Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Crowdsourcing the future of flight?

Did you know airlines are constantly looking for ways to make flights more efficient? From gate conflicts to operational challenges to air traffic management, the dynamics of a flight can change quickly and lead to costly delays.

There is good news. Advancements in real-time big data analysis are changing the course of flight as we know it. Imagine if the pilot could augment their decision-making process with “real time business intelligence,”—information available in the cockpit that would allow them to make adjustments to their flight patterns.

The Challenge as offered by GE and Alaska Airlines is the following:

Use the different data sets found on this page under Get the Data to develop a usable and scalable algorithm that delivers a real-time flight profile to the pilot, helping them make flights more efficient and reliably on time.

Source: http://www.gequest.com/c/flight

This competition is hosted on Kaggle, the platform at the crossroads between the seismic trends of crowdsourcing and big data.

Kaggle is an innovative solution for statistical/analytics outsourcing. We are the leading platform for predictive modeling competitions. Companies, governments and researchers present datasets and problems - the world's best data scientists then compete to produce the best solutions. At the end of a competition, the competition host pays prize money in exchange for the intellectual property behind the winning model.

Source: http://www.kaggle.com/about

This bodes well for the future of aviation.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A 737-700 Lands on Ice

In what has been a year of “firsts” for Boeing, the 737 just added another “first” to its long list. A Next-Generation 737-700 BBJ flown by PrivatAir touched down at the Norwegian Polar Institute - an outpost dedicated to environmental and climate monitoring in Antarctica. The airplane was the first 737 flight to be operated to commercial standards on the southernmost continent.

The goal of the flight from Cape Town, South Africa was to prove that a commercial airline could operate a service to Antarctica and maintain industry safety standards, while improving efficiency and minimizing environmental impact.

The 737-700 BBJ was specially configured for polar operations, which included landing on blue ice. By the way, PrivatAir is a Geneva-based business aviation and private scheduled-service operator.

Source: http://boeingblogs.com/randy/archives/2012/12/my_favorite_things.html

Monday, December 17, 2012

He Carries On, She Likes to Check

She likes the window seat; he likes the aisle. She wants the shade pulled down; he likes the shade up. She checks a bag; he only carries on. She curls up in a ball to avoid contact; he sits with his elbows and legs splayed out.

The sexes can fly in different directions when it comes to airplane and hotel habits and preferences, adding stress to an already taxing experience for couples and families.

Men still outnumber women among frequent fliers. Several airlines, US Airways LCC +0.78% and Delta Air Lines DAL +1.32% among them, say their customer base runs about 54% to 56% male. But the difference is leveling off. Virgin America says its passenger surveys over the past year average 52% men and 48% women. British Airways IAG.MC +3.57% actually carries more women than men, a spokeswoman said.

Membership in Alaska Airlines' frequent-flier program is evenly split between men and women, at least among members for whom gender is known, according to a spokeswoman for the Seattle-based airline. And at American Airlines, men make up 55% of the frequent-flier-program membership, but women under 30 years old now outnumber men in that age group.

As more women join the ranks of road warriors, gender differences are becoming more noticeable, according to airline data, interviews with airlines crews, frequent travelers—and years of fielding traveler questions and complaints. And those differences are increasingly gaining attention of airlines and hotels.

Airlines with entertainment systems, such as Virgin America, say women prefer movies and men are more likely to tune into live news and sports. Blankets get used more by women than men, airlines say.

In a study Delta Air Lines commissioned on fliers' food preferences, the airline found women are more likely than men to favor a chef salad and a tapas menu. The airline is considering menu changes now. With more women visiting airport clubs, Delta, which says 54% of its frequent-flier membership is male, added Better Homes and Gardens to the magazine selection in the clubs.

Hyatt Hotels set up hotel room "labs" to study behavior and found interesting differences between men and women. One example: Women like to read in bed while men like to read in chairs. So Hyatt stepped up installation of more power plugs bedside for e-readers and tablets.

On Saturday, the company will change to new brands of bathroom products tested on women for its properties world-wide. Hyatt Regency Hotels in North America, for instance, will carry KenetMD Skin Care products instead of the Portico products they use now. "If I don't have to bring all of my bath products, I can turn a checked bag into a carry-on bag," said Sara Kearney, Hyatt's senior vice president of brands.

In general, airlines say, women prefer window seats and men prefer aisle seats. Of US Airways frequent fliers who have stated a preference on seating, males much prefer aisles over windows, almost 2-to-1, according to the airline's passenger data.

That worked well in past years when planes typically weren't as full and middle seats flew empty. Now full planes likely means these gender differences often will collide.

Suzanne Stork from Seattle says her husband Carl takes the middle seat when they travel together even though he loves to look out the window. That's because she likes to shut the shade to cut down on glare when reading or watching shows. "He's like a little boy with trains. He says, 'Look honey, there's a Singapore 747,'" Ms. Stork said. "I couldn't care less."

Curt Borchardt and Jenny Church, retirees from San Luis Obispo, Calif., both prefer window seats, but she ends up in the middle because he's tall and too cramped in middle seats. He even puts his feet under the middle seat in front of her. So she's started booking a window seat one row behind him. "I like not being in the middle seat," Ms. Church said.

Men often complain women pack too much and often have to check bags—risking loss and slowing up the trip. Many women complain Transportation Security Administration rules on liquids put them at a disadvantage. They say they often have to check baggage because cosmetics, toiletries and other supplies don't all fit in a quart-sized baggie.

Women who travel a lot say one of the biggest frustrations is that men often assume women don't have the top-tier elite status or first-class seat for early boarding. Several women interviewed, who were part of a recent super-frequent-flier road trip organized by MilePoint.com, said men would cut in front of them or even shove them in the stampede of boarding, as a result.

"I get pushed out of the way. People just don't believe I belong there," said Christy Lipschultz, a Chicago project manager for a financial-services company. Ms. Lipschultz has tallied about 200,000 miles this year on United Airlines and American Airlines.

And once on the plane, the differences become more strained. Who gets the armrest? In airport interviews, women say men often insist on taking it, even when the woman is in the middle seat. Women also complain men hog all the legroom they can claim. One strategy: Dropping something so the male passenger has to retreat when the woman bends down to pick it up.

"I think men just feel entitled and don't notice. They are oblivious," said Asya Kamsky, a San Francisco software executive who flies about 200,000 miles a year. Ms. Kamsky said she defends her space against encroaching elbows and legs. "I don't have a problem kicking if I need to," she said.

Anne-Marie Maguire, a Cambridge, Mass., consultant, books two aisle seats side-by-side when she travels with her long-legged husband. "Let him take someone else's leg space," she said.

When it comes to airline crews, women get better treatment—at least in the opinion of some men. Egbert Simons, who travels frequently as a wine consultant, says his girlfriend, dressed in Diane von Furstenberg or other designers, can go from coach to first class to use the bathroom all the time.

"I try that and they take me away in handcuffs," Mr. Simons joked.

Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324705104578147170003062856.html

Friday, December 14, 2012

More Airlines Support Passbook

Just a few short months after Apple introduced the world to the iPhone 5’s Passbook app, people are still struggling to find a use for it, although nowhere near as much as they were when it first came out. The function it provides is highly useful in theory but so far there have not been many situations where it would prove useful. While this says nothing about the actual quality of the app itself, it does show that companies have been slow to jump on board and contribute their services to it. However this is bound to change with time as more companies cotton on and giants like Starbucks are already accepting vouchers through Passbook so it is certainly well on its way.

In case you are unfamiliar with the app, Passbook is a new feature found on the iPhone and iPad that can collect all these different vouchers and tickets from various apps into one convenient place, from which they can be scanned for quick use. This includes Starbucks cards and movie tickets, making life all the more convenient, as well as airline tickets of course and it is the latter use that is perhaps proving to be the most popular.

But it is slowly growing and becoming increasingly useful, especially regarding its use as an alternative means to board a flight. The ability to use your iPhone 5 as a way to carry virtual plane tickets that could provide easy boarding with a simple swipe was there from the start but initially there were only three airline companies accepting mobile boarding passes; United Airlines, American Airlines and Lufthansa. However that number has now risen significantly to ten, providing a much more accessible service to a wider demographic of fliers. While Passbook still provides limited usage at this point overall, it is excelling in the airport.

The complete list of the ten airlines now accepting Passbook’s virtual boarding passes in lieu of real ones, including the original three, are as follows:

  • Air Canada
  • American Airlines
  • ANA
  • Lufthansa
  • Malaysian Airlines
  • Porter Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Turkish Airlines
  • United Airlines
  • Virgin Australia

In addition to this, British Airways and Delta are rumoured to be joining the list soon. If you want to add a flight for one of the airlines listed above to your Passbook then you will need to make sure you have iOS 6 running on your device. One way you can add the flight is to download the airline’s own official app and open an account, otherwise you can just use the email confirmation of your flight, which can be sent to Passbook.

Passbook has certainly made the whole boarding procedure a lot quicker and easier than it used to be as all it requires from you is a simple swipe of your iPhone with the boarding pass displayed on the screen. If the number of people you see brandishing iPhones for scanning at the gate is anything to go by then it would seem that in the airport, Passbook has already taken off.

Source: http://macslife.net/more-airlines-support-passbook/

Qantas scraps plans for inflight Wi-Fi following trial

Qantas has scrapped plans to offer Wi-Fi onboard its Airbus A380s following average customer take-up of less than 5% during a nine-month trial.

The OnAir Wi-Fi service was tested on selected Airbus A380s flying to London and Los Angeles from March to November. Qantas offered the connectivity option to customers in various data packages ranging in price from A$12.90 ($13.48) to $39.90.

“Most of our A380 services operate at night and so another dampener on demand was the fact people preferred to sleep than surf the Web,” Qantas said in a release. “We remain focused on delivering services to our customers that they value. Right now, our customers are telling us that access to the Internet on the ground is more important than in the air. We are continuing to invest in upgrading Wi-Fi technology across our domestic and international lounge network. We will continue to evaluate demand for Wi-Fi options onboard.”

Existing service, which allows customers to send and receive text message and make inflight phone calls, will remain available on its A380s, selected Boeing 747s and A330 aircraft, the carrier said.

OnAir received authorization to provide inflight Wi-Fi service within Australian airspace in September.

British Airways commits $500M to fuel from GreenSky London plant

British Airways announced they have committed to buying $500M in aviation biofuel produced at the GreenSky London facility for the next ten years and consent is now being sought to begin construction of the facility at a site in East London.

GreenSky London is a joint development between British Airways and Solena and once built will be Europe’s first commercial scale low carbon jet fuel production facility.

The first-of-its-kind facility will annually convert around 500,000 tonnes of locally-sourced waste, that would otherwise go to landfill, into 50,000 tonnes of sustainable aviation biofuel and 50,000 tonnes of bionaphtha and biodiesel. The facility will also have a renewable power generating capacity of 40 MW.

Keith Williams, Chief Executive of British Airways, said: “We are delighted that the GreenSky London project is getting ever closer to fruition. With world-class technology partners now in place, we are well on our way to making sustainable aviation fuel a reality for British Airways by 2015.”

British Airways has now committed to purchasing, at market competitive prices, the jet fuel produced by the plant for the next ten years which equates to $500 million at today’s prices. Furthermore, the partners have signed an exclusive option on a site for the facility and consent work for the site has now begun.

Dr Jeremy Tomkinson, Chief Executive of NNFCC, who have been providing technical consultancy on the project, said: “Today’s announcement demonstrates British Airways commitment to developing more sustainable forms of transport, which will help reduce the company’s greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on fossil fuels.”

“Biofuels are the only low carbon alternative to fossil fuels in the aviation sector and as a result GreenSky London is likely to be the first of many similar projects built in the years to come, but every new market needs a pioneer and it is pleasing to see the UK take a leading role in its development,” he added.

The GreenSky London process will use Solena’s high temperature gasification technology to produce a synthesis gas, which will then be cleaned and converted into liquid hydrocarbons using British company Oxford Catalyst’s patented Fischer-Tropsch reactors.

Engineering company Fluor has started pre-front end engineering and design of the project, and the partners aim to have the site operational by 2015. GreenSky London will create more than 1000 jobs in the construction phase and over 150 permanent staff will be needed to operate the facility.

Boeing's Impact

Boeing started a new brand awareness campaign with very well done infographics about the company's impact and innovation legacy.

The slides are available here: http://boeing.com/stories/impact.html
The timeline is available here: http://boeing.com/stories/timeline.html

GermanWings: A convergence between Legacy and Low Cost Carriers

Lufthansa is launching its new concept for European direct services on July 1, 2013, six months after the group’s direct services unit has been merged with low-fare affiliate Germanwings. The new airline, to be branded Germanwings, is a blend of premium and no-frills products and the group’s last effort to turn around its short-haul network to profitability.

Germanwings will operate 32 Airbus A319s and A320s that have formed the fleet of the current low-fare airline. Lufthansa is shifting over 29 A319/320s for a fleet of 61 narrowbodies. The unit also is wet-leasing 23 Bombardier CRJ-900s from Eurowings, one of the group’s regional subsidiaries. The new Germanwings is to reach €1.8 billion in annual sales and 16 million passengers with a combined fleet of 84 aircraft, slightly fewer than the 90 originally envisaged. Lufthansa has decided not to transfer all of the existing non-hub fleet to the new unit. Some aircraft are shifted to hub flying, and the company has decided to accelerate the retirement of its Boeing 737-300 and -500 fleet.

With the kickoff date in July, Germanwings plans to offer three fare categories. “Best” will provide flexible tickets, lounge access, priority security lanes, full frequent flyer recognition, free baggage and free drinks and meals on board. The middle seat will remain free in the first three rows, which are reserved for premium passengers. Germanwings is offering the business class-style service on all domestic routes and trips to Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, France, Russia and the U.K., but not on leisure services to the Mediterranean. Germanwings has decided on a 32-in. seat pitch in the first 10 rows.

Tickets in the “Smart” category are flexible, but can only be changed for a fee. Even frequent flyers can only use the lounge for a €25 charge, but drinks and snacks, as well as baggage, are free. The “Basic” plan is the cheapest, offering 29-in. seat pitch. Fares start at €33 one-way, and baggage, food and other services are extra.

Germanwings CEO Thomas Winkelmann says Smart fares will be offered from €53, and the Best category is offered in the €199-399 range.

Lufthansa claims Germanwings will be able to operate at 20% lower unit costs than the parent company. That cost difference used to be much larger, but with more integration and features, such as two frequent flyer programs, on the Germanwings side and cost cuts inside Lufthansa, the gap has narrowed recently. Germanwings is expected to make a profit in 2015.

Lufthansa Group CEO Christoph Franz says that “the market has changed more quickly than we would have imagined only a few months ago,” leading to “significant cost pressure we have to react to.” The airline conceded its losses have been in the triple-digit-million-euro range in its short-haul operation for many years.

Franz said that Lufthansa had two options: pulling out of non-hub flying or continuing it, albeit at much lower costs.

Separately, Lufthansa decided to introduce a premium economy class across its entire long-haul fleet. The new seats will be introduced when the transition to the new lie-flat business class is completed, most likely by the end of 2014. Premium economy has been a standard feature for many long-haul carriers for many years, including direct competitors, such as British Airways, but Lufthansa has been concerned that too many business travelers might opt to trade down. With the new lie-flat seats in business, management is confident that the product difference is big enough to take the risk.

The airline has charged a group of product experts internally to work on the details of premium economy over several months. It plans to invest less than €100 million in the upgrade. No details as to the capacity share and product features have been decided.

Source: http://www.aviationweek.com/Article.aspx?id=/article-xml/avd_12_07_2012_p01-01-525333.xml

Thursday, December 13, 2012

NEW: Google Flight Explorer

Where will you go next? Find out with Google Flight Explorer, the latest addition to Google Flights.

Unlike Google Flights, which launched in September 2011, Flight Explorer appears to be much more customizable. Not only does it let you easily modify your trip length on the left-hand side, but the top bar is full of options: stops, airline, duration, outbound time, and return time. The first two are drop down menus while the other ones are sliders helping you pick the timeframe you want.

The default page loads the “Lowest fares for trips of 3-5 days” and the outline is clearly something we haven’t seen before. There’s a picture of your destination and then a graph of the lowest prices to get you there, taking your filters into account, for the last few months.

Clicking on any of them redirects you to Google Flights, suggesting that this appears to be an augmentation of the previous service, not a replacement. Maybe the two will end up being merged together, but for now they remain separate. Either way, the goal appears to be getting you to stick to Google when looking for an online flight booking service that will help you purchase airline tickets.

“Flight Explorer is a an experimental feature of Flight Search that allow users to explore flight destinations,” a Google spokesperson told TNW. “The feature enables users to consider multiple destinations and multiple days at once, all using live prices, quickly.”

Source: http://thenextweb.com/google/2012/12/13/google-tests-new-flight-explorer-service-to-help-you-buy-the-perfect-plane-ticket/

Senator pressures FAA to get moving on in-flight device use

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill tells the agency she's "prepared to pursue legislative solutions" if it doesn't move at a reasonable pace to allow gadget use on planes.

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill wants you to be able to tweet a photo of St. Louis' famous Gateway Arch while you're soaring above it in your commercial airliner of choice.

At least that might be one option open to you if a letter she sent to the Federal Aviation Administration yesterday has the desired effect.
The Democratic senator said in her letter that she was "prepared to pursue legislative solutions" if the FAA takes too long to loosen its restrictions on the use of portable electronic devices during flights.

"We live in an increasingly connected world, and information is traveling at the speed it takes our e-mail to refresh," McCaskill is quoted as saying in a press release on her Web site. "The current rules are inconvenient to travelers, don't make sense, and lack a scientific basis. Airline employees have the incredibly important job of keeping us safe in the air -- their efforts are better spent worrying about rules that actually accomplish that goal."

The FAA ban is based on the concern that gadgets that emit radio waves and data could cause problems with a plane's equipment. But McCaskill -- who sits on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which oversees communications and aviation policy -- calls the present rules ridiculous and points, as an example, to a recent decision by the FAA to let pilots use tablets.

"The absurdity of the current situation was highlighted when the FAA acted earlier this year to allow tablet computers to replace paper flight manuals in the cockpit," her letter says, "further enhancing the public's skepticism about the current regulations."

Last week, the head of the Federal Communications Commission, Jules Genachowski, said in his own letter to the FAA that the agency should "enable greater use of tablets, e-readers, and other portable devices." In August, the FAA formed a committee to reconsider its policy.

Here's the full text of McCaskill's letter from yesterday, as published on her site:

The Honorable Michael Huerta
Acting Administrator
Federal Aviation Administration
800 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20591

Dear Acting Administrator Huerta,

As the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) evaluates the in-flight use of portable electronic devices (PEDs), I urge the agency to embrace the expanded use of PEDs and work to revise the necessary regulations that will allow for the use of laptop computers, e-readers, smartphones and other PEDs during the full duration of a flight.

The Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) process that has been initiated by the FAA is an important step toward this end. Working with the airlines, electronic device makers and other stakeholders, I am confident the agency can craft policies that reflect the increasing use of these devices by air travelers for professional and personal uses, while maintaining a commitment to passenger safety. However, I am concerned by the longstanding intransigence in reaching workable, common sense solutions that provide for the expanded use by airline passengers of electronic devices during the full duration of a flight.

I welcome Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Genachowski's recent letter in support of expanding permissible use of electronic devices on flights. The FAA must now come on board with this common sense position and enact new policies to memorialize it.

As you surely know, the public is growing increasingly skeptical of prohibitions on the use of many electronic devices during the full duration of a flight, while at the same time using such devices in increasing numbers. For example, a traveler can read a paper copy of a newspaper throughout a flight, but is prohibited from reading the same newspaper for major portions of the flight when reading it on an e-reader. The fear of devices that operate on electricity is dated, at best. Importantly, such anachronistic policies undermine the public's confidence in the FAA, thereby increasing the likelihood that rules of real consequence will be given too little respect. The absurdity of the current situation was highlighted when the FAA acted earlier this year to allow tablet computers to replace paper flight manuals in the cockpit, further enhancing the public's skepticism about the current regulations.

While safety and security must be the top priority in air travel, the FAA and other federal agencies should also work to ensure air travel is as hassle free as possible by revising or removing regulations that have become unnecessary or outdated. It is my hope that the FAA will work, with the FCC and other federal agencies where appropriate, as expeditiously as possible to implement common sense changes to today's restrictive regulations on in-flight use of PEDs that better reflect new technologies and the changing role these devices play in Americans' daily lives. While the agency can and should use existing authorities to allow for the broader use of PEDs, I am prepared to pursue legislative solutions should progress be made too slowly.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Germanwings adds PayPal option

Germanwings customers can now pay for their tickets using e-commerce firm PayPal.

The new option allows payments to transferred from customers’ PayPal accounts, meaning that no credit card data needs to be stored with Germanwings.

It's worth noting though that customers will still be charged the same fee for PayPal transactions as for purchases using credit card (currently £8 per person per flight segment to European destinations).

PayPal started out as a method of enabling secure payments for online auction sites like Ebay (which now owns the company), but has grown to include mainstream companies within its portfolio.

Several US carriers including United, AA and Delta allow PayPal transfers, as do British Airways, Emirates, Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Germanwings’ parent company Lufthansa.

Last month it was confirmed that the Germanwings brand would be expanded to operate Lufthansa flights within Germany and Europe from January next year.

Source: http://www.businesstraveller.com/news/germanwings-adds-paypal-option

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

IATA: Simplifying the Business

In 2013, IATA will launch projects related to Simplifying the Business, a strategic program agreed by the Board in December 2011 (See: http://fr.scribd.com/doc/115696540/Simplifying-the-Business).

E-Borders: Rather than relying on Airlines for the verification of compliance with border rules (including visas and ESTA-like procedures), Goevernments will own the whole pipeline by providing e-visas, validating them and giving the green light directly to passengers.
Customer contact information: Travel agents will have to share direct contact information with customers with the airlines in order to facilitate push notifications about flight status and other urgent messages.
Open Source Data Model: The IATA will work on promoting a standard data format (or API) that will make it very easy for customers to access data about flight cancellations and delay both from airports and airlines. This extends to data formats used between companies, airports and GDSs. The goal is to promote openness and re usability and break the existing proprietary systems.
Single token: The three key stakeholders (airports, airlines and governments) will agree on providing customers with a single token (either e-passport, boarding pass or smartphone) that will get them through every security stages in airports.
Check-in: Check-in will be a thing of the past. Customers will automatically be checked-in at the time of purchase of the ticket.