Ricardo Pilon is an experienced aviation expert building the bridge between strategic business management, organization design, and the application of deep technology and applied psychology.
Subscribe to his Airline Behavioral Economics newsletter which now has over 33,000 subscribers gaining valuable thought-leadership insights on servicing retail demand with deep tech using applied psychology.
There was a time where people carried more flashy cash money and shiny coins. At one point, American Airlines reported having swept up over USD 125,000 worth in coins found in their proud aircraft cabins. You’ll find many more bubbly items in cabins like portable oxygen, extinguishers, smoke detectors, smoke hoods, or an onboard wheelchair. Even freaky restraint kits. So, behave.
The basic cabin features or cabin structures are pretty standard. It’s the layout of passenger area or “Location of Passenger Accommodations” (LOPA) where aircraft interior designers churn out funky concepts, the latest of course being the addition of doors and suites to Business Class seats (Delta, Qatar, Finnair, Emirates, Air France, United). They all copy away to recreate ‘claustrophobic privacy’. It’s funny when you sit in it, but funnier when you see somebody else sitting or lying in the box.
But from Leonardo da Vinci’s 200+ designs of flying machines (1480s) to Sir George Cayley “Proposed Aerial Carriage” of 1843, and then the Wright Brothers, aircraft were first designed to, well, fly.
The way aircraft were designed was always around fuselages that needed to be carried by wings. It’s not ideal. But that will never change, in the most basic principle.
The way we do will (refer TU-Delft / KLM “V-airplane” design). And there’s other benefits.
The purpose of aircraft has always been to carry payload (mail, passengers, and later cargo). The purpose of transportation was ‘demand caused by demand’ (derived demand), as I laid out in my first book “Cruising to Profits ®” for: (1) well-being, and (2) communication. Everything falls into those two categories. Try it.
"It is my view that the next billions of revenue will be generated by the very aircraft themselves."
It’s why I always suggested closer strategic industry alignment between entertainment, social commerce, telcos, and more recently metaverse enablers.
Nonetheless, both transportation and inflight demand is derived demand although the latter (on board) is more contextual, temporary, and should be sold differently (see article). Governments could also see the aircraft as a means to an end (derived demand). I’ll get there.
Anyway, a fuselage itself is a necessary evil; it is not an optimal aerodynamic vehicle and creates drag, so it pollutes more than when it wouldn’t have a fuselage (hum).
And while the industry has focused so much on cabin designs for comfort and entertainment (almost like rewards for buying bouncy tickets), it is my view that the next billions of revenue will be generated by the very aircraft themselves.
And this will even impact the leasing market and [aircraft and airline] valuation models.
In recent years, even more, effort went into potentially new cabin designs. From funky digital ambiance to staggered seats to create real and the illusion of more space, the Crystal Cabin Awards is the place to be. Some are pictured below.
Image via Crystal Cabin Awards, Architectural Digest, Forbes, FlyerTalk, Chaise Longue, and APEX
But in my opinion, the future will be more in redesigned fuselages that enable different cabin types, and multiple types of them in (medium-large capacity aircraft - MLC, augmenting the market space B787s and A350s occupy.
Previously, I had joked about the A360 and A390, where the A393 replaces the A380 as a trijet. You can’t make a twin engine that big, yet, not even with GEnx+.
But they could support different ‘squares’, spaces, and services to enjoy onboard.
Image via APEX
But before we get there, I want to address monetizing more mobile and digital assets. With today’s 787s and 350s, and even some refurbished 380s. We will need still need them.
To set my own frame of reference, here are a few of my beliefs or statements for this article:
- In the medium to long-term, more narrow-body aircraft will make place for the reintroduction of (new) wide body aircraft (you can’t keep stacking frequencies with diminishing returns + more externalities).
- Climate regulation will force a restructuring of fortress hubs, more and bigger airline mergers, and the reintroduction of new A3XX-type Ultra-Large Capacity aircraft for long-haul missions (just give it time, the A380 was too much too soon, like the 747 was in 1969/70-ies).
- Flights for missions less than 1000 nm will be replaced by electric or hydrogen-electric aircraft.
- Shorter-haul flights (<600nm) will require less in-cabin (fixed) installations of entertainment and more connectivity platforms.
- The capital requirement and IRR/ROR needed for aircraft will in part come from revenues generated by aircraft while inflight (read on).
If I’m wrong about all this, then the only other outcomes I see are:
More of the same while we mutter through
Nationalization of airlines to control the airline industry’s role in emissions and inequalities created by the rising costs of climate change and related action
A mix of this and even less of a level playing field (good luck to all of us!)
So, let’s assume I’m right for a minute. About my statements, I mean and hope.
A LOPA is essentially about real estate. Like, maximizing passenger space for comfort while minimizing the loss of space for seats that can generate revenues. We can try to monetize more of the interactions with passengers through the Inflight Entertainment & Communication (IFEC) systems and their personal devices (PDAs), but that’s already pretty common and in the works. I still suggest the O&O approach to become more one of dynamic procurement, but for now “ancillary retailing” is the chosen approach.
And of course, there are oodles of effort needed to refine the right approach for each passenger to engage (see article). It’s not that simple, as Walmart+ and Amazon share in their struggles trying to do next level now.
"A LOPA is essentially about real estate. Like, maximizing passenger space for comfort while minimizing the loss of space for seats that can generate revenues."
But aircraft are more than cabins. Aircraft are and have assets that can be monetized if we take a different approach.
Aircraft have physical and digital assets that can all be harmoniously monetized and bring benefits to society, people, companies and of course the airline industry itself.
Physical assets. These are all cabin fixtures, bulkheads, panels, window blinds, doors, seats, overhead bins, ceilings, and spaces that can be used for subtle ambiance and impressions (public or personal).
Digital assets. These are interactive screens (IFE), digital billboards, pop-up impressions on people’s personal devices, and not in the least aircraft systems and pax behavioral data.
Aircraft can also generate data to provide insights into (captive) passenger moods. Like what they seem to do and enjoy, when they sleep, or shop, and where, and this behavioral data is valuable for many retailers and other transportation providers (trains, ferries, bus companies). It can be anonymized and sold. To airports, too. It can be done and adds value in generating new services.
In-flight interactive billboards in social spaces (bars, lounges, gathering areas) can generate insights for advertising platforms, which would be another channel and customer group to sell to/through. And be a partner to use in improved immersive retailing.
Governments are also more and more interested in data generated by aircraft (systems, fuel burn, dynamic real-time route optimization for ANSPs). It will be a revenue model of sorts, or can be blended in with navigation charges for negotiations.
Clearly, I’m also driving at blending in more advertising tech (AdTech) in a palatable way, and the overriding requirement is to mix public with private impressions that can be personalized on the smaller ‘billboards’ and screens. In-seat, on the device, but in a holistic experience where everything you are being served (e.g. in Business) can also be ordered online and delivered to the arriving gate.
That’s just one example. I accumulated over 150 use cases of the digital cabin, which is very interesting for aircraft manufacturers, suppliers, and lessors.
We underestimate the value that aircraft generate with their data. We already use and share operational, safety-related, and investigative analytics (engines, for instance) on platforms like Airbus’ SkyWise.
But that’s primarily aimed at safety, efficiency, predictive maintenance, compliance, and future flight-ops-related innovation.
We need to move to commercial optimization platforms next.
In order to drive the best results, both in consistency, and relevance, and to apply more sophisticated psychology methods that don’t offend or feel intrusive, we need an optimization platform that manages all the impressions and O&O across the various channels and technologies. And frankly, we need to know how much to charge for impressions and be the middle ‘person’ in that. Smartly.
That’s how it is coming together, and that is what is proposed by Carrot in Cabin, Carrot standing for “Cabin Assets and Revenue Returns Optimization Technology”.
"In order to drive the best results, both in consistency, and relevance, and to apply more sophisticated psychology methods that don’t offend or feel intrusive, we need an optimization platform that manages all the impressions and O&O across the various channels and technologies."
It also applies conventional but augmented pricing and revenue management principles together with dynamic procurement, and real-time contextual pricing driven out of loyalty (see article). It incorporates B2C and derived B2B as well as B2G revenue streams.
What’s in it for lessors? Well, they will gain much better insights into how aircraft make money with more revenue streams. It will update valuation models and leasing fees, but in a way, airlines can recuperate.
They can update their valuation methods for specific enabling aircraft and the ROR and IRR will be more favorable.
The potential benefits for airlines? Up to $1,750 per passenger, but not in a single trip or year. That’s what I’m working out with the application and participating partners and I will get back to you, although the method is proprietary 😊.
I am now working with aircraft manufacturers, a lessor, an IFEC supplier, a novel tour and experience system provider, and an airline that wants to go for it. For Carrot that is.
What could possibly go wrong? And what will we learn for the go-around?
That’s the attitude, so we can learn, share, and help the community and industry further.
I will circle back with more to share, as I learn.