Connectivity is all about efficiency and productivity and it can be used by major airlines, the smaller airlines, the business and corporate aviation, even defence aircraft. Honeywell International, brought in a ‘connected aircraft’, a Boeing 757, for the first time to India to showcase their connected aircraft technologies and services. In an interview, Neelu Khatri, President Aerospace, Honeywell India, talks to Rohit Goel of SP’s Aviation about Honeywell’s connected solutions for the Indian market.
SP’s Aviation (SP’s): Talking about on-board connectivity, has there been any kind of research that Honeywell has conducted to identify the demand?
Neelu Khatri (Khatri): This is a great market for us. Only when we see a great need in the market, do we start taking up the R&D activities. Overall, we are looking at $7 billion in ‘connected’ theme, a portion of which is Wi-Fi connectivity.
SP’s: What kind of time, money and effort has gone into the development of this solution?
Khatri: It has been on for many years. The solution came out of Honeywell in the last 4-5 years but the development phase is much longer in the aerospace world.
SP’s: And, what is the current status?
Khatri: Globally, Lufthansa airline is using it. Singapore Airline is another that is using it. We are in talks with many airlines including LCCs across the world. We have conducted this two-day demo flight in Mumbai and Delhi. We flew with the clients and there is immense interest coming up both from Government, private airlines, full-service, defence, etc. We had a lot of attendees both from the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Civil Aviation.
SP’s: What about permissions and clearances from various regulatory bodies? Do you already have them in place?
Khatri: As far as the policy is concerned, the ministries are dealing with the regulatory body that is working on it. As and when we are called in, we give our inputs. As far as the certification, on the products are concerned, we have it. Some things we don’t have, that would come up as and when the regulatory go ahead is given in India. The important part is that we are ready and are extremely excited to be coming up in India. This is the first time our connected aircraft actually came to India. For Honeywell, India is a high-growth region. So we wait for the nod from the Government. As and when it comes, we will be ready.
SP’s: Are you offering this only to commercial airlines or business and corporate aviation as well?
Khatri: Connectivity is all about better maintenance, saving costs, better Wi-Fi connectivity onboard and it can be used by major airlines, the smaller airlines, the business and corporate aviation, even defence aircraft. It is all about efficiency and productivity.
SP’s: What will it take for a commercial airline to convert its aircraft into Wi-Fi enabled?
Khatri: The existing aircraft will have to go in for a retrofit. For the newer aircraft on order and most of the airlines in India have gone in for huge orders, it means to add as and when they receive it, it gets fitted in. Cost will depend upon the solution that the airline wants. There are various kinds of solutions that are available and the cost depends upon it.
SP’s: Will it involve a reduction in number of passenger seats?
Khatri: No, the solution will not take any seats away. It is a solution that gets fitted on the roof of the aircraft and gets connected with the aircraft. All the passengers need to do is to bring their own device, go to the settings and get it connected.
SP’s: Will this not lead to noise pollution in a confined space? What do you think about it?
Khatri: No. The solutions, before it comes up in the market, before we launch it, there are every scenarios that are tested on these solutions. There are years of R&D that happens. We are very comfortable that there is no impact on the quality and effectiveness of the solution irrespective of the number of passengers onboard the aircraft.
SP’s: Should there be any regulation or protocol governing the use of in-flight connectivity by the passengers?
Khatri: I think it is more about discipline. If you travel in the US and Europe, there is Wi-Fi connectivity available on aircraft, even on local trains. There is some kind of a disciplinary guidance that most of these providers give to the passengers. If we are able to do that, I don’t see any problem. It is more about discipline which I am sure that the airlines will also give out those guidelines.
SP’s: What kind of a price point would a passenger be willing to pay for Wi-Fi onboard?
Khatri: That is up to the airlines to do the research and talk about. It is really not for us to say. We are there with the technology, with different types of solutions that we can offer to the needs that the airlines come up with – what kind of range, what kind of bandwidth, how many people, that is up to us. Pricing is definitely decided by the airlines.
SP’s: So what are your expectations from the Indian market?
Khatri: For us, it is a big potential. We call India as our high-growth region. All eyes, both from domestic leadership to global leadership are on India. We know that these are exciting times in terms of fleet expansion, fleet acquisitions, more number of tails flying, the regional connectivity scheme emerging out in India. The importance that we give from Honeywell to the India market which is our high-growth region is very, very high!