Facebook status: “33 thousand feet above the Atlantic”
By Dennis Ringersma on 28 October 2011
The three-month field research in Southern Africa that my girlfriend and I executed has sadly passed. After a gruelling five-hour traffic jam (during which a three lane highway was temporarily transformed into six lanes) had caused us to miss our plane, we managed to catch our connecting flight to Europe in the nick of time.
The plane that took us from Johannesburg to Frankfurt is the largest passenger jet in the world: the Airbus380. It entered commercial service in 2007 and it is essentially a very large bus with wings. When it takes off, when it’s in flight, when landing, it just doesn’t feel like an airplane. And it’s stuffed with electronics. Every passenger –and that can be up 853 people- has his own touch screen on which movies, series, music and games can be played. It is basically a media centre, like Apple TV or the boxes that Western Digital produces. I estimate every passenger can make his or her pick out of 20 gigs of material. On top of that, passengers can challenge each other for multiplayer games that look a bit dated.
More than 800 people are using media centres at the same time on one plane.
Maybe the above doesn’t sound so special. To a certain degree you are right, because nowadays anyone with half a brain and a few bucks can buy a media centre or play multiplayer games that have been designed a whole lot better. But remember that the plane was fitted in 2007. In January of that same year Apple’s TV boasting a 40 GB hard drive was first released. And you’re not at home, you’re on a plane. More than 800 people are using media centres at the same time on one plane. That means 800 individual centres with as many cooling vans or some serious central computing power with befitting cooling. Of course, those are not the only on board gadgets that need power. Ovens, microwaves, lights, blowers, the list goes on. Oh. And let’s not forget the engines. Everything on board needs wires, power and cooling. I would like to compare the A380 with the IT architecture of a medium sized office or school. Just think of all the things that go wrong at your office or your school. All the times tech support needs to come over and help you out. And yet, those problems aren’t on board.
WarCraft of the Skies
I have reason to believe there are going to be problems on board. Within 2 years on board tech support will have become a reality. It will have become a necessity. Stewardesses need some serious training or they will just have to build a tech office on the plane. The reason for my decisiveness is the fact that passengers on Lufthansa A380’s flying between Europe and North America can already use their mobile devices online during flight. A satellite or system of satellites provides Internet access for info savvy travellers. Whilst this is still not a commodity, it will be within a few years with the current pace of development. Passengers will want to update their status on a plane, work on online (shared) documents or play multiplayer games with their mates who are stuck at home. And, with that customer demand the expectations passengers have of their carrier and their flight attendants will grow. It will require more than getting them to say: “Have you tried turning it on and off again?”.