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Staying ON

As budget carriers move into the long haul arena, Keith Mwanalushi finds that inflight entertainment and connectivity brings new opportunities

The global airline industry is on the cusp of a connectivity revolution. With the arrival of new narrowbodies such as the 737 MAX and Airbus’ A320 neo Family with extended range capabilities it has created a wave of new possibilities for LCCs – offering low fares on medium to long haul routes.

WOW air and Norwegian, both of which offer low cost long haul services from Europe to the Americas, launched services with 737MAXs and the A321neo on these routes.

Inflight wifi is now a key driver in forming customer loyalty and satisfaction among today’s airline passengers, according to Inmarsat’s 2018 Inflight Connectivity Survey which was released in August.

The reports says the demand for inflight connectivity is such that passengers would choose it over other aspects of the airline experience.


For airlines, this demand for connectivity presents a compelling opportunity to enhance customer loyalty and experience.


Frederik van Essen, Senior Vice President, Market and Business Development at Inmarsat Aviation, says until very recently long haul flights provided airlines with a captive audience but in most regions, the lack of connectivity limited how airlines could engage with this audience in the air. “With the advent of high speed wifi, there is now a huge opportunity for low cost airlines to offer passengers new, valuable and exciting services, and drive additional revenues as a result,” he says.

In 2017 Inmarsat worked with the London School of Economics (LSE) to produce a report which identified the opportunities available to airlines through passenger connectivity. Van Essen draws attention from the report to four key areas that airlines can capitalise on: broadband access revenues, e-commerce opportunities, advertising and premium content.

Additionally, the LSE predicts that airlines stand to make a projected $30 billion revenue from these broadband-enabled ancillary revenues by 2035. These ancillaries will be especially valuable to low cost players in the market, providing opportunities to maximise revenue per passenger.

The report also says that by 2035, broadband access revenue is forecast to remain the highest single source of new ancillary revenues, accounting for 53% of the total market.

In July, Indonesian airline Citilink announced it had signed a fleet-wide contract for GX Aviation inflight broadband through Inmarsat and Mahata Aero Teknologi (MAT), an Indonesian wireless technology provider, to deploy the broadband solution to its fleet
of 50 A320 aircraft for the low cost airline.

As part of the process Inmarsat will also partner with Lufthansa Systems and Lufthansa Technik to implement a bring your own device (BYOD) connectivity offering for passengers across the Citilink fleet. The contract was finalised only a few months after Inmarsat, Lufthansa Systems and Lufthansa Technik signed a Memorandum of Understanding with MAT, the first Indonesian tech company to provide inflight wifi services, to meet the requirements of Citilink.

Gogo’s wireless inflight entertainment (IFE) product Gogo Vision is accessible on many device types, which include various laptops, tablets and mobile phones. Gogo Vision supports over 300 movie and TV show titles, and the library is refreshed as frequently as every 30 days across the airline partners’ fleet using ground operations teams.

Gogo recently secured the Supplemental Type Certificate to instal Gogo 2Ku on A321neos, meaning airlines can instal connectivity and IFE offerings on this aircraft type. Danny Sack, Director of Product Marketing at Gogo says high-speed satellite connectivity like Gogo 2Ku enables airlines to offer their passengers the ability to stream their own content through their own devices.

“Passengers want their lives of connected, personalised experiences to continue uninterrupted in the air and airlines want to use that same connection to foster a more intimate, seamless relationship with passengers,” Sack notes.

Obviously, there are several types of solutions out there and for long haul routes, IFE is almost an expected part of the inflight experience, according to Kevin Clark, CEO of Bluebox Aviation Systems.

“Passengers will accept certain limitations given the benefit of lower fares, but with our portable wireless system, Bluebox Wow, low cost carriers have an opportunity to exceed that lowered expectation and delight passengers who won’t feel they’re missing out on the IFE experience,” states Clark.

He adds that Bluebox is able to deliver a powerful IFE platform at a fraction of the cost of a seatback IFE system – “So the low cost carrier keeps its costs down but can still provide an exciting service to entertain and engage passengers on long flights.

“Even better, with advertising, shopping and duty free as options – Bluebox Wow provides airlines with an additional source of revenue, even if they want to offer free access to the system,” Clark explains.

Many in the industry predict that the seatback screen itself is on the way out in preference for streamed content on personal devices. Clark acknowledges that passengers certainly enjoy being able to use their own devices on board, but with restrictions limiting certain types of content (such as early Window content) from being streamed to passenger devices, there will still be a place for seatback and airline-owned tablet-based systems.

“In fact, we’re already living in a multi-device world, so on board, it doesn’t need to be an ‘either-or’ scenario. And, with the cost advantages of Bluebox Wow over a fitted wifi system, an airline could choose to have wireless and seatback co-exist – satisfying those passengers who want and are able to share their attention with more than one device at a time,” Clark says. >>


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