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Four key lessons for deploying an eEnablement program

The first step to realizing the power of connected aircraft is eEnabling your crew devices and apps. The eEnablement benefits are countless across airline departments from inflight services to maintenance to flight ops. We connect the most crew members in the industry and we are eEnabling more every day. Crew connectivity is groundbreaking — there is not a mandated step-by-step manual to help you get your crew connected. While every eEnablement program may be a little different, there are four key learnings you should bear in mind as you embark on an eEnablement program.

Key Learning #1: Plan and build for aircraft environment
Up at 10,000+ feet the setting is different, it is not your ordinary office environment. Flight applications are not always built bearing this in mind. Some applications are not able to handle information or events passed to them over the IFC network or through an onboard server. Some may not be able to handle the disruption caused by satellite beam switches. Therefore, it’s essential to both plan and build specifically for the unique characteristics of a connected aircraft environment.

At the onset as part of the planning, you should determine objectives and key metrics used to determine success by focusing on what are you aretrying to accomplish with the application. For example, does the app need to be available 99.999% or only 10% of the time? Or, how much data will it use?

Next, creating multiple test scenarios and testing in a lab environment is critical. For example, Gogo’s lab can simulate the exact nature of the aircraft environment above our service altitude. Once you’re ready to roll out an eEnablement program, it’s best to do so in a controlled fashion. Lay out a specific period prior to the roll out to collect feedback from the crew. At a minimum, one month of testing is recommended to gather enough data. This is the most critical part of the process, because testing is conducted in the actual aircraft environment. Crew feedback will allow you to address any challenges or issues and make any updates or adjustments to your eEnablement program before a full production roll out. Ensuring a smooth roll out is critical to the long-term success of the software implementation.

Key Learning #2: Network performance matters
Crew members may become frustrated when using connected device and apps if the experience is poor. In addition to the performance of the application itself, network performance is part of this experience. Think about your own experiences on the ground and how frustrating it can be when a site or an app takes too long to load. Poor crew experience can hinder adoption of an application.

However, systems such as Gogo 2Ku improve user experience, allowing crews to view more graphical information (such as weather). Higher quality network performance means crews can update data more frequently without blowing your bottom line. Furthermore, better networks offer more capability such as streaming key operational data in real-time more efficiently.

Key Learning #3: Usage and value will grow
As recommended earlier, you should control your initial launch targeted to limited participants before the full roll out across your crew population. Thus, you most likely will not see immediate usage spikes due to the controlled roll out. With a recent launch of a real-time weather application, we saw data consumed after launch steadily climb and peak in year two. This may not be the case for all apps, but we tend to see this pattern of usage and adoption increasing over time — especially after adding new features and functionality. Over time, pilots become more and more reliant on the real-time access to information such as real-time graphical weather versus utilizing traditional text-based reports that are 6-24 hours old. At this stage, it is important to manage the expectations of internal stakeholders. Immediate full adoption is not likely unless mandated. eEnablement programs will change the way crews operate and may require change management initiatives to drive full adoption.

Key Learning #4: Continuous support is necessary
Rolling out a full production eEnablement program is an accomplishment, but for the program to thrive ongoing management and support throughout the lifecycle of a program is required. Management and support equates to continuous testing, reporting, tracking, and monitoring, while being able to access tech support and maintenance when needed.

Ongoing lab testing of crew devices, app updates, operating system updates, and network software revisions is crucial. For example, sometimes OS software updates can make apps malfunction or impair performance.

Daily and weekly reporting and tracking (e.g. EFB usage per flight) will highlight usage and performance trends, as well as, anomalies and potential issues. Additional monitoring includes health monitoring of networks, devices, and applications. Further, 24/7/365 network monitoring through your eEnablement provider’s Network Operations Center (NOC) provides continuous network monitoring and triage. Being proactive and getting in front of potential issues is important for the long-term viability of crew applications.

From a tech support standpoint, having a multi-tier support system is needed. In addition to a NOC, chat functionality can provide real time support needed while in flight, while field teams provide on-site support.

Lastly, even with continuous management and support, there can still be challenges with eEnablement programs. Thus, it’s imperative to host redundant information on the onboard server for disaster recovery, like backing up your smartphone to the cloud. For example, if a pilot’s manuals become corrupted, they can be easily recovered on board.

While every airline’s operation is different and therefore every eEnablement program is unique, these four key lessons learned should provide guidance during all phases of an eEnablement program from planning to building to supporting your program. Armed with these key learnings, the result should be a smoother, successful implementation of an eEnablement program.