How WestJet Is Cutting Data Load Times By 85%

The recent APEX/IFSA Awards served to shine a light on the most innovative and game-changing technologies in aviation. Taking home the trophy for Best Inflight Connectivity Innovation was WestJet, whose partnership with Panasonic has seen it cutting data load times by 85%. The technology in question is called ZeroTouch – here’s what it’s all about.

WestJet has received an award for its slimmed-down data loading technology. Photo: Getty Images

How WestJet is winning with remote loading

The recent Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) and the International Flight Services Association (IFSA) EXPO, held in Long Beach, California, has been one of the first global airline industry conferences since lockdowns shook up the calendar. Attended by over 1,300 people, the event was a resounding success, punctuating a couple of very difficult years with some good news stories.

One such good news story was the APEX/IFSA Awards Ceremony which celebrated innovative achievements by airlines and suppliers, highlighting some of the most groundbreaking initiatives around today. Celebrating a win for Best Inflight Connectivity Innovation was WestJet, awarded for its Panasonic-powered ZeroTouch report loading service.

WestJet is not the first airline to use ZeroTouch, although it was an early adopter. Panasonic states that some five other airlines are using the product so far. However, WestJet is its heaviest user, and has provided a good benchmark of the benefits of this technology.

The product has successfully cut data loading times by 85%, freeing up manpower for other tasks and giving WestJet more control over their IFE product offering. Let’s take a look at how it works, and how it has empowered WestJet to provide a better customer experience.

What is ZeroTouch?

ZeroTouch is essentially a tool that allows software, media, and other content to be loaded onto the aircraft over the air (OTA). Using connectivity, media and data can be uploaded or offloaded from the plane without any technician import. It’s a huge step forward for a task that would historically be a time-consuming, labor-intensive process.

ZeroTouch allows for seamless uploading and offloading of content. Photo: Panasonic

In the last six months, WestJet has transferred some 35 terabytes of data using ZeroTouch. In these times when COVID has made rapid turnarounds more important but more challenging to achieve, this sort of product has become key in helping the airline to stick to its targets. Speaking to Panasonic, Kris Valckx, Sr. Fleet Engineer at WestJet, commented,

“When we implemented ZeroTouch, we were able to realize immediate reduction to the monthly on-wing support that we typically required to support software, media, and content updates. This has allowed us to focus our manpower on maintaining our industry-leading on-time performance in a safe and efficient manner.

“We’ve also been able to nimbly make adjustments to our product offering in response to market changes much more efficiently.”

ZeroTouch works over existing and future data links, including cell modems, WiFi and Ku-band. If connectivity is interrupted, up and downloads will resume either via the same link or a different one. It’s designed to handle thousands of file deliveries per aircraft, passing across gigabytes of data in a seamless manner.

Better passenger experience too

While tools like ZeroTouch are key to moving airlines away from time-consuming on-wing support, there are benefits for the passengers too. Airlines are firmly in control of their IFE offering in real-time, letting them deliver an enhanced entertainment offering that is more responsive to customer demands. Valckx told Panasonic,

“While our guests will continue to enjoy our excellent inflight entertainment offerings, they will see new features and products become available to them at a much quicker pace. With ZeroTouch, we’re able to quickly ascertain guest trends and pivot our product to match demand without overly stressing the manpower historically required to introduce new features to the fleet.”

WestJet has been able to become more responsive to customer trends, while also freeing up human resources for more critical jobs. Photo: WestJet

Not overly stressing the human resources has become even more critical in this COVID world. With thousands of jobs lost during the pandemic, airlines are finding themselves increasingly stretched as flying begins to pick up again. Having remote loading of media has enabled Tech Ops to focus more on essential maintenance, as well as on safety issues such as enhanced cleaning and disinfection.


How WestJet Is Cutting Data Load Times By 85%

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