The convenience marriage – The BAe 146 and London City Airport story


I have always been fascinated by the women and men with the drive and determination to row against the tide in the pursuit of a vision. With no fear to think and create different, they often find opportunities where the majority only see issues.

This is a story about a convenience marriage, a symbiosis of two elements that possibly would not have been what they are without each other. London City Airport and the BAe 146 (also known as Avro RJ), the most successful British built airliner.

The airport

London City Airport

London City Airport – photo courtesy of Mostaque Chowdhury

It is under the drive of the LDDC – London Docklands Development Corporation, the government agency that in the early 80’s took the lead  the regeneration of the London Docklands area, that the idea of a city airport was developed.

Whilst the benefits of such a location are obvious, the operational, technical, social and environmental challenges associated to an airport located in a densely populated area are of a tremendous scale. It takes strong determination and courage to overcome every single one of them and bring the airport to what it is today, with more than 3 million passengers every year and over 70,000 operations.

Surrounded by water and with a very short runway of only 1500 metres, the airport has one of the steepest glide slopes, meaning aircraft have to approach the runway at an angle more than twice the usual one. The steep approach and climb requirements, together with the limited runway length, limits the aircraft types allowed to operate out of London City, restricting it to propeller aircraft. Not to mention the severe noise restrictions.

Next 26th of October will mark the 26th anniversary of the first commercial flight out of London City Airport (LCY).

The aircraft

BAe 146 in LCY

BA Connect BAe 146 taking off from London City Airport

After almost two decades of abandoned studies since the late 50’s, the then designated HS146 study begun in 1971. With very unique characteristics for a regional, feeder airliner, the 146 featured four turbofan engines a high wing and a T-tail.

The 1973 oil crisis brought the project to a halt, and it was not until the formation of British Aerospace in 1978 that the project was revived.

Built around the idea of operating out of small, often unpaved airfields, the aircraft offered outstanding take off and landing performance, being able to operate in short runways. It’s four Lycoming engines granted the aircraft it’s two most common nicknames: Jumbolino and Whisperjet.

The silent operations proved to be, together with the shortfield performance, the two key attributes that made it the perfect -and first- jet aircraft to operate in London City Airport. After a very successful trial in July 1988, followed by a poll in which 83% of the residents approved the introduction of the BAe 146, commercial flights of the type started operating in the small airport in 1993.

Ever since that moment, the history of both airport and aircraft is written together. The airport proved to be the perfect field for the aircraft, and the introduction of the type into London City boosted the traffic, with a 96% increase in passengers in the first year of operations of the BAe 146.

Having flown in this charming, silent and comfortable aircraft many times, I am still fascinated by the radical engineering solutions taken when designing and building it, which made it the most successful British airliner ever together with the merit of making the impossible airport the success it is today.

A convenience long lasting marriage that contributed to the success of both, thanks to the creativity, courage and determination of the men and women that saw opportunities where others only saw problems.

Torpedo


Windows RT powered tablet

Windows RT powered tablet – Photo courtesy of Vernieman

Difficult times for Microsoft Surface. The tablet that is meant to bring Microsoft back in business and steal some market share from Android and iOS powered devices, could have a serious set back if the Redmond guys don’t come up with a clean solution fast.

One of the beauties of tablets is that they simplify the way we understand computing, making complex activities like an operating system upgrade seamless. Issues like this, with users reporting total data loss and devices being left unusable after attempting an upgrade to Windows RT 8.1, are a big torpedo right into the flotation line.

One can only hope for a quick solution to this problem.

More on this story:

Microsoft Pulls Windows RT 8.1 Update

A decade without you


Concorde

Concorde

Time flies even faster than the speed at which she flew the skies. Next 24th of October, it will be a decade since Concorde touched down in Heathrow with passengers for the last time, bringing the era of supersonic transport to an end.

Being an aviation enthusiast and passionate about technology and innovation, this is one sad anniversary. Concorde was a huge engineering achievement and possibly one of the biggest leaps in technology.

One can only hope that supersonic transport will be possible again in the times to come. In the meantime, here is a beautiful gallery of Concorde pictures.

You are missed, Concorde.

BlackBerry: resurrection?


Blackberry

BlackBerry – Photo by arrayexception

In what looks like a desperate attempt to claim their existence, BlackBerry has released an Open Letter in which they try to reinforce to the public the reasons why they should still count on BlackBerry.

Interestingly, the document pivots around two basic ideas: the strength of BlackBerry in the Corporate environment, and BlackBerry Messenger. Interestingly because sticking to those two arguments as their main reason to exist is what probably brought the company to where they are today. Having been a BlackBerry user since 2007, and having used almost a dozen different models, I really wish they find a strong proposition to resurrect. But I do not believe their strong security nor BBM are going to change the game.

There was a time where corporate policies where set by IT departments. It is secure so this is our mobility solution. And that was it. But things changed. Executives have changed their approach and it’s no longer about what works for the IT department, it’s the other way around. I want to use my iPhone for work. Make it secure. Executives love their iPhones and Android smartphones, and not BlackBerries. The product needs to be attractive. Attractive enough so that we will ask for it, rather than accept it as the only alternative.

There was also the time where BBM was a sufficient reason to get hooked into the BlackBerry platform, but WhatsApp wiped that. Yes, BBM is now trying to become cross platform, but, isn’t it a bit too late for that?.

I still see core strengths in a company once revolutionised and almost monopolised mobility, but don’t think the good old arguments suffice anymore. It is no longer about how secure the platform is nor how easy it is for the IT department to manage large estates. You really need to come up with something truly revolutionary and game changing that will make us want to ditch our iPhone. I honestly hope and trust you can make it.

Capturing the fleeting business


Nokia Lumia 820 onboard POS

Nokia Lumia 820 onboard POS

While still struggling in the consumer market, some potential success stories start to emerge for the Nokia and Windows Phone tech marriage. Turning a Nokia Lumia 820 into a mobile point of sale with specific apps connected to their booking and payment systems, allows to capture a very short-lived business opportunity like on board paid upgrades.

Onboard connectivity definitely plays a role in the success of the initiative, but more importantly, paves the way for the next level of loyalty recognition and rewarding on the spot thanks to the connection with the centralized CRM systems.

A promising prospect for Delta and Nokia/Microsoft and definitely a big scale experiment with 19.000 units distributed amongst Delta’s Cabin Crew.

More about this story:

Nokia Lumia 820 Flying High With Delta Airlines

Delta Streamlines In-flight Customer Service With New Windows Phone Handheld Devices For Flight Attendants

Transplacing and the second life


The ubiquitous nature of technology and the frenetic pace at which it evolves becomes dramatically obvious when products with a traditionally longer lifecycle embrace electronics and software traditionally only available in computers. The flooding of technology into these consumer products can be seen everywhere, with TV sets becoming closer and closer to computers with Internet connection and multiple apps that go well beyond the original intention of the base product, or cars with multiple, software-powered, onboard systems such as Navigation, Audio, Phone and Voice command, just to name a few.

This increased affordability of computing power and ubiquitous connectivity brings a whole new world of possibilities to enhance the traditional concept of certain consumer products,  it has also had a number of downsides. Some products have seen their life cycle accelerated and a TV set that not so long ago had its lifecycle measured in decades, is now reduced to a few years. The adoption of advanced operating systems to power day to day consumer products accelerates obsolescence of these bringing it closer to that of computers.

iOS in the car

iOS in the car

Cars, for obvious reasons, are a different story. Long lasting products by nature, and with manufacturers integrating more and more technology (both hardware and software) onto them, a situation is created in which the (expensive) technology onboard vehicles, such as GPS Navigation, gets quickly outdated, with very few options for upgrading the hardware part of it. These systems soon pale when compared to the much more affordable, and easily upgradable features available in smartphones for a fraction of the cost.

Moves like iOS in the car, announced as a yet-to-be-implemented feature in iOS 7, can be game changing by going far beyond just providing a pretty interface for your iPhone when shown on your onboard screen. They can go as far as transplacing the complete onboard technology of vehicles into a smartphone, by basically getting all the software to run remotely in you

r handheld device, rather than in the onboard processors.

Huge move

First of all, the obsolescence is over. All your car will provide is a screen, and that is the only thing that can get obsolete. The Navigation software available on iOS (despite the Apple maps fiasco) is on par with any onboard GPS system, and comes for free. No in car GPS hardware required, no more slow processors that can only run simple maps, no

more costly upgrades to onboard maps. Online maps permanently updated, real time traffic information and all the necessary hardware packed in your smartphone, which you can upgrade as frequently as you wish.

Audio is another key application brought by iOS in the car, creating a specific interface for managing your audio library while on the move, together with the phone interface.

Siri is King

Lexus Remote Touch

Lexus Remote Touch

In my humble opinion this is the moment that Siri has been waiting for. Interacting with onboard technology in cars has been, and still is, a big safety concern. Whilst all manufacturers have invested obscene sums in creating intuitive interfaces (BMW’s iDrive, Lexus’ Remote Touch or Audi’s MMI as an example), they still require attention from the driver. Of course most of the premium brands have implemented voice command systems, but in most cases require learning or following very specific instructions with accuracy being low enough not to be a full alternative to the physical interaction.

But here comes Siri, with the ability to understand natural language and take dozens of different instructions without the need for the driver to learn how to enumerate them.

Online Car

Basing your car electronics in a naturally connected device brings new possibilities by being able to make use of Siri’s current (and possibly future) capabilities like finding restaurants, petrol stations around the current location, finding movies to watch and maybe booking hotel rooms in the future.

Development

If Apple opens iOS in the car to developers, I bet we will be seeing cars giving away most of their onboard technology transplacing it to apps implemented in iOS which will manage most of the car functions, with Siri as the main way of interacting with your vehicle systems, from your Navigation,  Climate control, Audio, Video and even car adjustments to be managed easily by interacting with apps in your Smartphone while talking to Siri.

Not a bad move, and one that would increase customer loyalty once a long lasting good like your car is tied to a particular Smartphone platform, on top of possibly transforming the way we understand technology onboard vehicles. And bring a second life to them.

Apple to enter into mobile payments?


Your phone will be your wallet

Your phone will be your wallet

Last week at WWDC, Apple introduced iOS 6 amongst others. Without entering into two much detail about the hundreds of new features that the new OS will bring, there is one that reveals that Apple might be taking a serious look at mobile payments. With the introduction of Passbook in iOS 6, your iPhone will turn into a very convenient digital repository to place all sorts of digital goodies. Vouchers, loyalty cards, promotion codes, QR codes, which include boarding passes, and movie tickets, just to name a few. These can even be geotagged, so they would become active whenever you are near the target location.

Interesting and definitely very useful, but not outstanding from other competitors which are already offering partial solutions to this problem. Likely to have a wonderful user experience though, and would define standards so that companies can create their own passbook-able digital goodies. Apparently big players in different industries are already signing up for the new platform.

However, this touches some of the items that other companies are defining around a potentially very lucrative industry: mobile payments. Storing credit / debit / stored value cards in your mobile phone would be no secret, and would be similar to Google Wallet, which opens the door to adding more intelligence to the physical moment of payment.

Apple Passbook

Apple Passbook

Game changing?

There are many different ways into which Apple might decide to introduce mobile payments, but considering their usual appetite to be real game changers, it will be interesting to see if they have anything awaiting down their sleeve.

So far the traditional approach would be to use cards stored in the phone –in Passbook- to be used through NFC (it is yet to be seen whether iPhone 5 would ship with NFC, even though many rumors point in this direction) the integration with Passbook and other digital goodies such as vouchers, loyalty points, etc would help create a more interactive payment experience, but this would not be seen as a breakthrough as it would be quite similar to the ecosystem defined by Google around Wallet. And above all, Apple would be making not –or little- money out of this.

The payments ecosystem is complex and involves many actors. From issuers to merchants, it’s an industry which has a great dependency on a very established infrastructure, and in which having the right coverage and capillarity to reach a high percentage of POS (Points Of Sale) where new technologies of mobile payments would be accepted.  This will surely be a challenge, even for a company with the drive and ability to massively push technology as Apple. NFC, with support from many companies will take some time to takeoff until a large number of Points of Sale are upgraded to support the near field technology. Yes, it is getting lots of support from mobile phone manufacturers, but merchants are yet to catch up (one-third of POS expected by end of 2012, with 2% at mid 2011 in the US).

So having set the scene, it will be very interesting to see what Apple has to offer in the mobile payments space, whether they will just rely on their ability to attract merchants to adopt Passbook as their natural digital distribution platform for digital goodies -and eventually payment methods- while reusing the existing NFC standards and Card issuers as Mastercard, Visa or American Express, or whether they will decide to change the way we understand mobile payments the same way they did with the way we understood the SmartPhone or even the way we consumed music.

The anomaly in progress – part II


Concorde wing

The distinctive Concorde delta-shaped wing

Today I have been thinking about innovation. More specifically about how and why some organizations seem to have mastered the art of innovating while others struggle to adopt a culture that embraces change and innovation. The level of industrialization and quality of the processes that run and support an organization, and that make it achieve excellence in their day to day operations and products, whatever their nature, are sometimes the worst enemy of creativity and innovation.

Yet some companies have mastered both sides of the coin and are able to execute, operate and manufacture with atomic precision while creating a corporate culture that promotes and embraces thinking out of the box, pursuing new ideas and pushing the boundaries to create better products and, ultimately, progress.

I have to admit I admire those organizations. And every time I go through this thought process, I end up thinking of my favorite example of innovation at a great scale: Concorde. It is not the first time I write about this beautiful machine and what it meant to commercial aviation, yet I still find amazing to learn the amount and complexity of the challenges faced by the men and women that strongly believed that they could deliver something that changed the way air travel was understood, and they did. They proved that determination and the right culture for innovation can go very far, so far, that they created a gap in progress.

Concorde cockpit

Concorde cockpit

Enumerating every single innovation that Concorde brought would be material for a large number of books, but there are still a few items worth mentioning. The most curious one is how the effect of drag at high speed generated so much heat, that the nose tip would reach temperatures well beyond +100 degrees celsius, even though the air at cruising levels would typically be below -60. This meant that Concorde would be longer (up to one feet) in the air than on the ground. Due to its higher takeoff and landing speeds, the brakes where a crucial component, being the first commercial aircraft to be equipped with carbon brakes. This, together with the early introduction of fly by wire as mentioned in the previous post, mark just an example of the challenges that had to be overcome with the help of creativity, innovation and determination. All of this, using 1950-60s technology.

More than being just a beautiful machine and possibly the most sleek and elegant commercial aircraft ever built, it is a living -at least in our memories- example of the culture of innovation that can change the world.

Beyond excellence


Beyond excellence

Beyond excellence

Today I attended a very interesting session about Customer Service, in which it was made clear that customers expect more than service excellence, they want to be delighted. Apparently customer expectations have gone to a complete new

level, in which Customer satisfaction is now worthless, customers expect that their needs are anticipated, they want to be surprised well beyond their expectations.

We all try to differentiate from our competitors by improving and continuously improving our products, services and processes, implementing better and more sophisticated technologies that enable us to do more with less, but this, by itself, does not bring customer satisfaction, furthermore, it does not delight our customers. No matter how good our systems and processes are, most of your experience as a customer will be down to the person that managed the interaction with us. This will determine whether you will be satisfied or not. Even though, Customer satisfaction is no longer enough. It is now necessary to delight the customer, which is down to how you make your customer feel throughout the whole interaction. Whether you are able to anticipate their needs, and create that wow factor that will be long remembered after the interaction.

The shortest distance between two persons is a smile

Yes, technology can help provide the necessary tools for staff to be more efficient and provide a better service. It is a necessary, yet not sufficient condition for delighting your customers. It is down to the physiology of your customer facing staff, the way the talk, the way the make eye contact and above all, the way they smile. And this is not something that is taught in a customer service training, it is something that needs to be part of the DNA of the Organization. It is the face that you have when you arrive at work that will be seen -and remembered- by your customers. What differentiates good companies from great companies is precisely that, their staff, and how the culture they breath every day influences them, which will ultimately determine how genuine their smile. After all there is nothing worse than a clearly fake smile right?.

Personal experience

As the session went by, I started remembering a few past experiences in one of my favorite companies, Singapore Airlines. Air travel is by nature very anonymous, as you share a small space with a few other hundreds of passengers, and crew see hundreds, if not thousands of customers every week. This seems to be the perfect base of an impersonal service. Yet after so many flights I still get impressed by how they are able to transform an anonymous experience into a personal one. And how they are still able to create that wow factor, by going that extra few miles that are not in any onboard service manual. It is not only about saying please or thank you, it is about genuinely and generously keeping your ego to yourself and letting customers have their moment.

Not all crew are the same, of course, and there are always good and bad days. But one thing (and I say this by personal experience), these guys are just doing it right and they have managed to create a whole corporate culture around customer service that clearly pays off. The most remarkable flight I have had onboard any Singapore Airlines plane will not be remembered by the quality of the seat, the food, the amount of champagne of the movies offered on the entertainment system. It will be remembered by how genuinely the crew smiled and took care of me throughout the flight, and how they went well beyond the service manual to make sure I enjoyed the experience.

Once I was told that the only thing that truly can differentiate ourselves from our competition, and that can not be copied by them is the human being and their attitude. The session today was all about it, and I can only tell by personal experience that it is very true.

Cars: The next app frontier


This is the next territory to be conquered by your apps

This is the next territory to be conquered by your apps

It’s no secret that apps have changed the way we consume content and software, and expressions like “I have an app for that” are now part of our daily lexicon. Little by little, the appmania has been overflowing SmartPhones and Tablets. TVs where the next conquered territory, and now it seems that cars, and more specifically, on board infotainment systems are the next frontier.

Key players in the industry like Denso, QNX, Magneti Marelli and the traditional car manufacturers are already working in their respective strategies for bringing apps to your car. While most of the current trends are around driving performance and self-diagnostics, extending the features currently available on most infotainment systems, some brands are already introducing very popular general purpose apps. Read Lexus here, and the recently launched latest version of their on board system, Enform, which includes some interesting apps available on board the car. Things like buying movie tickets or booking a table at your destination are now possible, even through the cars voice commands. Even checking in your destination on Facebook is now something you can do behind the steering wheel.

This probably opens a new question behind the technology on which these on board infotainment systems are based. Will we see Android or iOS based in car navigation systems?. It would definitely be very exciting as this would mean instant availability of thousands, if not millions, of apps right to be installed in your car. Interesting potential advantage for Android as some of the current platforms are already based on Linux, which could mean easier integration of Android-based apps onboard.