|BlueSky Business Aviation News|
It is clear to anyone who is paying attention that the global economy is in an economic slump with no clear end in sight. In economics jargon, we need more demand.
For us civilians, that means we need more buyers. Business aviation has a built in base - business people. To a large extent, our fortunes wax and wane with theirs. We provide a valuable service to those who need to get somewhere fast. We sell speed.
But what does speed mean, really? Maximum airspeed? Lowest block time? I donít think so. The whole point of an executive flying somewhere instead of driving or taking a train is the time spent away from the job. More speed generally equates to less time away from the job.
I know. Not everyone wants to work while they are traveling. I will argue that we already serve that demographic quite well. They are not the travelers I am most concerned with at this point.
What is the trade-off?
We all have a fixed number of hours per year where we can make a difference. A sophisticated trade-off being made in the mind of the business traveler: time lost during the travel process versus the accomplishments that can be made by traveling.
What if the traveler could still work as well in transit as they could at the office? What if there was no significant difference between being at the office and traveling? What if instead of railing about the incursion of telepresence technology into our core market we adopted that same telepresence technology to add value to what we offer the business traveler? What would that look like?
Imagine being able to offer a seamless service to traveling business people, one where they are picked up wherever they are, carried to the aircraft in a vehicle in which they can continue working, fly to their destination in an aircraft in which they can continue working, and whisked to their destination, again in a vehicle in which they can continue working. Could we market that service effectively to that segment of the business traveler world?
Let us think about this in more detail. Since I am an airplane designer by education and inclination, I will start there.
What does the working traveler need? A desk, a chair, space for temporary storage of papers, access to the company network, telephone, telepresence? How about a good color laser printer? Good lighting? The list is not endless by any means. It is actually pretty short and pretty obvious.
I know; we have all been programmed to think that swank luxury is what sells aircraft interiors. Maybe. I have nothing against high quality interior furnishings, but do let us keep in mind that the airplane is a tool. If we design it correctly, it can be a tool that not only takes our passengers quickly over long distances, but provides those passengers with the everything needed for them to continue being productive. This is added value to the right customer.
For the sake of discussion, let us assume that we all agree that this is correct and that our next step is to understand something about what such a design might entail.
Letís start simple. How about a chair? Seats in an aircraft, with the exception of the pilots' seats, are not designed to assist people while they work at a desk. We are so clear on this that we don't even call aircraft seats "chairs;" they are "seats." We design aircraft seating for crashworthiness. We design for light weight. We design for luxury. We design for comfort - in one position, maybe two. We do not design for desk work.
How does an airplane seat compare to an office chair? That office chair rolls around, swivels, leans back, and can be adjusted in a number of ways to fit the person using it. Not so with an aircraft seat. The seat can be leaned back, and generally, that's about it.
Who can design a certifiable, crashworthy aircraft quality office chair? Likely, it will have to lock into one configuration for takeoff. Maybe it will only "roll" along a track in the floor. But it would be configurable to the person using it, allow rocking and swiveling to accommodate a person's need to move a bit in relation to their work space. That would add value.
How about a working area? It doesn't have to be terribly complex, I don't think. A flat working surface with a place for the briefcase, a docking station for a laptop, a printer (probably a multifunction machine that can scan, print, copy, and fax), and good workspace lighting. There are some complications here due to the proliferation of standards in the IT world, but I honestly believe there are good solutions out there. Find a partner. Create a standard. Drive towards added value for the customer.
I also want a place to plug in the charger for a cell phone; in addition, I want a telephone with a decent handset and good sound tied into a box on the airplane that would allow one to make phone calls while in flight. I know Iím dreaming here, but I would really like a way to plug a cell phone into that normal person-sized phone with a handset so that calls can be made or received using the cell phone number; eliminating the burden of another phone number.
That docking station, by the way, should provide net access; the traveler should be able to VPN into their company network. There should also be a good webcam that can support a high quality web-meeting. If we can do telepresence from the chair, that would be best. All that tech stuff should be - must be - seamless. It would add even more value if the flight attendant (or co-pilot) knew how to turn all this stuff on or off and do minor troubleshooting.
Any good design team could really dig into the needs of their passengers and find ways to make those passengers more productive during their travel. I am of the opinion that it has be done and the firm that gets it first and can provide a solid, useful solution for working executives will enjoy an enviable first-mover advantage. As trivial as they may sound, compared to longer range or faster cruise speeds or integrated cockpits, these are the kinds of things that add value to our customers. And adding value is really the core of our business, isnít it?
Terry Drinkard is a Contract Structural Engineer based in Jacksonville, Florida whose interests and desire are being involved in cool developments around airplanes and in the aviation industry. He has held senior positions with Boeing and Gulfstream Aerospace and has years of experience at MROs designing structural repairs. Terryís areas of specialty are aircraft design, development, manufacturing, maintenance, and modification; lean manufacturing; Six-sigma; worker-directed teams; project management; organization development and start-ups.