The curtain to this year’s APEX EXPO has been raised with the traditional Education Day.

With an expected 2,000 delegates and 4,000 in total expected across the three collocated events that includes IFSA EXPO and AIX Americas, Boston, there are some 275 total exhibitors showcasing the latest and best in in-flight services and solutions.

The morning educational sessions were kick-started by Dr Joe Leader and Doug Parker, chairman and CEO of American Airlines.

During his tenure, Parker has overseen a change in the airline’s corporate culture, both at HQ level but also the airline’s approach to its standard of onboard service. Describing AA as a ‘new airline’ following its merger with US Airways back in 2015, AA has spent US$26 billion in CAPEX, on both new aircraft, retiring older planes, and new products and services including new seats, in-flight meals and B&O headphones.

However, recognising that its ambitions rely on the effectiveness of its staff, there has been a focus on improving the airline’s interactions with passengers. For Parker, the multi-billion dollar investment is wasted if staff aren’t engaged with its passengers.

The BBC’s Aaron Heselhurst, presenter of Talking Business, oversaw a stellar list of airline CEOs throughout the morning.

Stephen Kavanagh, CEO of Aer Lingus revealed details of an impending brand refresh set to come in Q1, 2019. The new look will be accompanied by the introduction of 20 MB of free Wi-Fi in economy – a service business class has enjoyed for the past six years. Such a move has been initiated by the soon-to-be-delivered A321LR and the influence of NPS which has influenced its investment and deinvestment priorities.

The current health of 84-year old Aeromexico was discussed by CEO Dr Andres Conesa. During the past few years, the airline has actively sought to simplify its fleet, so that it now has Embraer 170/190 aircraft for regional flights, and a mix of Boeing 737-700s/800 NG MAX and Dreamliners on international routes. With just three aircraft, the airline has been able to introduce onboard consistency with its IFEC and catering services.

But reliability and punctuality are equally important. As Conesa said, it’s great to have such amenities but if the plane sits on the tarmac, this investment is wasted.

One of the airline industry’s few female CEOs, LATAM Group’s Claudia Sender shared how the South American carrier is investing over US$400 million in a cabin retrofit over the next three years. A new business class seat from Thompson Aero will be introduced in January 2019 as part of a cabin that features 18-inch IFE monitors and privacy screens in business class, and a completely redesigned economy class seating with an emphasis on increased ‘living space.’

Sender also revealed that in-flight connectivity would be available on flights, beginning with its Brazilian operations first.

The final CEO keynote was delivered by Air Canada’s Calin Rovinescu, who sat down with APEX and IFSA CEO, Dr Joe Leader.

Airlines, said Rovinescu, have to continually improve their passenger experience. Previous successes and acceptance counts for nothing in an age when expectations and technology are changing so rapidly. The airline has kept pace, he said, by introducing larger IFE screens, increased its content library, promoted the use of personal electronic devices and pushed connectivity suppliers to improve the quality of streaming.

While there is a place for BYOD, as supported by Air Canada’s low-cost outfit Canada Rouge, seatback screens are a necessity especially on long-haul.

Welcome news as the conference makes way for the Expo and busy and bustling exhibition halls for the next three days.

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