|BlueSky Business Aviation News|
This writing thing began for me with a discussion around the potential impact of information technology on air travel in general, and business aviation in general. This is what I often see/hear: ďYes, it may impact us at some point later on,Ē which implies that it is not impacting us now and has never impacted us in the past, which is so far from the reality that I donít really know where to start.
As I mentioned in my article a couple of weeks ago, technology has impacted travel of all kinds since the inception of writing. There is a cost to travel, not just air travel, and not just business travel. But thatís not my point. I think we can all agree that travel has costs on several levels. What I want is to ask the question, ďWhat can we do to make it better?Ē Better, in this instance, does not mean cutting costs in the traditional fashion.
The question is how do we add a broader value to our industry?
I am fond of Commander Budís point about telepresence. It is here now. It is being used now. I used it to interview for a job with a recruiter in Colorado while I was in Savannah. It was like he was in the room with me, just at the other end of the table. I donít mean that literally. It wasnít a three-dimensional holographic experience, but it was close enough for what we were doing. The picture quality and sound quality were excellent.
Prior to that interview, I, and a great many other reading these words, have participated in various video teleconferences. My personal history of this kind of thing goes back to the middle 1990s at Boeing. We used to have a system operator in the room with us, and there were literally a dozen or more of us in the room. Things have gotten a lot better, but it is clear that even in the beginning the technology enabled us as a geographically diverse team to rapidly share critical information, including graphics, which led to effective solutions without the additional cost of a large number of people traveling.
Clearly, the existing telepresence technology is more than good enough for many useful business purposes where face to face meetings truly enhances the communication process, but travel is cost prohibitive, and that has been true for well over a decade.
Limiting the present discussion to telepresence, how can we in business aviation adopt and adapt this technology to our core value-adding processes? At core, we operate relatively small aircraft between airports, between FBOs. Those airports and those FBOs already exist. Why donít we add our own telepresence resources to our already existing facilities? They arenít terribly expensive, I donít believe. Itís a box (a codec), a big screen, and some bandwidth, to oversimplify slightly. It may need a dedicated room, at least for some purposes. For small facilities, there is usually a customer lounge that could easily be fitted with the right equipment.
Since we are adding value, I would go for the multipoint unit (3 or more locations), as those are not yet as common, and frankly, I think that technology better addresses the needs of our customers who are on the road in the midst of complex business activities.
Focus on working to add value to the working executive. Never mind the status traveler. They are already well served. Think about the working business executives who are in the middle of a big deal. They need to talk to the home office; they need to talk to their customer or their supplier; maybe they need to talk to the regulator. Any and all of these people can be brought into the same telepresence conference with the right equipment and sufficient bandwidth. That is, with the proper facilities, we can provide a value-added service to our customer, even when they are not on the airplane. Moreover, I believe we can charge separately for this service (at least initially) and the savvy operator will use it as a service level differentiator.
Perhaps even more importantly, we can open up our idea of potential customers to those who live and work near our FBOs and airports, bringing them onto our site as renters of our telepresence facility, showing them that while a telepresence conference may well be appropriate in this instance, air travel itself can also be a cost effective tool.
Not everyone is aware of just how quick and responsive business aviation really is, or how cost effective we can be when you compare our services to that available for the commercial airlines and the total cost of that trip. It is much easier to sell our services to people who are actually on our site, who meet us, who have a chance to ask questions of knowledgeable people in a low pressure environment.
My interview telepresence experience was with a small to mid-sized business NOT on the airport. In fact, they were no where near the airport. But they made part of their living from renting hour-long blocks of telepresence time to local businesses. At $100-300 per hour, itís not a bad business to be in. There is no reason an FBO or small airport could not cut themselves a piece of that particular pie. In many instances we already have the bandwidth, we already have a room or two or three we could dedicate to this sort of activity.
Letís think a bit further. Suppose we have a telepresence system on board our aircraft? If we connect to our own aircraft at our FBO or flight office, our customer can initiate his meeting sooner. Perhaps the entire flight can be used effectively to talk business with the people they intend to meet.
Moreover, once there is an established telepresence facility on the airport, we are likely to get some customers locally. It would not surprise me to see FBO to FBO teleconferences. Maybe a larger FBO would like to hold a conference between all of their sites at the same time without flying a lot of people around? Maybe a series of quick meetings to resolve some point or prep for a particular client? I donít know. What I do know is that once the service is available (and generally known), people will use it.
With proper system design, we could conceivably have telepresence capability during an emergency of some sort (because of where I live, hurricanes always spring to mind for me), when other forms of communication might be down. Or telepresence might be helpful to coordinate aid going into some other area. Think of those emergency service organizations as potential customers.
There are broader implications for this kind of technology than simple profit, as necessary as that is, and there is every reason for us in business aviation to be on the cutting edge of implementation. We need to get our innovative mojo back.
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.
Terry welcomes your comments, questions or feedback. You may contact him via firstname.lastname@example.org