By: Matt Muta,Global Hospitality and Travel Managing Director, Microsoft

We’ve all seen the impact that mobility has had on the world, both in our personal lives and in business. It is introducing new ways of working, new ways of serving customers and new ways of accessing information. It’s changing everything. Airlines have a particular interest in mobility. They face tough competition, pricing pressures, along with high passenger expectations, and mobile technology can help.

The industry is constantly on the hunt for new ways to save money, be more efficient and make life easier for its crews and passengers. In the past, IT investments were sometimes seen as costly and cumbersome to setup for a whole fleet of planes and staff, so airlines have been slow to implement these new technology offerings. Everyone has seen the growth of online reservations and check-ins, but in this new age, it isn’t enough anymore.

But things are changing. Now, more than ever, airlines are starting to see technology as a means to cost-savings and, coupled with improved IT budgets, they are readily deploying their fleets with the newest
technology enhancements for pilots, crew members and even passengers. All of these improvements are in an effort to drive out unnecessary costs, enhance the passenger experience, and improve operational efficiency.

According to a 2013 Airline IT Trends Survey conducted by SITA in cooperation with Airline Business magazine, IT budgets were expected to improve at the majority of airlines in 2013, with optimism for increased IT spend looking to continue with the majority of airlines anticipating further budget increases in 2014.  Major investment in programs like passenger services via mobile devices (66% of airlines), BI Solutions (61%) and CRM (60%) are set to increase over the next 3 years. These are all Microsoft strength areas.

Now is the time for airlines to invest in tech to transform their business for the better and Microsoft is helping redefine and shape these new experiences for pilots, flight crews and passengers.  Airlines with improved IT budgets and eagerness to implement new solutions are finding that Microsoft’s wealth of offerings, such as tablets, cloud services like Office 365 and Yammer, and powerful Windows 8.1 operating system allow us to be the best bet to provide tried-and-true enterprise-level devices and services to airlines.

Focusing on three major areas, Electronic Flight Bags (EFBs), in-flight customer service, and in-flight entertainment, Microsoft has deployed a bevy of new tech offerings, products and partnerships at the Singapore Airshow that run the gamut of airline needs – helping those who adopt these new technologies stay a step above the competition. Here are some highlights for each area, but you can read about all of Microsoft’s announcements at our Official Microsoft Blog here.

Electronic Flight Bags

With Windows 8.1 tablets for EFBs, airlines are getting more than a digital copy of their static content. They’re getting a tool for planning, flying, and filing that improves safety, employee productivity andsaves on costs. With our tablets, pilots have a single device that lets them collaborate with air traffic control from the cockpit, sign pre-flight plans remotely, mark plans naturally in the cabin, and file those plans upon arrival with a tap on a button. With this one device, collaboration and corporate communications are easily accomplished, whether pilots are swapping shifts with other pilots, training, or simply checking and responding to email. For example, Delta Air Lines is equipping their 11,000 pilots with Microsoft Surface 2s for EFBs, saving the airline $13 million per year on fuel related savings.  

Cabin Service

Windows devices are also invaluable tools for in-flight crew members responsible for providing a high level of customer service while managing flight procedures and inventories. Pursers can use tablets to streamline crew management, and flight attendants use them for procedural checklists, managing food and beverage and duty-free inventory, reviewing passenger details and flagging VIPs for special care. Card reader peripherals also turn tablets into a mobile point-of-sale device for use in the aisles with customers.

CRM and point-of-sale features specifically give cabin crews the ability to provide better service to their passengers by helping them move through the cabin faster, get people the items that want more efficiently
and business apps can give flight attendants access to each passenger’s information in order to provide the best customer service to high-value passengers on the flight.

In-Flight Entertainment

Windows tablets also allow airline passengers to enjoy a personalized experience from their in-flight engagement systems. By receiving a Windows 8 tablet, passengers can choose from a variety of entertainment
options; order food, beverages, and duty free from their seats; sign up for airline credit cards, and more. Lufthansa Systems announced their new BoardConnect app for Windows 8, changing the way passengers experience their flight from start to finish.

Airlines are constantly making upgrades to differentiate their brand. Mobility and tablet investments are no exception and are major areas of focus for the industry today. New technology makes flights easier and more enjoyable not only for pilots and the crew, but also for the end customer – their passengers. Now is the time to get on board and invest in the future of flight.

Stay tuned to the Vertical Industries blog for additional discussion on what Microsoft is doing with aviation technology. Also, be sure to visit the Microsoft Business Newsroom for updates on how we are innovating with businesses around the world.