In the second part of Aircraft Cabin Management’s Global Interiors Outlook, David Whelan at Valour Consultancy outlines what trends will shape the IFEC market in 2023.

As we approach the end of 2022, the aviation industry find itself in a much stronger position than it did a year ago. Passengers have returned to the skies with great enthusiasm, for both business and leisure travel, writes David Whelan at Valour Consultancy.

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According to IATA, global air travel in September 2022 rose 57.0% compared to September 2021. Globally, traffic is now at 73.8% of September 2019 levels. The rebound has been particularly noticeable in APAC which has seen a 464.8% increase for international traffic compared to this time last year. The only region which hasn’t posted encouraging growth has been China, where traffic is still struggling with COVID restrictions.

There are still plenty of challenges ahead, but 2023 is likely to be another year of encouraging recovery with global air travel set to return to pre-covid levels by 2024. Moreover, we are seeing much more solid aircraft delivery numbers this year and expect this recovery to continue next year. Deliveries for 2022 are likely to land around 1,000 across the year, a marked improvement from 2021.

Valour Consultancy expects the number of aircraft deliveries in 2023 to reach approximately 1,200. The widebody market (vital to seatback IFE vendors) has struggled the most since COVID hit but we can expect to see widebody deliveries reach around 200 for 2023; with the vast majority of these linefit with seatback IFE. There will also be an increasing number of widebody retrofit opportunities, as well as linefits on new long-haul narrowbody aircraft during this period.

So, the future looks bright for IFEC in 2023, but which specific trends should we be on the lookout for and how is the market adapting to the new state of play? Let’s take a look.

Airspace Link paves way for more Linefit W-IFE Unlike the seatback IFE market, the vast majority of W-IFE installations are retrofits – mainly because there remains a huge, untapped pool of candidate narrow-body aircraft to be equipped with the technology. Typically, only around 10-15% of annual W-IFE installations are linefit. For that reason, ensuring the installation process is as smooth as possible and that downtime is minimised has been a major point of competition among W-IFE providers; particularly for portable vendors where speed of installation is a major USP.

Retrofit installations may have typically been the main route for W-IFE providers to get their respective solutions onboard aircraft and while this will remain the case, Valour Consultancy expects there to be substantial growth in W-IFE solutions being fitted at the factory. With an increasing number of airlines seeing W-IFE as a major component in the urgent digitalisation of the cabin, the technology is increasingly likely to be part of the initial delivery.

Airbus’s Airspace Link, formerly known as OSP, could have a major impact on the rate of linefit W-IFE installations over the coming years. Airspace Link will come to encompass much more than just W-IFE, with IoT a key component of the long term plan, but for now the W-IFE digital platform is the first out of the blocks.

Airspace Link is a ‘Wireless IFE App’ which provides a foundational platform which can then be integrated to an airline’s needs by one of three software partners: Bluebox, Display Interactive, and Inflight Dublin. This sits on Airbus’ server – from Kid-Systeme – and is available for linefit and retrofit installations on Airbus aircraft. We can certainly expect the Airspace Link W-IFE app to be increasingly common for new deliveries in the coming years. Retrofits are also possible on non-Airbus aircraft via GeniusLINK.

W-IFE Vendors Transition to Digital Service Providers Traditional AVOD will remain a vital part of a comprehensive IFE solution, but companies are gradually diversifying their solutions and going further than ever before with what is expected of IFE. Vendors and airlines are increasingly looking at IFE as a means of managing the whole in-flight experience of the passenger. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated this trend and the industry is now beginning to transition into a more holistic in-flight engagement strategy.

Digital transformation of the aircraft was inevitable and had already begun pre-COVID and there were two main purposes to this: to enhance the in-flight experience of the passenger by providing more choice and less friction; and related to this, help the crew manage the cabin in increasingly efficient ways.

IFE providers are increasingly focused on providing a wide range of solutions including:

  • digital seat pockets
  • in-flight catering
  • destination content
  • ecommerce platforms
  • in-flight advertising

This trend can be seen most notably in W-IFE vendors, many of which are now repositioning their focus to away from in-flight entertainment and towards broader digital services platforms. This can be seen in the launch of Bluebox’s Blueview which is described as a ‘digital passenger experience platform’. The introduction of Airspace Link also means that, in the future, W-IFE vendors could be software-only partners – with Airbus providing the hardware.

Greater Personalisation Personalising the digital experience is at the forefront of the consumer technology market, and the aviation industry is beginning to follow this trend with airlines looking to enhance the passenger experience. In 2023, expect to see more discussion around personalising the IFE experience for passengers. Vendors and airlines are becoming increasingly proficient at offering travellers a more tailored in-flight experience. With every year that goes by, Millennials and Gen Z travellers make up an increasingly higher proportion of all air passengers and their experience of growing up in a digital environment means the number of flyers who see the trade-off between providing information about themselves and getting a more personalised experience is increasing.

Connected IFE allows airlines to create much more bespoke experiences. This involves leveraging big data in flight and having it supplement data stored in customer relationship management (CRM) systems. This wealth of information is then crunched in such a way that passengers are presented with personalised content whilst on board the aircraft. IFEC systems are therefore being designed to be tightly integrated into an airline’s CRM system containing not just viewing history but information on things like past purchases, routes travelled, food preferences, allergies etc.

The Recovery Begins… So, 2023 looks like another strong recovery year for the IFEC ecosystem thanks to the broader recovery of the aviation industry as a whole and the growing need for airlines to digitalise and connect passengers.

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