KLM - Tech & Data

Servers in the cloud with Wifi Onboard Portal

There you are: 10 Kilometers up in the sky, on your way to the next destination. You open your laptop and just like that you watch the latest YouTube shows or send those last-minute emails.

A plane from above

What is Wifi Onboard Portal?

There you are: 10 Kilometers up in the sky, on your way to the next destination. You open your laptop and just like that you watch the latest YouTube shows or send those last-minute emails.

Internet connectivity has become important in both our professional and personal lives. That’s why Air France KLM developed Onboard Portal. This is the place for customers to access the internet, check flight information and buy ancillaries during the flight using their own device.

The Onboard Portal is developed in-house by a collaboration between the Aircraft IT team  and the Digital team. It's a group effort: together with the ground engineering crew, Aircraft IT provides 150+ planes with onboard servers. The Digital teams configure those through Docker containers. The servers connect with various satellite providers around the globe to make sure you stay connected during your flight.

What new possibilities does Wifi Onboard Portal bring?

KLM’s inflight WiFi opens up all new possibilities for both passengers and the cabin crew. Business travellers have a choice to make the flight deliberate downtime or continue to do some extra work. For transfer passengers it is easy to manage the details for their onward flight before they reach their destination. This improves the stop-over time and gives the passenger more control over their flight schedule.

With our in-flight connectivity, we also show up-to-date flight information on the in-flight entertainment screens as well as a timeline of important moments during the flight. You’ll know exactly when your next meal will be served.

With the connectivity, we can also gather data of the flight and the aircraft itself. Data like current  coordinats, origin destination, flight numbers was not available before in such large quantities and now we can use it to discover trends and have a more accurate view on what happens with the aircraft in flight.

150 planes with onboard servers

What is the impact of Wifi Onboard Portal on the organisation?

Every month we upgrade aircrafts with servers for Wifi connectivity. Our passengers visit the portal over 40.000 times a day. Our flight attendants can instantly contact the ground maintenance crew. For example, if there's a defect with a chair, they can just take a picture and share it. When the plane lands, the crew can fix the problem at once. Our engineers receive gigabytes of information on each flight and this impacts their way of working. They are always looking for ways to improve and see how this data can benefit other parts of KLM as well.

What are the technical challenges in Wifi Onboard Portal?

With servers in all our wifi equipped planes, we have our portal software truly up in the clouds. The Onboard Portal connects with various satellites to provide connectivity. To do so, we want to keep the customer experience the same over all the providers. We made the portal as simple as possible. We hid all the complexity for the end user.  We keep improving our services. To update the software on the aircraft servers we do OTA updates as long as we take into account the various regulations of the international aviation authorities. We maintain high standards in our security protocols to make sure our software doesn’t interfere with mission critical systems in the aircraft. It’s a fine line between the need for continuous deployment and the regulations in aviatronics (aviation electronics).

Why is Wifi Onboard Portal such an interesting engineering initiative?

In this project, you can be a software developer as well as an architect. You get to figure out various problems. One day you are working on a front end ticket in your sprint, the other day you brainstorm with your colleagues about the safety of the operating systems on the servers. These vary between the models aircraft we fly. When you work on the hardware side of the portal, it is challenging to figure out the various regulations and limitations that come with running software on a plane. It is also a challenge from a hardware point of view. It is very inspiring to have two different teams working together on this project. We learn a lot from each other.

When you are an engineer with an interest in aviatronics, you will find it interesting how we move towards more digital distribution and more innovation in both hardware and software. Currently we are working on the Airbus 321, a whole new platform for our inflight connectivity. It’s really a project to get your teeth into.

Why work at AirFrance KLM?

We use the SaFe methodology (Scaled Agile Framework) in a growing number of teams. Each quarter, we have our Planning and Implementation Event at a remote location. During these events you also get a chance to get in touch with other teams and check out some of the innovative projects we do at KLM. You can always talk to  your manager when you find something interesting to work on. There’s a lot of flexibility and possibilities within our organization.

The software you build truly runs in the cloud. Your solutions have an impact on all our travellers and you bring them more joy during their flight. Aircraft IT and Digital are two teams from different parts of the company, working as one.

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