Word on the street…Qatar Airways will launch Panasonic’s eXConnect

Updated to include clarification. See Panasonic comment in bold…

Is Qatar Airways the launch customer for Panasonic’s in-flight Internet service, eXConnect? Panasonic isn’t saying, but unconfirmed word on the street is that the Middle Eastern carrier will run a trial from August 2009 on one of its Boeing 777s.

Qatar pic 777.jpgIt’s not yet clear if Qatar is totally convinced that Ku band-based connectivity and the coverage and cost surrounding it is the way to go.

However, industry observers say the airline is working hard to catch up with Emirates – an IFE leader in the Middle East with Panasonic-based “ice” systems and AeroMobile connectivity - and sees innovation as the best way to close the gap.

According to Flight’s ACAS database, Qatar operates 24 777s. It also has 30 787-8s on order with the airframer (now that would be a sweet deal for Panasonic).

A Panasonic spokeswoman will only confirm that a deal is being brokered with “an international airline”, which will offer the service – not a trial – beginning next summer and that “between now and then we’re doing due diligence with the airline”.

As previously revealed, the undisclosed airline wants a full global suite of services including eXConnect, eXPhone – which supports AeroMobile’s mobile phone service – and eXTV television with “global coverage of those services”.

A few other launch customers will emerge hot on the heels of the unnamed “international airline”, say the Panasonic spokeswoman.

So this begs a whole slew of questions. Doesn’t Qatar fly Rockwell Collins’ Tailwind satellite broadcast service on its Airbus A330s and A340s? How has that system performed? Will Emirates need to step up its game further and offer high-speed Internet in-flight? Paging Patrick Brannelly! 

Qatar could not be immediately reached for comment.

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