Satcom Direct is a business aviation connectivity solutions provider based in Melbourne, FL. To support optimization of increasingly complex connectivity solutions SD offers an Entry into Service program to help owners, operators, crew and flight departments gain a better understanding of the possibilities and capabilities of their newly installed, customized connectivity systems. Samantha Gabrial of Arena Group sat down with Josh Wheeler, senior director at SD responsible for EIS and client services to discuss the program.
What is the EIS program?
The Entry into Service, or EIS, program is a tailored workshop made available to all our customers. The aim is to help them understand the full potential of their onboard connectivity system. The training is personalised and delivered by SD EIS technical professionals and focuses on educating participants about the connectivity components, how they all link together and how to troubleshoot issues in real time. We want our customers to maximize their connectivity journey experience and this supports that goal.
How does it happen?
Training typically takes place at the SD EIS hangar at our Melbourne, FL. flight department or onsite at the customer’s location. We offer a mix of classroom sessions and on-wing demonstrations too. Of course, the current pandemic has required us to re-evaluate and adjust our methods to ensure everyone’s safety. We are fortunate to have a global presence and have adapted to offer online training so customers can maximise their time while being grounded and proactively prepare for when flying resumes.
What is taught through the program?
Since each customer and aircraft is different, our workshops are tailored to the needs of those taking the course. For instance, training given to pilots will be different than a course we deliver to maintenance teams or cabin crew. Course content includes Satcom 101, network theory (including a breakdown of VPNs), the challenges of streaming, potential service limitations (for example how weather affects connectivity), and how to troubleshoot the system. We typically offer two phases: the first is in classroom with theory that focuses on the SD ecosystem of hardware, software, and infrastructure; the second is inflight to practically apply the theory and play out scenarios.
Why does the customised training matter?
Connectivity is increasingly complex, and our solutions are tailored to meet the needs of each individual customer and aircraft. Those onboard are therefore unlikely to be familiar with the possibilities and intricacies of each system. This is why we place such a strong emphasis on providing industry leading customer support not just in the first instance, but as long as we work with a customer. It is why we have won awards for and continually invest in our customer support infrastructure, and why customers value our service.
What challenges/opportunities has COVID brought to the EIS program?
Ironically the pandemic has led to an increase in demand for the EIS workshops as while fleets have been grounded, crews and flight departments have had more time to take training. We’ve had to rethink our procedures a little to adhere to the US’ Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines so we’ve restricted the number of individuals attending the classes, adhered to safe distances and enforced the wearing of masks. These measures are both for safety and peace of mind – customers can focus on taking in information rather than worrying about exposure. We’re also offering online training for customers to virtually attend and, while it doesn’t give the same effect as our in-person training, our customers achieve similar results.
How has the training evolved since introduction?
This year we introduced the EIS VVIP program where we fly with the principal to personally guide them through the whole connectivity experience and show them how to maximise their investment. It is geared toward owners, VIPs, and CEOs who wish to dive deeper into connectivity and fully understand its potential. An SD technician will spend up to two weeks with an owner and their flight department to personally walk them through the system. Not only does this help the customer in understanding how to connect their devices and setting expectations, it also allows our team to gain a better understanding of customer trends and needs. This helps improve our products for the future.
What other benefits are there to flying with the customers?
It’s a privilege to fly with our customers so we make the most of our time with them. The first hour is spent optimizing the system, documenting firmware, and wi-fi mapping the cabin; it’s similar to having a 21-point inspection service on your car. Our next step is purposely faulting the system, turning off networking sources, and creating bottlenecks to slow down the network. This provides the opportunity to work through problems in real-time with the crew or flight department. This process is vital in reassuring the pilots and flight attendants that, in the case where they have to escalate an issue to the NOC or their flight department, they will know how to explain what the problem is, which will help us resolve the situation more quickly.
Can you share any customer stories of how the EIS VVIP service can play out?
One of the EIS team flew with a customer who managed a large hedge fund and owned a professional sports team. Through working with him to understand the limitations of live sports over a high latency link, our colleague learned he was a Coldplay fan. To showcase the capabilities of the connectivity system, he went onto Netflix and found a Coldplay concert available for streaming. The owner of the aircraft dimmed all the lights, turned up the volume, and danced around – the experience was one-of-a-kind.
How is what SD does different to what the plane manufacturers offer?
Manufacturers offer really good generic information on their connectivity systems and that can be really useful. However, the SD EIS is much more tailored to ensure that the customer is using the system that was designed for their aircraft, and specific mission, to its full potential. I think the EIS VIP customer experience really demonstrates how we go above and beyond to support the customer.