I appreciate the development of modern communication technology, especially the convenience it offers me as an end user. It’s nice and easy to book a flight with an aviation app, to pre-order a hot meal online, to research the next train connection from the airport and so on. The usability and responsiveness has improved over the years and today you often receive a booking confirmation within seconds.
From the end customer’s point of view, it saves time not to have to enter data multiple times and avoid transfer or transcription errors. Recently, as soon as I had booked a flight, it was entered into my calendar automatically, I only had to confirm it. How did this happen? One application sends data to another that is converted into a format that allows a different presentation or visualization. This integration is especially helpful in the world of aviation: Picture a handling agent on the apron with lots of tasks on his table: needing to talk, read, text, drive, and confirm at the same time. This is overwhelming, especially if each task is within a different application. With increased workloads, this situation has become all too familiar in recent years. Why are we in this state of too many applications to juggle? In the past, as new tasks emerged, a new software was purchased, often corresponding with additional hardware. This situation had led today to many employees, especially on the apron, having multiple software tools to deal with at the same time – and, in some cases, they must deal with multiple devices as well. Still, they are required to do their tasks on time and communicate correctly and in a timely manner. This trend shows a growing need to integrate these solutions – but when and how does it make sense?
Option 1: web-based mobile solution
Basically, there are three valid integration options to allow users to operate on only one device, each depending on the respective requirements. The first one is a web-based mobile solution, which is designed primarily for mobile devices. Both the design and the layout of the application are very flexible and the costs are rather low. An update can be done anytime in real time and locally installed programs can be easily transferred to the browser. The only requirement is a working internet access. There are lots of web applications for end-users too, like calling or conference apps. We often do our travel bookings or banking business via web applications. In aviation, these solutions work basically the same way for the handling agents on the apron: their required applications run on any desired device and desired browser. This is the easiest of all integration steps.
Option 2: hybrid aviation apps
Of course, this first option does not work in all cases. A web-based mobile solution has no or very limited access to the hardware device. Often, some hardware functionalities are required that do not fit the existing hardware and the Operating System (OS). For example, if access to a camera or a laser scanner is required, the supplier must provide a software which matches the application area of the hardware exactly. This brings us to option 2, a hybrid application which works largely independent of the OS. A hybrid app requires less additional programming effort from the vendor’s side and enables different applications to run in parallel only integrating if and when necessary.
Option 3: API instead of Apps
Finally, there is the third possibility which doesn’t necessarily require apps from the vendor: an application programming interface (API). The API is a machine-readable interface made for software which enables the communication and interaction between systems. With its help, developers can dynamically integrate content into their own program. APIs are thus used for the exchange and further processing of data and content between different websites, programs and content providers. In addition, data can be exchanged, for example, in a reduced form particularly easy to process – data is “translated,” so to say. To make this clear, let’s use the booking process example again; Imagine you book a flight and order a specific meal. Your entered booking data contains different information, not simply which meal you have selected. The airline has to know on which flight at what time it will be served, to which seat and if it needs to be heated in the oven on board. This information then needs to go to the catering provider who prepares the meal, the catering truck who delivers it in time, and finally to the cabin crew who receives, prepares and serves it. Specific parts of the data also go to the finance department of the airline where it has to be booked as turnover. All the above are just a few of the target groups who receive this data in different formats, processed for the intended purpose. To process and forward the data to the right interfaces is a core functionality of an API, in this case a web API.
Benefits for customers and providers
All three of these integration options offer major advantages for every side. The great benefit for the vendor is that each can be done quite easily using the existing web technology. The result for the customer is the information and data he needs is visualized in a more concise and understandable way. The structure and visualization can be vastly different to the way it is presented from various applications. This provides the customer with a better operating comfort and can support the workflows better as well.
So, the question a purchaser must ask is if, when and how to integrate different aviation apps and functionalities best. The employees working on the apron will benefit tremendously as they sometimes receive new tasks or tasks change every minute. What these workers don’t need is double or awkward work due to a lack of usability of the corresponding communication apps. Instead, they need reliable, easy-to use and integrated functionalities. And maybe even the number of hardware devices could be reduced – a convenient side effect!
How do we get a better integration of aviation apps? What’s your best practice? Share your experience with us!