As aviation technology continues to evolve, more sophisticated inventions will continue to show up, with unmanned planes leading the charge. Brendan McKittrick of Aeroband Limited contributes to this evolution by integrating blockchain into aircraft. Joining John Riley and George Usi, they talk about how Web3 technology can make aviation more accessible and customizable through tokenization and subscription-like models. Brendan also shares his insights on the massive potential of electrically powered short-hop electric aircraft and his exciting experiences playing Gaelic football.
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How Blockchain Will Transform The Aviation Technology With Brendan McKittrick
In this episode, we have an awesome international guest. He’s an advocate for mood-boosting among executives. He’s passionate about the analytic interpretation of data, Gaelic footballer, and has played in front of hundreds of thousands of people. He’s now the Founder of Aeroband Limited. Welcome, Brendan McKittrick.
If cyber risk was a pizza and the frameworks were the crust, what’s the riskiest topping you’ve seen and what would you equate that to?
Over the years, the one topping that I put on the pizza, which is the greatest danger, is the internal threat. Having worked with small companies all the way up to billion-dollar companies as a CTO and CIO. It’s the internal threat. The data leakage due to some malicious actions internally is the big one I’ve seen over the years. That’s a silent killer. It can happen in lots of little micro-transactions or it could be on a larger scale. Typically that’s the one where I see the damage done to businesses.
What topping would you equate that to on a pizza?
It had to be something that would sneakily get on the pizza, be devoured, and tastes nice. Possibly, something to do with genetically modified cheese, which looks okay and tastes okay, but is not very good for you.
Something like vegan cheese at that point.
I don’t want to upset all the vegans but something that didn’t involve a real cow.
I like your answer better. As a founder, what keeps you up at night?
Most of the time, it’s a passionate pursuit where you’re trying to create something new. I love AI and blockchain. I’m focused on the crosshairs of decentralized storage, and smart contracts meet decentralized AI. That’s the sweet spot of the legendary DAO, the Decentralized Autonomous Organization that we all talk about. I’ve yet to see one that’s truly decentralized and truly autonomous. This is my pursuit. It’s my willingness to give my time on an altruistic pursuit, which is ahead of its time in the sense that you can do a lot of things in AI and blockchain. To go for the holy grail of the crosshairs, that’s something that keeps me thinking.
I’ve worked a lot with AI in maritime shipping, helping a company called Rippey at the moment, who’s doing some amazing stuff in a very broken industry. Our own pursuit in Aeroband is a similar evangelical role in aviation. Those industries are not alone. There are lots of industries that are using very old technology. What often happens is folks come out of college and say, “I’m going to build an app for loyalty for aviation.”
In a previous role, we used to do a lot of due diligence on small companies that wanted to be bought up into the big machine. We say, “We got this app.” The problem was they couldn’t talk to the legacy systems. They are great technology, beautifully groomed, and UX that would knock you dead, but no interface of note to the legacy systems.
I think you need that ecosystem, and that will involve interfaces to the legacy systems, 30 to 40 years old in any industry, but particularly aviation and maritime. Those industries like travel, transportation, and railway systems are decrepit. Let’s be blunt about it. If you can create an ecosystem that buffers that interface, and then gives this rapid environment for development., and you’re starting to talk Web3 environments, blockchain-enabled, AI-enabled, APIs wrapped around, artificial general intelligence available on tap, then you’re starting to create rapid rollout of apps that used to take years down to months.
What keeps me awake at night and to fully answer your question is getting that sweet spot of AI, blockchain, and that rapid Web3 development environment down to even maybe AI to create the apps for you at the press of a button. Create me an app that does loyalty for aviation. How far away are we from that? Maybe not as far as we think we are.
Aviation, might this happen? I think we’re all pretty familiar with the reality. Let’s use the most common names, the Airbuses and the Boeings. Those aren’t Airbus or Boeing engines. They are manufactured by GE or Rolls Royce. There are suppliers in different markets that feed aviation. What part of aviation do you think is the first touch where this might happen?
The massively engineered components like the Rolls Royce and the General Electric engines are massively well-engineered, highly regulated, and safety-tested to the limits. It’s not very common for engines to fail in service. There are all the C checks, A checks, and D checks. There’s a huge ecosystem around the safety of the aircraft.
We had the fly-by-wire come in about twenty years ago. Since then, it’s all electronics and there are three computers handshaking on decisions, except for the Boeing 737 MAX, where they cut back on that redundancy. We all know what happened there tragically. I don’t think it’s going to be the engineering. However, if you look at the traceability of parts that are part on, part off model for aircraft, the certification of the parts is generally okay. I say generally because there is some leakage.
To try and get that all into a blockchain lineage database and a distributed ledger. Let’s forget the blockchain because it has connotations. If you had a distributed ledger lineage, which was immutable, everybody could have access through a smart contract, and you knew that this part had so many flying hours, the transfer of aircraft between the lessor and the client airline would be massively smooth. There are directions in there, but that’s what I call the big problem of everybody jumping at the same time. That’s massively difficult.
The easier one to do is to create new apps. There are 150 applications used by airlines. That’s from revenue management to cargo tracking. They’re all very old, but I think the point of entry will be one of those. The precursor to that is you’ve got to create a layer of abstraction above the legacy systems because you don’t switch them off overnight. What you do is create a layer of abstraction that says, “The kids coming out of college can now develop better apps than I can because they don’t care about the legacy. That layer of abstraction means it’s a rapid development environment.
What that then allows is for the back-end to be switched in and switched out nicely and smoothly without changing all that ecosystem because it’s very hard-coded right down at the moment. What we’re trying to do at the moment is to create that ecosystem, which is open to everybody. I had a VC say to me, “If you want me to give you money, build software and give it away to the industry.” I went, “Bingo.” He said, “You got 60 seconds to convince me this is a good idea. I like it, but why would I do that?” I said, “The reality is it’s not that simple.”
The analogy I gave him was, let’s build the railway tracks. Let’s specify the gauge and the weight loading, and say, “If you can build a train that meets this requirement, you can run on the tracks. You’re going to pay a very small fee per kilometer or per mile to keep the system running.” That organization would be an industry-owned organization and a true DAO maybe in five-years-time. I won’t have any ownership of that. That’s the giveaway. It washes its face with a small transaction fee. However, if you build trains and lovely carriages, that’s your software. That’s where we make money as an organization. That’s where we’re profitable. You got to create that ecosystem. The railway tracks have got to be laid. That’s the challenge. It’s the hardest part of shifting an industry to Web3 or new technologies.
Also, monetization concept. There are lots of ways to make sure a business goes forward and to be passionate about the business with the vision, as well as set the proper mission. That helps you grow towards that vision. What comes to mind for me is at least top of mind. It’s fairly clear that there is a lot of change occurring in the airline industry in terms of profits. My understanding is they used to sell the plane and make money off the plane, but then the margins got tight. There’s competition, and then they sold the maintenance. Now, they’re selling guarantees.
I learned about this because I went to an event for somebody that works for GE that makes the engines. They said, “Now what we do is we sell insurance. We’re going to guarantee that the engine is going to work for twenty years, but we have all this sensory built into the engine. It’ll tell you whether the pilot has to stop flying it at a certain speed. As the engine wears, the pilot has to start following new rules on how they fly the plane or they void the insurance because we’ll replace the engine for free. You won’t have to pay for maintenance or anything.”
You pay a premium for these, so now they’re making money off of ensuring that the engine lasts for twenty years, but then they set sensory within the engine so they can control how the pilots fly the plane. It has gone to that point. I remember the very first question I asked them. I said, “What if somebody hacks that sensor? What if somebody gets into that network that’s communicating to the plane and the pilots, and then what? What are you going to do about that?”
The sensory doesn’t control. He started to explain. This is going to be interesting to see what happens because all these companies that make the planes have to make money somewhere. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be in business. I wonder about commoditization and innovation. You see something like you mentioned the Max. My brain is ticking saying, what sacrifices might be made in order to move the industry forward? Is blockchain the answer? Is that where you block out the hackers? Not literally, per se. In the back of my mind, that’s what I’m thinking. There’s a security risk in hacking a plane while you’re flying it, generically. The question is, is blockchain the answer? The combination of what essentially is AI and blockchain, is that part of that journey, do you think?
It’s a perfect segue into the security aspect. The greater you digitize either a vehicle or an industry, the greater the attack surface. That’s what has happened in the last few years. You’re right on the money there, George, in terms of the attack surface has become quite large. When you take a pilot who only operates an aircraft for about nine minutes in a flight, the rest is flick switches and it does the rest. There’s all this collision avoidance technology. There are lots of upsides. I won’t go into those, but there are lots of them. The downside is we’re streaming huge amounts of data off every engine. There’s a whole IoT landscape, and securing IoT. I’m not an expert in IoT security, but it’s always been a little concern as a CTO or a CIO when somebody says, “We’ve got IoT devices.”
For some reason, and I could be totally wrong here. I’ve got this little device out at the edge of my state collecting data, and I got to rely on that data for decision-making. I got to know that that device is giving me, and you can average it out, fog it out, and do all of those things because sometimes you get a wrong reading. We use it a lot in cargo to pharma with the first vaccines that had to be transported at minus 28 or something. You couldn’t give that to a human. The aberration is too great.
Let’s take it a step further. Let’s say these aircraft can be flown autonomously for boat takeoff and landing because that’s what the pilot is there for. The two pilots are to make sure that there’s a backup. Let’s assume, at some stage in the future, there are no pilots. That’ll start with small electric aircraft, the little eight-rotavator, or little hoppers that could take you from the top of your business building to the nearest airport.
They’re going to be programmed with a flight map, and they’re going to have a roadmap map. There would be no time to notice the airman saying, “This aircraft is operating in this space.” At that stage, the scenario we’re talking about here becomes very real because anything electronic or controlled is hackable. Anyone who’s ever written software for any of these things, if you speak to them face-to-face and you ask them that question, they’ll never deny that it’s unhackable. That’s never a scenario.
Just say it’s hackable. The question is how hackable or how likely. If you do enough flight hours and say, “It’s 1 in 1,000. Let’s fly 1,000 flights.” One of those is going to be hacked. There’s going to be a target focus on net-value individuals. Could you hack a little electric aircraft and take a high-net-worth individual to a place?
The whole hijacking history that we know with aircraft can be done without human risk to the hijackers because obviously, they’ve got to be very passionate. If they go up there and hijack an aircraft, they’re probably not going to survive given the statistics of what happens. The risk now is lowered for the attacker or the bad actor. I would say that that’s a very real concern.
There’s nobody on the aircraft to switch to manual and say, “Flip a manual here. All electronics are made secondary.” I would say that the way to deal with that, it’s going to be the same for most transport to avoid it being hackable. IoT and blockchain are a good combination. The biggest challenge for blockchain has been its speed.
Historically, blockchains have not been fast enough to deal with high-velocity data. They’re a lot better now. There are now distributed ledgers, which can take huge amounts of data. You do a lot of sharing and locality capturing, they’re not blockchains. A strict blockchain should broadcast the same transaction or information across the whole network. That’s all data on every node all of the time, which is the Bitcoin model. The truest decentralized blockchain is Bitcoin.
The reason why it would give added value is because if you can secure at all points, obviously the transaction lifetime or end-to-end security is only strong as the weakest point as you know. It’s getting it secured as early as possible. The blockchain node could be built into the IoT and it would be a locality broadcast.
That’s why I say distributed ledger would be much more suitable, where it didn’t have to broadcast to every connected node. The consensus time is one of the challenges with blockchain as well. Distributed ledgers don’t need that consensus time, where often they’re not interested in sequentiality. They timestamp it at the node and say, “I got this information timestamp. It’s authentic. It’s got a digital certificate or something more sophisticated. I’m accepting this broadcast in my network.” Everybody goes, “That looks good.” That’s your consensus. It’s real-time, high transactional rates. Consensus is where every node has to agree in the sequence.
If I send you a WhatsApp message right now, me sending a WhatsApp message might cross one of yours. My message went out first and your message came in second. In your WhatsApp, your message went first and mine came second. We have a difference in consensus there. It’s our time view of the world. That’s all. That’s why distributed ledgers. Something like that would be a way to secure it, but I’d still, with total honesty say, if there’s an aircraft up there with 200 to 300 people on it, there’s no pilot, and it’s totally autonomous, I would be quite concerned.
In terms of the engines, the engines are getting more and more connected. My understanding is the engine can’t be controlled remotely other than on the aircraft itself. It just is a read-only generator, but in time, there’s going to have to be holistic control of that aircraft. The autopilot is much more sophisticated than it used to be. All those systems are separated on board as well, but can they be hacked? Let’s see. The more digitized it gets, the more dangerous it gets.
The level of risk and the danger that you speak of does make me think of a future where as you’re boarding a pilotless plane, there is a parachute kiosk to your right where you can elect to rent a parachute for the flight just in case.
Yeah, a launch pack.
That also is an indicator of how things get built. I want to hear safe and slow when it comes to the engine. As a passenger, you want to make sure that they spent some time. The max situation hasn’t helped things for the flying public, so to speak.
A bit of nervousness about the authorities as well saying, “The aircraft is so old. It’s been proven that a little tweak here and there is not going to do any harm. There is a regulatory oversight there that didn’t do what it was supposed to do as part of the problem. Not the only part, but part of the problem because it’s so certified for so long, people get lapse.
Traditionally, there are a lot of startups. They’re not startups anymore, but now these established brands. I apologize to the Facebook company, but I’m going to use them as an example. I’m aware that at one point when they hired developers, they had something they told every person they brought on board which is, “Go fast and break things. Run the code. Let’s go quickly.”
I can’t imagine a world in aviation where that mindset is part of the hiring process. “Go fast and break things. We got to build this plane.” That’s probably not the kind of culture you’re going to see when it comes to what essentially is the public’s perception of anything aircraft. Even if you and I know in this discussion that we’re not talking about engines, where are these other opportunities to go more quickly? I think it’s going to be a very regulated environment.
I’m not saying pilotless planes. I’m saying that even with pilots as your backup, there are certain things that make sense. We’re using more secure methods of communication or opportunities within IoT and the aircraft. That makes sense, but there’s probably a limit there. I think it’s a mixed bag. Would you agree?
I do. It’s the Swiss cheese I worked on. One of the greatest jobs I had and the most enjoyable job was I worked for the Royal Flight of Oman on the Sultan’s flight. I used to come in the morning and get the little tease that they have. As I’m walking out on the platform, I could see the 747SP and it was fascinating. One of the jobs I had there was to deep dive into the history and look at incident management. Securing the estate by making sure that it was fully operational to the highest standards of security and all of that from a mechanical engineering point of view and software.
That was long enough ago to see that software we’re starting to bleed into the industry. Before, that was heavy engineering and all of that. Avionics was the next chapter, and then it became avionics plus software. What I noticed was the difference between the standards of software and the standards of avionics. Avionic standards were way higher. Nothing got on them. It had to be type-certified. There was a rigor that came into aviation.
Typically, what used to happen was that the chief pilot would become the head or the CEO of the organization. Like a lot of organizations, the pilot would be obsessed with safety, having spent most of his life sitting in a seat and a couple of hundred tons of metal behind him. He would have this mindset. I did notice at first it was very hard to get software in because they would be thinking of the engineering type-certified mindset, which is a good thing.
They used the analogy of Swiss cheese a lot where you got a hole in the cheese. Typically the hole goes 10% deep in the cheese. Sometimes it goes 50%. That’s a big hole in the cheese. What often happens is two holes meet each other. Two unrelated events create this hole right through the cheese. That event was one of these Black Swans where somebody did something uninteresting and something else happens. The two things come together to create a disaster.
Avoiding that Swiss cheese scenario was exactly what you are saying where it might be the failure of an IoT device that gave a wrong signal, which then led to a cascade of events where the pilot made a decision that was catastrophic. The Max was a good example of that. It was also a good example where the prevailing software mindset, not just in aviation but globally, bled into avionics.
That was an interesting case study. I watched MH370. It was actually my wife watching it on Netflix. It’s a great documentary on the disappearance of MH370. It’s absolutely fascinating. Having worked with aircraft, how could an aircraft disappear? There are so many signals coming out of that. There’s a satellite and an emergency. If the aircraft behaves erratically, it sends out a significant signal that says, “Here’s all my data. I’m in trouble.” That’s not even manually activated. That’s automatically activated.
MH370 should have emitted so many signals. If it behaved erratically, it should have sent out a significant signal automatically to say that it is in trouble.
I had to go back to a few of the engineers that I knew in Oman. There are some brilliant guys there. One guy there is such a genius. I used to spend 3 to 4 hours of the evening drinking green tea with this man and learning the history. They had the first certified 747 in an environment. They call it LUMP, Low Utilization Maintenance Program. Boeing didn’t have a program for that.
Back to your security of the aircraft, if you don’t have a maintenance program, which can deal with extremely high temperatures, extreme amounts of sand, extreme amounts of salt because it was on the sea, and very low utilization. You can over-maintain an aircraft. That was done about 25 to 30 years ago. It was a fascinating voyage of how the ground was set for the 747.
The second one, 747 inherited that. That was the genesis of the Low Utilization Maintenance Program in adverse environments. There is a whole philosophy around there, and that needs to be carried through. To answer your question, that mindset needs to be carried from the elders to the new engineers, which was one of the breakpoints in Boeing. They let go of a lot of these expensive older guys because the 737 is unbreakable.
The new engineers coming in will pick up the running. The elders should have been kept around because a lot of them complained that the Swiss cheese was starting to get deeper on both sides. They could see that. That’s a hugely emotional human thing. That’s away from regulation and best practices around creating things. A lot of pilots I speak to use good instinct. They’ve told me stories where good instinct is a huge factor in what they do. They know something is wrong.
If I’m off-topic, pull me back, but I’m anecdotally connecting a few stories. You triggered a part of the brain that was probably dormant. I had a very good friend in the UK and he was known to be the best RAF helicopter pilot of his time. He passed away sadly, but he had an amazing life. He had been in the Dhofar Wars and Omani in the ’70s. You name it. He participated.
He told me his good instinct was a huge part of his flying success. As a good Scotsman would, he’d get this instinct and he’d act on that instinct. It kept him alive in a lot of difficult situations. Even with all the regulation and all the technology, the human spirit and the human connectivity to outside knowledge or whatever sort of wiring we have as the human condition. It’s still very important instinctively to know if something is right or something is wrong. That’s another overlay on top of that as well.
Many people in HR probably understand it because I know human resource folks study this. The reptilian brain and how it reacts. It’s instinct. Sometimes you just have that gut. In our family, we often said, “Trust your gut. If your gut is telling you something’s off, there’s probably something off.”
There’s a neural network in your heart and your gut. The one in the heart was only discovered a couple of years ago. There’s a great company in California that measures synchronicity between your heart and your head. I think the LAPD uses it. After a traumatic event, they sit down and reach this coherence, which self-heals. They’re getting huge results on reduction in heart attacks and so forth. The brain and heart combination is important, but your gut also has these three neural networks in your body. They’re all important.
That explains why with the first girl I fell in love with, it hurts so much when she broke up with me. Things are connected after all.
I definitely have enough gut.
You have a big old instinct.
One thing is for sure, there are clearly solutions out there for the industry that has yet to be discovered. It’s such an amazing and interesting topic to discuss. If you want to call it or be so daring, the automation within aviation industry in general. My gut, since we’re talking about gut, tells me that some of those first unmanned aircraft may be cargo aircraft. We have it already with drones and controlled aircraft, and there is some automation that has to be built into those, but I think the future is bright. In terms of your thoughts, how are things now in the aviation industry with all these things you’re working on? Is it moving forward? Is it stuck?
Erroneously or otherwise on a stage, I once said that airlines are stupid. When I got off the stage, I was approached by a high-profile CFO who said, “I didn’t like that remark, Brendan.” I said, “I tell you what, if I can prove to you in 60 seconds that it’s true, we’ll have a beer together.” It was in my beer-drinking days. I told you beforehand, I haven’t drunk since 2011. An anomaly for an Irish man.
Anyway, we had a chat and I said, “I know the airline you work for. Two reasons. One is I flew in with your airline. I also worked with the largest revenue accounting services, one of the products we had in that company.” It was the largest revenue accounting company in the world. I said, “I flew in with your airline. You invested hundreds of millions in your aircraft, the training of your pilots and staff, facilities, and the capital expenditure to create this monster. I took a taxi from the airport to the hotel, and the taxi driver made more than me.” He went, “What beer do you drink? Tell me more.”
This was pre-COVID. What we’re making was the average ticket in aviation. Averages are dangerous, but it’s such a big industry. Let’s use it in simplicity. The average ticket selling price was $180, and they made about $6 per ticket. That was the average for the industry. There’s business class and lots of variations so far. For the industry, it’s a poor indicator.
The biggest outages in-house were salaries and all the overheads. There were so many middlemen consuming that pot. The middlemen were doing something the airlines could not do or at least are not doing well. The middlemen were providing a service where they aggregated flights together because the customer said, “I don’t care about the airline that much. Generally, get me from A to B to C, or from A to C and there might be a stop-over in B. Give me an aggregated solution from multiple sources. I don’t care about the metal I fly in. I do care about the service and so forth. I care about the time and the cost.”
Those middlemen have created a great aggregation service, but it’s very much anchored in technology from the ’60s and ’70s. Also, 48% of all of those interline tickets that are sold run through software written in the ’60s and ’70s. It’s horrific. Ironically, those old systems are quite secure because they’re so isolated and so hard to hack because the way they’re written is very minimalist. A code is stacked on top. You’d have to be an expert to be able to hack them.
The airlines don’t make a lot of money. What you have to do in the industry is to disintermediate so that the airlines have affordable budgets to modernize and so forth. There’s a cat and mouse here or a chicken and egg if you like. That’s the challenge because they can’t see the light and they don’t want to want to invest in something that brings them deeper into debt, and they just run with what’s there. They don’t have that motivation or that nudge economics.
That’s why we’re creating an ecosystem to say, “This is for you guys.” Also, we have an incentive with airlines that we think will work. We have an ID3, we call it. The design of three stakeholders. You guys will own the revenue or part of the revenue from this application. You can rent it to other airlines. You own the rental income of that application. If you help us build this application, it could be an airport. We built smart contracts for airports, for example. It takes away all of the disputes.
There are huge amounts of disputes over what landed at an airport, believe it or not. “What tail was it?” “It was supposed to be a 380, but a 777 landed.” “We switched it.” When your operating system is scheduling, what were the actuals and what did the satellites say? You’ve got to combine all of these. If you have a smart contract that says, “I have one pane of truth. We’re both certified. Here’s your answer and here’s your daily invoice. You’ve got to simplify it and then upsell it into the applications.
Airlines are very risk averse, but they’re also investment diverse. With a few exceptions, the likes of Emirates is amazing. They created a lot of techs 20 or 30 years ago that took the world by storm, Their revenue accounting and their cargo system were all built in-house, brilliant jobs, but they’ve aged. They’re old now and they need a refresh. They need to do that again, but just drop the old systems and replace them with new Web3-type solutions. They are poking around that area like Lufthansa, another airline with a great reputation.
What they need is a platform. They need something that gets them into an accelerated environment with little investment. Their margins are so small for airlines. It’s very hard to reinvest. You have huge debt on your aircraft. You were right earlier saying that the MRO gets outsourced, then you outsource everything, and the check-in desk is now a different company.
They’ve peeled all that away from the courses, but they still haven’t solved their profitability challenge. That’s the biggest challenge for them. You got to give them something radically different and low investment, so it’s not a big CapEx. They say, “You don’t pay for this. We’ll build this based on a token raise that raises tens of millions. We invest that back into an infrastructure upgrade. Nobody pays hard cash for that.” It has to be an enduring solution over the coming decades. It can’t be a one-click win in one little area. It’s got to support all the 150 applications that are overdue and rehauled.
This may be a controversial topic but I do wonder if the revenue models in commercial flight, it’s what I can relate to the best. I can’t remember the Amazon division that does freight.
They have their own airline.
You can hire one of their trucks or planes now to move your stuff. There are other industries is the point. I do wonder in commercial aviation if it’s possible here in America. If you have healthcare, you pay a premium every month, and then you go see the doctor and you pay a copay. Sometimes the copay is a little bit more, and not everything is covered.
Are we possibly going to see a future where you’re subscribing in terms of the monetization model? You’re paying a monthly fee for the right to fly, and then you have a copay where you book that flight and it’s not as much? The people who fly more frequently. The problem is the monetization model and how they’re charging the airlines in commercial aviation anyway. They always seem to be playing this game of everything being transactional. You book a flight, you pay for it, and away you go. The rest of the world is moving into subscription models. Is that minimum?
I love the idea. I love the concept, and I think it’s something that should be played with for two reasons. One is the introduction of the short-hop electric aircraft. That’s common and that’s the bridge between your hometown and the big airport that you’re flying out of for the long haul. That connection is coming. I know a couple of big airlines in the US are already putting money into some neat startups. I think the first startups will be hybrid. They’ll have some eco-friendly fuel mixed with electric capabilities. The electric mid-size aircraft is a long way despite what people are saying. There’s a lot of investment.
Just talking to seasoned engineers with good logic, there are a lot of reasons that the mid-size and big aircraft won’t be electric for a while, but the small hop, yes. That jumps at you as a subscription thing for frequent flyers and so forth. Here’s the connectivity. The second reason is if you bring a Web3 environment and you tokenize people’s behaviors in terms of you can have micro-transactions, you can tip the pilot if you want to, or you can take your rewards for flying and become a part-owner of the aircraft. Say, “Just put it in the aircraft. I want to buy the revenue off that seat, a portion of that revenue” or “I want to flip those tokens.”
Web3 is all low-cost movement of value. That’s all it is at the end of the day. It’s secure and it’s got lineage. People can trust each other because they don’t need the middleman to trust that transaction. The middleman is gone. I and John can switch Aero tokens between us because I want to give him a free flight because he’s a good friend of mine or something like that. That fluidity of transfer of value coupled with these little flights around the place, and then a reward system that says, “What do you want to do with this?”
Whereas now, the reward system that comes in is clunky and chunky. You sign up for it. You get some notional token or a reward token that you can buy an iPad if you’re flying off. It’s abstract. You should be able to go to an ATM and draw down that anywhere in the world. You’re sitting at a gate and your flight gets canceled. You should get a little ding in your digital wallet on your phone that says, “Flight has been canceled. Here are tokens that can be used for anything. You can cash it out at the ATM. You can go and stay in a hotel, or you can take a flight from our competitor. At the end of the day, the customer is king and we need to get you to where you need to be.”
Emotionally, I would love an airline for allowing me to take that credit onto a different airline and fly to where I need to be because it could be a funeral or something very important to me. They’re understanding my job to be done in a very fluid way. That’s why tokenization should be more than obviously a token gesture. It’s a token that transfers value between players, stakeholders, and owners of the aircraft. That creates a fluidity around something that would lend itself to a subscription model, where you would buy into it with tokens maybe.
That’s your loyalty. You would be loyal to where you think the best value is coming to you as an individual. At the moment, it’s very chunky. I lived in Ottawa, which I did, and I moved back to Europe. I’d love to swap all my Air Canada points with whatever country I’m flying back to. If someone says, “I’m moving to Canada.” There should be a big tool of exchange there where my tokens are on the balance sheet of Air Canada, even if I don’t do it or don’t use them. Since the law was brought in about fifteen years ago where it’s part of your balance sheet where they were giving away all these things far too freely. They became part of the balance sheet.
From that point of view, it’s easy to transfer that in a big tool where I give my allegiance to that airline to somebody else and they give me theirs. The token rates would be set by market demand. Maybe my Air Canada is in 1.2, whatever they had based on supply and demand. I think the whole subscription would fit into that so smoothly. I think that would be a lovely model for folks who say, “I’m going to spend a lot of my life flying. It’s part of what I do. I want to be part of that club. I want to have lounge access. I want to have a little bit of comfort. I might be picked up.”
Emirates does a pickup service where the chauffeur weighs your bags at the back of the car. It has a built-in weighing machine, he can check you in in the car. They eventually drive you to the aircraft where you get off the car and walk up the steps. It’s pretty wild, and I love it. It’s saying, “What’s the smoothest journey for the customer?” The subscription could give you those benefits and say, “Subscribe.” You can get a car to your door on a car home, which you do with Emirates. All of that little perks in an ecosystem make flying easy. The airport won’t be happy if you bypass all the duty-free, but that’s another day’s work.
One thing is for sure, I’m definitely not that guy that’s going to be, at least with Emirates anyway, taken directly to the aircraft and had my luggage weighed and checked into the back. I’m more of that guy that’s in the back of the plane who is, “I’m sorry, but you’ve run out of points. We’re going to have to throw you off the flight” situation.
I think the valid point though is that there’s a lot happening in the future in aviation, at least from what I heard. There are quite a few challenges that exist in automation. There’s risk there. We’ve talked about a number of great topics, but we haven’t talked about you. Can you tell us a little bit about your how people can get ahold of you if they want to learn more about what you’re doing?
I’m on LinkedIn. I think there are only two Brendan McKittrick on LinkedIn the last time I checked. You should be able to figure out which one I am. Probably with the picture of the airplane behind me. I’m always happy to connect with folks. I’m always happy to take challenging questions and connect. The whole Web3 area is fantastic because there are a lot of evangelists there who want to do good.
I love the movement as well where technology has been pretty mechanical over the 30 years that I’ve been working in it where it’s become more humane. We’re saying, “What are the big outcomes? Are we writing a piece of code to run a bank? Are we writing code that is sensitive to how people live and lends itself to a better place?” I’ve noticed that that’s the biggest shift I’ve seen in 30 years. I get a lot of folks to come in with great ideas. That’s something that I love to chew. I’m writing a book at the moment as well around the energy of life as opposed to the mechanics of life, the 3D world. I’m taking it a step higher in the energy world, which is quite a different thing.
It sounds like you’ve had quite a journey throughout your life. I know we didn’t get a chance to talk about what you do outside of work in detail from the perspective of kindred spirits. I think we’re both fans of football. Here, we have the Gridiron football. I know Brendan, you’re used to playing Gaelic football. For those of you that aren’t sure what that is, it is a combination of a bunch of different sports built into what essentially is like a Gridiron football or American football concept, but there are other things going on there too.
If you had to suggest or if somebody wanted to learn more about this Gaelic football, what analogies would you use? I know that you’re passionate about it. If you have anything you want to talk about there. We know that everyone’s got tight schedules here, so if you have any last points you want to bring up as well, feel free to expand there too.
One of the things I loved about Gaelic football was I retired in 1994. I said, “Time to travel the world.” I was in my twenties. Everywhere I landed, it was a Gaelic football club and an Irish book, but not in that sequence. Usually, the Irish book first, the Gaelic football club second. I remember I landed in Ottawa. I’d been in Saudi Arabia, so it’s probably about ’95 on Lyon Street. I was on the 23rd floor of this Minto Suite apartment. I’ve only started my traveling in earnest at that stage, so being on the 23rd floor of a building is a new experience.
I woke up to the sound of bagpipes on a Saturday morning and I said, “Now I’ve lost it.” I went over, rubbed the window, and had a look outside. There was this trailer and there were a couple of folks playing bagpipes and there were people Irish dancing on the back of a trailer. I said, “I’ve got to go down and find out what this is.” It was March and it was St. Patrick’s Day, but it got carried to the weekend, so they have it on the weekend.
I went down and I met folks there. They said, “We have a Gaelic football club.” I said, “Got to play.” Everywhere I’ve been, there’s been a Gaelic football club of some description and generally a mix of Irish folks who have moved out and locals or Irish descendants who wanted to play and participate in something. I felt very close to them.
It’s an amateur sport and nobody gets paid, some of the biggest stadiums in Europe are in Ireland. The largest one is short, it’s less than 100,000 now because they have to reduce it for seating. I think it’s about 90,000 now. It’s a monster stadium, very modern, the third biggest in Europe. Everyone who plays in there goes back to the day job the next day. I love the fact that people give what they have and they’re well cared for by their communities. It’s the passion of representing where you’re from.
Everybody plays from the place that they were born and come from. A few exceptions were people who have moved jobs. Typically, there’s no transfer season. There’s no movement. You could be the best player in the country and play for the smallest team. That’s the fact of life and it’s not a downside for them because they represent their community and they’re usually great heroes in those communities.
The sister sport is hurling. Its lineage goes back several thousand years, so there’s a lot of folklore around it. It’s an ash stick that’s cut from ash in a certain way to get the lines off the wood. There’s also a leather ball called a slitter. The act of striking is a puck. It’s a Gaelic word for striking that ball, which led its way into ice hockey. Every Sunday morning, I meet a friend of mine. Two gray-haired with large gut instincts. We’d go down to play a bit of hurling. 8:00 AM on a Sunday is the highlight of my week, where I get out to strike that ball. It can go up to 300 miles an hour. There’s great satisfaction in catching it, bending it, and doing all sorts of little subtle things with it.
It’s a very basic thing. Essentially, it’s a stick and a ball. Ice hockey, cricket, and hockey have the same attraction. They all have that very base level sort of you’re doing something very basic. That’s very important for the human condition to move and be active. I think it’s important. Gaelic football has pervaded everything I do. The GA is the organization, and it’s a tremendous organization for all its quirks and parochial little moments it has here and there. It’s a fantastic and fabulous organization to go into Croke Park in Ireland. If you ever go there, there’s a tour, but if you get to see a big game and you’re sitting in that stadium.
One of the best games I went to, and I got a bit of ribbing from this at home. My wife was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan. She’s from the lineage of Genghis Khan, the Mongols. She moved to Ireland many moons ago. I first met her in Ireland. Eventually, we got married and all of that. She wrote a book. I asked her to write a book about Gaelic football. She said, “I have to be inspired.” She writes children’s books among other things she does. Emotional intelligence, that kind of stuff.
I brought her to a Gaelic football tournament, and she said, “It’s a great game. I’m just not connecting with it as a writer.” I said, “That’s fair enough. We’ll go home. We’ll give it a pass.” She said, “What’s this game coming on?” There was a hurling game coming on at the end. She said, “I want to see this.” I said, “This is an ancient warrior sport.” The warriors used to use hurling to hone their skills in the down season when they weren’t killing each other. They were playing hurling. Hurling kept them sharp.
Three hundred miles an hour piece of leather coming at your head focuses the mind a little bit. These guys were playing. When the sticks hit each other, they call it the clash of the ash. It’s a very distinctive part of hurling and sometimes the stick is broken. It’s borderline violent but not. If you could think of it that way. It has a lot of similarities with lacrosse for its speed and its contact. You can give a good shoulder.
Did hurling come first or did Gaelic football come first, do you think?
Hurling is much older than Gaelic football.
The earliest reference to Gaelic football was in 1650. There was a match between my home village and another village where they kicked the ball between the two villages. When the ball landed in one village, the beers were free for the other village. That was the basic principle of it. It’s 10 kilometers apart. There was a lot of kicking, banging, hitting, and what have you.
The story with the hurling ended with my wife Sonia saying, “I’m going to write about this. I got to write about hurling.” She picked this little turtle. It was part of her tribe, and he became a famous hurler. He overcame his fears by playing hurling. She took the slowest animal on the planet and put him into the fastest game in the world. He ended up playing in this Croke Park Stadium.
They did a launch of her book, and Sonia was invited to Croke Park, plus one significant other. I got a lot of ribbons in my family saying, “Sonia is invited to Croke Park. You’re coming along as an attachment.” I loved the whole launch. We got to see a hurling match between Kilkenny and Clare. A full stadium got up to roar the crowd. It was fascinating. I was enjoying it. I wanted Sonia to see that. It was the first time in Croke Park for her and the launch of the book as well. It’s the iconic stadium you would have for American football and baseball. The Soldier Field in Chicago. It has that kind of significance to it.
The Green Monster reference in baseball.
Just know you’re in a place of great history.
This is a very engaging and entertaining episode. We love it when we have opportunities to explore industries that allow us to look into the future, as well as go back to lessons learned from the past. We appreciate you taking the time with us. Unfortunately, we are running out of time now. We’re going to have to revisit this episode in the future because we covered so much in what essentially is automation. I think a lot of people are interested in that topic. I can imagine that this is going to be something that will be valuable to anybody who tunes in. For those of us that love football as well, regardless of what kind of football it is. American football is very common in the US.
If you haven’t checked out Gaelic football or this concept of hurling, you probably need to check that out. For our audience, thank you for tuning in. If you did learn something, whether you laughed or you had an opportunity to connect back with some of your sporting histories, please tell somebody about this show. It doesn’t always focus on things that you would expect but we always get an opportunity to learn something. Brendan, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate the time.
Great topic. We appreciate your investment of time today.
There you go. We’re all wrapped up.
It’s been another great episode with your host, John and George. We’ll see you next time. Thanks for tuning in.
Thanks, everybody. Thank you again, Brendan. Take care.
About Brendan McKittrick
Chairman Of The Board Of Directors at Aeroband Limited
CTO & Executive Advisor to the CEO of RIPPEY.ai
Chairman of Halo Business Network Dubai
Keynote Speaker at the Cisco Digital Transformation Conference in Dubai 11/2017