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Feast Your Eyes: The Making of Cathay Pacific A350

I love watching “how it’s made” videos. This one takes us through the manufacturing process of Cathay Pacific Airways’ new A350 aircraft which landed for the first time in Hong Kong yesterday.

Cathay is the sixth airline to fly Airbus’ sleek wide body introduced in 2014.

The Cathay A350-900 feautres a three class layout with 280 seats in all, including 38 Business Class seats convertible to fully lie-flat beds, 28 in Premium Economy seats and 214 Economy seats..

Cathay has a total of 48 A350 XWB aircraft on order, including 22 A350-900s and 26 of the larger A350-1000s. Cathay’s new A350-900 will begin long-haul operations later this year after a preliminary period of regional service.

Airbus has received 798 firm orders for the A350 XWB from 42 customers around the world including launch customer Qatar Airways, Vietnam Airways, LATAM, Finnair, and Singapore Airlines.

Airbus A380, Source: Airbus, photo by master films/A. Doumenjou

Major Airport Cities Want the A380, Airbus Says

John Leahy, COO Customers for Airbus argued in favor of the A380 from the airport point of view during today’s Airbus Innovation Days morning sessions.

He pointed out that the aircraft helps to relieve strain on major hubs with heavy traffic.

Airbus refers to it as the A380 effect. “When a city introduces the world’s biggest passenger plan–the impact on business and tourism development is substantial,” Airbus states.

Heathrow Airport, for example, benefits from 50 A380 carrying 10% of passengers every day.

You can hear Los Angeles and Birmingham argue how this aircraft helps their cities here:

Airbus Chairman Hints at New Single Aisle Plane, But What Size?

While greeting press gathered for Airbus Innovation Days in Hamburg, Klaus Richter, Chief Procurement Officer, Airbus and Chairman of the Board for Airbus Germany, caught our attention when highlighting the importance of Hamburg in the group’s plans by saying, “If there’s a new plane it will be a single aisle plane.”

Richter mentioned Hamburg’s growing development capabilities in fields of research into new materials, through the ZAL Technical Centre, and also significant in-house capabilities including for full-sized aircraft simulations. As he said, all in the interest of “shooting for a single aisle development that needs to enter the market.”

President John F. Kennedy speaking at Rice University, Public Domain

We Choose To Go To the Moon, Remembering JFK

Today we mark the birthday of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. A man with unique vision and determination.

Thanks to him, humanity got to the moon and back. Admittedly, it was a reaction to the challenge of the advancing Russian Aerospace program. But rising up to meet challenges is what it takes to advance technology and reach the pinnacle of human endeavours.

Leo the Baggage Handling Robot, by SITA Lab, seen at SITA Air Transport IT Summit 2016 © FCMedia

Exclusive Video: Get To Know Leo. He Can Handle Your Baggage

While at the SITA Air Transport IT Summit 2016 conference in Barcelona, I got a chance to meet Leo, a specialised robot designed to help passengers check their luggage baggage faster at the curb before they enter the airport terminal.

The fully autonomous robot can check-in, print bag tags and carry up to two 32kg suitcases. It follows a programmable tracks and has laser guided obstacle avoidance system to navigate high traffic areas.

Leo was named after the Italian Renaissance inventor and engineer Leonardo da Vinci–creator of the world’s first robot.

While only a concept system now, the SITA Lab innovation gives us an idea of how automation might help improve baggage processing—one of the areas of the journey passengers are least happy about.

SITA hopes robots like Leo will reduce the need for trolleys and general congestion at the terminal land-side.

“Leo demonstrates that robotics hold the key to more effective, secure and smarter baggage handling and is major step towards further automating bag handling in airports. Leo also provides some insight into the potential use of robots across the passenger journey in future,” says Dave Bakker, President Europe at SITA.

Leo was put through his first trials at Geneva Airport’s Terminal 1. Stephan Cheikh tells me he was pleasantly surprised to see how well real passengers reacted to the robot. 

“In a busy airport such as Geneva Airport, the use of a robot such as Leo limits the number of bags in the airport terminal, helping us accommodate a growing number of passengers without compromising the airport experience inside the terminal. Leo also proves the case for increased use of robotics to make passengers’ journey a little more comfortable, whether it is checking in baggage, providing directions or helping them through the security process,” said Massimo Gentile, Head of IT at Genève Aéroport.

Leo, which was built for SITA by BlueBotics, and is only one of the many innovations SITA Lab has come up with to make airline and airport operations more efficient and pleasant for passengers.

SITA Passenger Survey, man using smartphone on Airplane. Source: SITA, Getty Images.

What Kind of Traveller Are You Really? Take the SITA Quiz

Travellers don’t like dealing with people. That’s the conclusion of SITA’s latest Passenger Survey revealed during the Air Transport IT Summit this year.

Instead, most travellers are happiest using technology, but how passengers respond to the various self-service travel services available depends on the individual passenger type. SITA has put its Passenger Quiz on-line. Take it and find out what category you fall under.

Video Still: Google Presentation on the Future of Travel Search, Presentation by Marcin Brodziak © FCMedia 2016

Exclusive Video: Google’s Conversational Travel Assistant Demo Heralds Dawn of AI Travel Search

The last afternoon session of this year’s SITA ATIS2016 rewarded all who hung out to see the event through with a mind-blowing demonstration of Google’s new Travel Assistant Demo.

I apologise in advance that the audio might be a little hard to follow, and I recommend viewing the video in full screen mode so that you can better see the projections from Marcin Brodziak’s smartphone. (Note: If you should experience any issues with playback on the post, just click on the video link to my YouTube channel).

I felt it was still worth sharing because this was only the second time Google has ever demonstrated the full functionality of its new travel search Assistant which will go live this summer.

Search Simplified

When you think about it, natural language search is an ideal match for travel. Google calls it conversational search and that’s fitting. The Assistant follows the conversation about the planned itinerary and presents travel options for flights, hotels and destination activities relevant to the user’s queries.

As an added benefit, the Google Assistant can handle queries in a collaborative environment. Colleagues or friends can join the conversation to share their travel preferences, and Assistant keeps up with the debate.

Google’s Brodziak said we can expect voice queries to follow next.

It’s the Beginning of the End for the Endless Search

The time of complicated searches through individual websites, scrolling through hundreds of options and then tying the various searches on dozens of tabs together into a viable itinerary is over.

The implications to travel sites which have built their business serving as intermediaries between travel services companies and travellers are massive.

Without the same contextual capabilities, it’s difficult to imagine how they will compete to be the go-to source now.

The Cost of Ranking

I asked Brodziak how Google plans to monetise the Assistant search service. He dodged the question suggesting Google hasn’t decided this yet, but that seems unlikely.

With a limited number of options presented to the user on any query (ostensively in the interest of simplification), Adwords will likely play a role in ranking.

You really don’t need to charge a bookings commission if you can charge companies for the opportunity to get the booking in the first place.

Brodziak did not show the bookings step of the query, though the Assistant suggests making the booking through Open Table for the restaurant search Brodziak made in Los Angeles.

Google is now a strong mediator, the ultimate gatekeeper between the traveler and the supplier—be that the final supplier (airline, hotel, venue) or the OTA (online travel agency).

We’ll know soon enough what competing for those three or four top spots will cost.

Let Me Take Care of That for You

The time to speculate about the future of search is over.

Google has positioned itself as a powerful barrier. We can only expect the influence of Assistant to grow.

Last month, Google sent me a friendly message letting me know that it had read my email, found travel itinerary details and placed them on my calendar.

“Google Calendar now adds events from Gmail, like reservations for flights and restaurants, to your calendar automatically,” the company wrote.

Isn’t that helpful?

The feature can be turned off. But, though at first it creeped me out, I left it on.

It’s a lot of hassle manually entering my travel itinerary in my calendar programs. I already forward reservations to Tripcase to simplify the process, but Google doesn’t even require that little bit of effort.

Am I too lazy to organise my travel agenda? No.

I still spend a lot of time finding the best options and the best prices. But I am busy and often get interrupted by more time-sensitive things. It’s a chore, and any service that makes life easier is a tempting proposition.

As in all things, the path of least resistance wins out.

Assistants are supposed to stay on top of our agendas and simplify our lives. Frankly, Google’s Assistant seems highly qualified for the job.