Dec. 2, 2020

Leaders from Gogo Business Aviation offered their perspectives on the impact of COVID-19 on the rapidly-advancing inflight connectivity segment during a Thought Leadership session on opening day of NBAA GO Virtual Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (VBACE).

“COVID impacted us significantly in terms of flight hours and utilization, and everybody in the industry had to make some very hard decisions,” said company president Sergio Aguirre, “but it’s very enlightening how [customers are] using their airplanes differently, and how they’re using their connectivity differently.”

Citing customer usage data from the company’s Avance platform, Jim Zanino, Gogo’s senior director for global sales, noted that passengers are not only flying onboard business aircraft again; they’re increasingly utilizing the aircraft as both their office and as a refuge.

“Principals are working all the way through,” he continued. “A lot of these folks are traveling or working 80-hour weeks [and] they also want downtime, the ability to watch TV shows or streaming Netflix while traveling. The other thing we’ve noticed [is] that the airplane is now being used for meetings as well,” as inflight connectivity allows CEOs to hold real-time meetings from the safety of the cabin environment.

Fortuitously, cabin connectivity systems have advanced to provide the necessary speeds and stability for data streaming and communications capabilities while onboard, making the passenger experience essentially identical to what they’ve come to expect from using a smartphone or laptop computer on the ground. That’s a marked change from the state-of-the-art just a few years ago.

“When we first came out with the internet pipe, we had to educate the operators and owners of these aircraft on how to manage expectations for what the passenger could do on the flight,” said Dave Glenn, Gogo’s senior vice president for customer operation. “[They may now] step back from managing expectations and share all the things you can do. It’s a much broader array of features and functionalities that never existed before.”

These advances will continue as new technologies such as 5G communications become widespread. Gogo’s air-to-ground network also recently expanded to offer service down to 3,000 feet above ground level, providing passengers with an additional 15-20 minutes of connectivity to utilize during their flight.

Aguirre also provided a ray of hope for an industry that has been depressed over the past nine months from the effects of the ongoing pandemic.

“Based on the data we’re seeing right now, we will end 2020 with the same amount of aircraft online – if not a little bit more – and we have seen the flight activities coming back to very close to pre-COVID numbers,” he said. “People are starting to use their aircraft again, and they’re using connectivity at a higher level of demand than pre-COVID.”