Making its first standalone appearance at an international airshow here in Singapore, software giant Microsoft (Booth E63) will promote a variety of software and hardware solutions for airline passengers, staff and pilots.
“The key for us and the reason why we’re engaging at the airshow is because we’ve been doing a lot of work over the past few years in the airline space and we see airlines as a tremendous opportunity for Microsoft,” said Matthew Muta, the company’s global managing director for hospitality and travel.
“Enablement” is a word Muta likes to use and one that aptly describes Microsoft’s mission of empowering airline employees and customers to do more with the personal devices and displays they have available. For passengers, that means providing a more personalized connection to their airline. “Historically…you’re a seat number on board the airplane,” Muta said. “We’re looking at providing technology that actually allows the airline to engage with who you are at the seatback. It becomes more of a contextual, relevant, personal experience as opposed to one-size-fits-all.”
Microsoft and partner company Sitecore, a web application solution provider, have teamed to create a “contextual, more personalized environment for the passenger as they navigate an airline’s website,” which the companies will demonstrate at Singapore.
Microsoft and Lufthansa Systems are meanwhile unveiling the “BoardConnect” application for Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system, interactive software that allows airlines to customize their in-flight entertainment systems. Airlines can quickly configure their IFE devices to offer uniquely branded products to passengers.
“We think there’s a real shift from the traditional mentality of in-flight entertainment to more of an in-flight engagement with the airline brand and their passengers,” said Muta.
Microsoft endeavors to better connect airline staff from gate agents to flight attendants to pilots by providing systems they can access on mobile devices, on their computers at home or at airport kiosks. “Our goal is to provide a platform for these airlines that [would allow] their staff to interact with them or interact with each other no matter where they are,” Muta said. For example, Emirates uses an “onboard concierge” touchscreen application running on Microsoft’s Windows 8 and displayed on HP ElitePad 900 tablets that allows airline pursers to better monitor cabin crew performance and provide more personalized service to passengers.
With partner company Avanade, Microsoft is driving the transition to “cashless cabins.” At Singapore, Avanade will demonstrate its Mobile Airline Platform, a mobile device interface that supports in-flight sales transactions and helps airlines generate ancillary revenue. Delta Air Lines flight attendants use the system on Nokia smartphones. “That solution allows them to do so much more than just collect payments, [such as] understanding who their high-value passengers are,” Muta said.
Also at Singapore, navigation chart supplier Jeppesen will showcase its FliteDeck Pro system, an electronic flight bag (EFB) application designed for the Windows platform. Jeppesen, Microsoft and Delta have collaborated to provide FliteDeck Pro on Microsoft Surface 2 tablets, which the airline plans to distribute to some 11,000 pilots. The carrier will initially use the tablets for storing charts and reference materials for use by pilots in non-critical flight phases. It expects to receive U.S. Federal Aviation Administration approval to use the devices for all flight phases this year, following testing on Boeing 757s and 767s.
The Surface 2 will run on the Windows RT 8.1 operating system, which combined with FliteDeck Pro provides access to real-time information such as dynamic charts. Pilots can open two applications side-by-side, displaying, for example, weather information alongside proposed flight paths.
“I should say a Windows 8 ‘solution,’ because it’s not just a rewrite of FliteDeck Pro to a Windows version. It’s really making use of the capabilities of our platform both from a software and a hardware perspective,” Muta said. “Our play here is really not just to provide an electronic flight bag on a digital device, but to also enable our airline clients and their flight crews to do more with that device.”