At this year’s AEA Convention, FDS CEO Reed Macdonald discussed how the do EXPERIENCE enhances the passenger experience. Jim Campbell of Aero-News spent some time with Reed to talk about the exciting new product introductions.
We have Reed Macdonald, president, CEO, guy who takes the blame, over at FDS Avionics, that’s some interesting announcements yesterday let’s start there. What’s new at Flight Display?
Well yesterday we talked about the passenger experience in the cabin and that’s really what we’re focused on. What we find is that passengers more and more want to have an experience like they do in their living room, while they’re on their plane. So we announced the do EXPERIENCE. That is on the backbone of the do CAPSULE. Via the do CAPSULE we were able to provide wireless entertainment in the cabin. We’re able to provide DRM compliant content to the passengers via wireless connection on any device. They can walk on the plane with their phone, with their tablet, with their computer, and access this media — movies, television shows, magazines, games, books. In addition to that we’ve got a brand new moving map that we call do 2D and on the horizon we’re releasing do 3D which is the ultimate experience in moving maps in three dimensions on the plane. We’ve backed that up with a whole new series of monitors that we call the EDGE Series monitors which are the thinnest, lightest, quietest fan-less designed onitors for the plane.
We have everything from high-def to 4K Ultra HD.
Everybody’s gotta have Ultra these days, it’s gotta be 4K or nothing.
What’s interesting right now because we’re watching the overall experience in the airplane. It’s no longer just good enough that you can go out and do business or get from point A to point B. You’ve got to be able to communicate enroute. You’ve gotta be able to entertain enroute. You’ve got to be able to involve enroute. And more important you gotta be able to bring everything that you count on at home with you and it’s gotta be functional. When you’re doing this at three four five hundred knots that’s a hell of a trick. How do you do it?
Well the way we did it was we started with a blank sheet of paper. So FDS Avionics has been around…
Oh the analog method.
The company’s been around seventeen years and we have a lot of our business in commercial aviation and business jet. But we also have about half of our business that’s focused on military and government solutions that have extremely high demands on quality and performance and reliability. And what we did was we started with a blank sheet of paper and we came out with a whole new line of products that meet some very high quality standards. And when we started with a blank sheet of paper we started from the passenger. And we wanted to focus on the user interface and the user experience and allow that passenger to have the best experience while they’re in the cabin. So the answer is we started with a blank sheet of paper and redesigned everything.
So who is your typical customer these days?
If there is a typical … I should have bit my tongue the minute I said that.
Anyone who has a jet, regardless of size and we actually have a lot of turboprop customers of smaller plane customers as well. But we provide an affordable solution to wireless entertainment in the cabin, to cabin control, and we do it without needing any internet connection. So when you think about affordability to add the solution into your plane, we’ve got a very compelling and competitive solution that can be added to any size plane.
To outfit the mid-level cabin class biz jet these days there’s a … it’s almost as critical of a concern with the installation issues as it is the purchase issues and of course operability because down time on one of these airplanes is just huge … how do you make this a proper value solution across all three interests?
Well, it’s a quick and easy installation and it goes well…
Wait a second, we’re talking aviation here. There’s nothing quick and easy…
Comparatively speaking … relatively speaking … it’s very easy to add this in and because much of the entertainment and the cabin control can be accessed wirelessly, it eliminates the need for large labor hours, and heavy engineering. So it can be done in an affordable solution. Now, relative to downtime, it’s very easy to add this solution into a regularly scheduled maintenance downtime. It’s not like you’ve got to plan to put your plane down for weeks with the system. We’ve got some preferred partners. We partner with StandardAero. They’re a preferred installation center on the do CAPSULE and on the do EXPERIENCE in the cabin…
Nice folks too.
Great folks. They know how to do it. They’ve got a global presence. A customer can go in for regular scheduled maintenance and add this onto the the package that they’re already doing.
When a customer decides they want this kind of functionality, what kind of questions are you dealing with? What kind of concerns are you dealing with? How do you educate a potential customer into outfitting an aircraft, to not only have this kind of capability but to make sure these people are happy for the long term?
Well, each customer has a unique set of concerns and circumstances. As a matter of fact when you get into the retrofit environment, it can become complicated very quickly. What we have here is the ability to very simply accomplish some things that are very important to the end user. When you think about trends in importance, I mentioned the ability to walk on with any device and connect to this. They don’t necessarily want to have to download to a specific app to be able to get on it. We have an app that optimizes the experience for the user, but they can access it through a browser. That’s one thing. What happens if i take off on the plane and I forgot to download the app? Am I out of luck on the entire flight? The answer is no. You get about ninety percent of the features and functionality through a browser and you don’t even need to download the app. So they’re concerned about downtime, cost of installation, DRM compliance. I know we’ve heard a lot about that over the last couple of years. They want to be able to get DRM compliant content, adhere to copyright laws, and be able to do it in an easy and efficient manner. So one of the things that we offer through this is the ability to add on that DRM subscription. We’ve got three levels service. We’ve got the do90, the do180, and the do360. That allows the customer to get movies, television shows, books, magazines, games. It’s very easy to get the content. We’ve got two removable SSD drives in this box and this is a one terabyte removable drive. If they sign up for our subscription service, then each month they get a new drive preloaded with the content. All they have to do is insert into the box and they now have the latest and greatest content available on their plane.
So simple the typical passenger can do that.
Excellent. The industry has been through better days. Overall, some aspects are down and some aspects may not be down but are doing a whole lot better than that. Are we finding that these kind of solutions are providing the additional value and the additional impetus for people to use their aircraft more?
I think so. The more comfortable the experience is and the ability to do the things that they want to on that plane and create productive time is extremely important. So again one of the features and functionalities of this is that somebody can walk on with a thumb drive and access a USB port and share those files with everyone on the cabin. So in addition to the entertainment aspect you can also create business productivity while you are on the plane. The more productive, or the more relaxing, or the more enjoyable the flight is, the more you’re gonna want to have that experience.
Outstanding. What are you learning from the customer base? One thing that has been fun in almost every aspect of the avionics community is the decisions that they make in the future based on the input they’re getting from customers, operators, installers, and the like, that are moving them forward allowing them not only be more innovative but even more disruptive. Are you getting that kind of information from your customer base?
Absolutely. We spend a lot of time with our customers and make sure that we understand what their needs are, what they’re trying to accomplish in the product, and then to go and do those things for them. We hear a lot about the importance of quality and reliability and certifications. So our box is fully tested, fully certified, DO160 compliant. It carries a PMA certification, which makes it very easy for them to install in the plane. So as we sit and listen to what they want to try to accomplish for their customers, we then go and deliver those solutions to help them accomplish it.
OK, I’m Joe Bizjet Operator or even better in some cases maybe a commercial operator trying to find ways to make sure that my passengers in the air taxi group or some of my clients are finding the experience to be a better overall environment than it’s been in the past. How does somebody who’s looking for this kind of functionality educate themselves to make the right kind of decisions to get not only what they need but to make sure that they’re ready to grow with future? Let’s face it, this technology … rapid pace of development.
Absolutely, its rapid. It changes quickly. You know I think there are some wonderful articles that are being published in the magazines that are trying to help consumers understand technology as it comes out and keep tabs on it. One of the best things that they have is a trusted partner. If you think about the ability for a customer to be able to go to someone they already trust, like a StandardAero, who is very up to date on all the technologies in the marketplace, who has evaluated all of those. Who could say we’ve looked at the offerings in the marketplace and here’s our recommended and preferred solution to install on your plane. We’ve tested it. We’ve got an optimized solution paired with multiple vendors and multiple products. When we put this on your plane, it provides the best experience for you in your plane. So if they can find those trusted partners, who’ve been able to evaluate the technologies in the marketplace, those people can help them understand what a low risk and high performance solution is that they can put on their plane.
Well it’s obvious that the concept of a trusted partner is critical here because one, we’re not talking chump change. This is not a a small or inexpensive pursuit. And more importantly we’re talking about, one form or another, still having an impact on an airframe, its systems, and so forth. So you want to make sure you’re dealing with the right kind of people who are knowledgeable and from watching this industry there’s been a lot of flux, if you will, within this segment. People show up. They disappear. More people show up. They disappear. And half the folks out there have some longevity and seventeen years is nothing to sneeze at in this particular case. Are you finding that to be something that has been a determining factor in the folks choosing to do business with you?
That is a very big factor. But I think more important than that, the longevity is nice, is the approach to business. For FDS Avionics Corp., our number one focus is quality. Our number one focus is reliability. We want to be that trusted partner for those folks, that we can help accomplish what they need to accomplish. They don’t know that when they go down that path with us, that it’s gonna work and that we’re going to stand by it. And that’s what we focus on is delivering the highest quality solution to have the best experience for their customers, the end user. When their customers are happy they’re happy and we’re all happy together. I think that’s what makes a successful partnership.
For the person who’s looking to outfit their plane, is it better for them to deal with you directly or through your partners?
Through our partners. Now we’re happy to take calls from end users. We’re happy to explain the technologies to them and we do it frequently. But we do not install avionics equipment. We have partners who do that and we want to move those people to a trusted partner that they can rely on and have a good experience during the installation.
What do you see for your future?
You know this has been a fun show for us. We introduced a phenomenal lineup of products that transforms the entire experience in the cabin. We have another wave of product development going on right now that’s coming up behind it. It’s a very very exciting time. When you think about things such as a moving map, they’ve been around a long time. Trying to freshen that market up and bring a new look and a new feel and a best of class map to market is fun. One of the things that we have coming down the line is the best 3D moving map in the market. It is going to be incredible. It is going to allow the customer to explore the globe in three dimensions. we have a feature called Glass Cabin where you’ll be able to pick up your phone and look through the walls of the plane in real-time with 3D imagery around you, day or night. Some really neat feature functionality that is gonna really take a moving map, instead of just being information on a stale looking screen where your at on your flight, into an entertainment and an interactive entertainment tool on the plane.
Well, Reed Macdonald we sure appreciate the chance to talk to you here on Aero TV in the middle of AEA 2016. We wish you continued success. Most important, keep us up to date cause I got a real kick out of that little smile when asked, “what about the future?” I’ve seen the smile before and that’s somebody who’s got something up his sleeve and in a good way. So we look forward to seeing what’s next and more important down the line we’ll have to stop by, visit, and see how you’re able to continually innovate in an industry that’s gotten more competitive by the day. We thank you much sir.
Excellent. Thank you Jim.