not have a launch customer yet. Hello, exclusive story. We’ll have more information about Row 44’s GSM product in a future post.
On take-off in the Albatross, I sat in the flight deck. We buzzed the California coast while I gawked at the scenery, simultaneously making a video call on my iPhone in an amphibious aircraft manufactured in 1950. This was an experience I will never forget, and was one of the best initiations into the world of aviation journalism I could possibly imagine.
The APEX EXPO was every bit as exciting as I had hoped. From trying out eye tracking IFE at Panasonic to discussing the benefits of quality headphones at Bose, the show exemplifies how quickly passenger experience stakeholders are evolving to meet the needs of today’s tech-savvy travellers.
Check out my video of the Albatross take-off below!