Q&A with Stefanie Shuster Axinom chief commercial officer

Q&A with Stefanie Shuster Axinom chief commercial officer

We asked Stefanie Shuster, CCO of digital service and content delivery specialist Axinom, what trends and their company is seeing in cabin connectivity and got a wide range of input about what the company envisions for the future and also how they can assist airlines right now to help them through this unusual time.

What trends are you seeing in cabin connectivity?

There have been some attitude changes towards connectivity in the past few years. Firstly, it’s no longer a ‘good to have’ amenity but instead became a ‘must-have’. With aviation 4.0, connectivity is now seen as a vital link to driving all automation and on-board IoT. More and more airlines are adopting connectivity as a means to drive ancillary services and revenues.

As a software company building digital connectivity solutions, we have seen the impact of these transformations first-hand. Airlines want more robust solutions that can work regardless of location and can deal with contingencies. Smart cabin solutions require careful handling of data from critical and non-critical systems, including encryption of the data, integrity checks, and handling and off-loading with consideration towards service disruption. Providers want multiple-connectivity providers and pipelines on the same pax portal to cover more comprehensive geography and have a seamless experience.

How can Axinom help clients make the business case for upgrading cabin connectivity?

Airlines have to think of it more holistically. Connectivity is not just the primary driving force for ancillary revenues and PaxEx, but also the backbone of the new digital services such as on-demand streaming, cabin IoT, cargo monitoring, destination services, e-commerce, and more. Passengers these days are heavily reliant upon connectivity and connected services.

Besides passenger systems, crew applications and on-board IoT also need stable connectivity to off-load the data to on-ground servers and perform remote maintenance. It is quite evident why robust connectivity is needed for both revenues and operations, and it becomes even more vital if planning for a smart cabin.

Airlines also have to realize that cabin connectivity is not just about getting the internet on-board, but also about controlling it smartly. Managing different communication pipes, integrating multiple service providers, building a feature reach captive portal, distributing the connectivity on-board, as well as collecting, securing, and packaging the data for off-loading is all part of making a transition towards a smart aircraft.

Some new cabin connectivity growth and change are intertwined with personal devices – do you see this trend continuing?

Personal electronic devices have been a vital part of the on-board entertainment experience for some time now. Earlier PED usage for IFEC was usually seen in narrow-body or short-haul flights where seatback screens were impractical. As the multi-screen experience is now common for on-ground entertainment services, airlines have realized its importance. Moreover, with concern for hygiene and sanitation, PEDs provide an added benefit of reduced touchpoints.

The proliferation of PEDs and on-board wireless infrastructure has also enabled airlines to integrate everything from booking to check-in and even IFEC within the same PED application to create a seamless experience for passengers.

If personal devices do become integral to cabin connectivity services, can your offerings help with “future-proofing” since these device’s capabilities change frequently?

Axinom has been working in this direction for a few years already. We’ve helped a major US carrier integrate both wireless screens into seatback, leveraging the on-board wireless infrastructure. Our digital solutions for connectivity and entertainment are fully capable of delivering a hardware-agnostic experience wirelessly.

Our software solutions are built utilizing modular software architecture and containerization concepts. We allow airlines or providers to update the applications and services quickly and deploy them instantly. We are also bringing the much-needed standardization in the aviation industry by decoupling the software from hardware.

Moreover, by using Axinom wireless IFEC solutions, providers can choose COTS hardware for seatback and be future-proof. With integrated wireless seatback and wireless IFEC, airlines can introduce a unified experience, switch the hardware when needed, and benefit from the updated capabilities.

Has Axinom found any silver linings during the pandemic – like more time to innovate?

Although the pandemic has not been good for the industry, it has highlighted some key issues. First is the lack of agility in bringing digital solutions on-board. Mainly due to the presence of strict certification regulations even for non-safety critical applications. Airlines now need to consider how they get on-board services faster and deploy them quicker when approaching cabin connectivity. Secondly, more and more airlines are now moving towards standardization to avoid any vendor lock-in. Hence we have invested a lot of our resources in innovation and R&D to build solutions that enable both agility and standardization.

Monetization will be key, especially when travel begins to pick up. How can Axinom help? Airlines, today, are mainly earning revenues from connectivity and IFE content, but an immense potential in the future is targeted and personalized advertising, e-commerce, and destination services. With passengers who are connected and have spare time on their hand, there are countless opportunities to be explored for new revenue streams.

Some major issues with providing ancillary products are data requirements, application deployment, and security. Most on-board entertainment systems are stand-alone entertainment devices. More than often, airlines can barely cover the cost of the hardware, let alone the premium content. To capitalize on this opportunity and monetize, airlines require proper digitization beyond gimmicks and cosmetic enhancements.

Axinom On-Board Cloud, is a unique digital solution that standardizes the management, delivery, and deployment of all distributed own or third-party digital services. It can facilitate enhanced passenger experience through integrated on-board services for entertainment, connectivity, e-commerce, personalized advertising, real-time weather, maps, and retail destination services.

Axinom On-Board Cloud allows for agile on-board deployment of digital services as well as secure off-loading of data. Using a hybrid cloud and on-premise architecture, it allows for multiple innovative use-cases such as personalized advertising, smart trolleys, seats, wireless seatback or wireless IFE, or integrated cabin IoT. Operation-centric use-cases include integrated services for cabin hardware maintenance, real-time baggage or cargo status, on-board surveillance, and management of hermetic or cold cargo. With so many use-cases, Axinom On-Board Cloud enables airlines to explore countless opportunities for monetization adn ancillary revenues.

Axinom’s Shuster says their On-Board Cloud can help airlines better monetize IFE using proper digitization, not gimmicks and cosmetics. Axinom image.
Axinom’s Shuster says their On-Board Cloud can help airlines better monetize IFE using proper digitization, not gimmicks and cosmetics. Axinom image.

What about security for transactions? How does your company help protect users?

As with anything in aviation, security and redundancy are paramount while building any digital or tangible solution. Our aerospace solutions are built with utmost security requirements.

Axinom DRM (Digital Rights Management) takes care of IFE content security with industry-leading technology, enabling delivery of up to 4K HDR early window content. At the same time, Axinom On-Board Cloud and Axinom Sync encrypt the data and content packages using strict encryption standards. The data synchronization processes use the smart control checksum approach to verify data integrity and identify differences and interruptions between data sets.

Tell us about your “intelligent seat” work with Greiner?

Seat cushions are a part of the aircraft that perhaps see the most use of anything on-board. Passengers are in direct physical contact with them, which leads to immense wear and tear. Assessing usable cushion life is hard to achieve, and thus it requires intensive maintenance.

All of the above leads to prolonged downtime. Oftentimes, due to lack of data, cushions with usable life left are also replaced. To combat this problem, Greiner aerospace partnered with Axinom to create intelligent connected cushions.

With cushions now connected, airlines can query the condition and forward a status report to the maintenance staff, who can take appropriate action if needed. It also opens up innovative use-cases such as querying seat occupancy and real-time seat map, enabling revenues through upselling.

Your company offers a live TV solution. What makes it different or better than other live TV offerings?

Axinom Live TV has proven to be an efficient linear TV distribution solution for delivering live channels and making it available to end-users. The digital solution has been developed after years of research while working with transportation customers and partners. The product takes advantage of modern video delivery technologies to ensure that a wide range of end-user devices can be used for playback using common web browsers without custom apps or plugins.

Axinom Live TV works over IP and is as less demanding on the on-board hardware as possible. All complex logic, including video encoding, transcoding, and packaging, is done by on-ground components. The solution utilizes only data channels for transmission. On top of that, the customers benefit from the solution’s adaptive streaming standards, ensuring playback on any platform. The video streams get delivered according to the bandwidth available and pre-defined rules. With the capability to handle the 4k HDR video format, the solution is also future-proof.