The airline industry is constantly on the lookout for new technologies. The airline industry is constantly on the lookout for new technologies. The airline industry is constantly on the lookout for new technologies. (Photo: IM_photo / Shutterstock)

These two airlines are changing the way you fly

Tech incubators help air travel get a makeover.

If there's one common complaint about the airline industry, it's that it has remained largely unchanged since its inception. But now a few airlines are taking it upon themselves to lead with new innovation.

Lufthansa, the German airline that's also the largest in Europe, was the first to announce it was launching an incubator in 2013 to develop technologies in-house.

“We don’t want to be driven by change in the aviation sector: we want to be among the drivers of it,” Carsten Spohr, chairman of the Executive Board and CEO of Deutsche Lufthansa AG, said at the time of its launch.

One of the products of the program is Skyroam, a global mobile hotspot that allows travelers to roam at a less expensive rate than their local carrier would charge, and the airline plans to invest about $550 million in new technology by 2020.

El Al airline of Israel is another that has dipped its toes into the tech waters, launching an incubator of its own, called Cockpit.

"The approach was that airlines often talk about innovating, but rarely do it," Cockpit CEO Henry Chen Weinstein told From The Grapevine. "El Al took that to heart and realized that in order to do something substantial in this field it would have take a startup mentality."

Cockpit supports emerging and established businesses whose technology has the potential to impact not only El Al, but the aviation industry as a whole.

"It doesn't have to be a startup," Weinstein said. "We do have those instances where it's two guys coming in with a laptop who have an idea, but it can be a company that has been around for 10, 15 years, but whose technology hasn't yet been used in the airline industry. It could be used for lamps or in the automobile industry. And then we help make it scalable, so it doesn't just help El Al, but the entire industry."

Cockpit already has two companies in the fold. Bidflyer can be integrated into an airline’s system to provide a new avenue for ticket sales at cheaper prices, and ShopNFly is a pre-travel shopping platform that allows travelers to purchase and collect a range of goods at every stage of their journey. Chen said they also plan on signing four more companies in the months ahead.

The program is already turning heads in the industry. Cockpit won first prize in September at an international competition held by the Airline Passengers Experience Association (APEX) in the prestigious category, “Best Achievement in Passenger Experience 2015.” The ceremony is considered to be the Oscars of the aviation industry. It's a good start for a program just getting off the ground.

"What we want is to influence the entire passenger journey, which we think starts at the moment you begin to think about traveling all the way up to when the trip is behind you," Weinstein said.


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