Top five most important IFE&C moments of 2008 and some juice

1) Oneworld alliance member American Airlines launches Aircell’s broadband service, Gogo.

A high-profile carrier that previously showed interest in now-defunct Connexion by Boeing, American’s launch of Aircell’s air-to-ground (ATG) solution on 15 transcontinental Boeing 767-200s forced other legacies to think hard about whether they could afford to wait for another satellite offering to come to market or adopt ATG now.

American 767.jpgThe result? Air Canada, Delta Air Lines (with merger partner Northwest), Virgin America and a fifth undisclosed carrier (now strongly rumoured to be United Airlines) are bringing Aircell’s Gogo to an airplane near you.

And if user feedback is any indication, it can’t happen soon enough. Aircell is predicting that as many as 2,000 commercial aircraft will be equipped by the end of 2009. And let’s not forget their biz jet adventures.

2) LiveTV wins Continental Airlines as live television customer; carrier initially agrees to take 36-channel system but later alters the contract for the latest generation 80-channel system, LTV3.

This deal is significant on a number of fronts (and the fact that Continental isn’t exactly screaming it from the rooftops underscores just how big).

To explain why requires us to talk a little history. For years LiveTV busied itself with installing first- and second-generation systems on parent JetBlue Airways’ fleet, as well as other low-cost carriers that largely do not compete with the New York JFK-based operator. Seeing the value of this firm, which may eventually be spun off, JetBlue higher ups decided to let the eagle out of the canary cage, and allow LiveTV to offer its best and brightest product yet, LTV3, to all and sundry. 

In addition to offering 80 channels, the system weighs 30% less than the current 36-channel system on JetBlue’s aircraft. 

Additionally, a lengthy marketing experiment at customer Frontier Airlines – which charges passengers for live television – has helped LiveTV executives understand exactly what passengers are willing to pay for. This is useful information to have when you’re sitting in front of airline executives (remind me to tell you more about this later).

At any rate, once Continental turns its seat-backs into Joe Americana’s living room early next year, and passengers become accustomed to one of the best in-flight entertainment (IFE) offerings in the US skies, expect more US carriers to tune in to LTV3.

“We believe that next year (2009) TV will get its due because it was a broadband year,” a LiveTV exec said recently.

And now for that aforementioned juice.

In early November, LiveTV revealed to me it has secured a LOI for LTV3 with a second major and was working on a third LOI. The company supplies everything but the headphones – maintenance and repair, etc. So don’t be surprised if LiveTV moves to the top “big moment” spot next year.

Photo6 - Thales.JPG

3) This is a tough one. But I think we’ve got to hand it to Thales for beating out rival Panasonic to win a massive IFE award with British Airways.

The French manufacturer will fit its TopSeries platform on BA’s on-order Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 aircraft as well as on the carrier’s new Boeing 777-300ERs. The deal further solidifies Thales’ position in the sector and continues to ensure a healthy-ish duopoly in the marketplace (hey, it’s better than a monopoly) and keeps Panasonic well on its toes.

4) That Panasonic is already well on its toes is without question, however. Taking the number four spot is the May launch of Apple iPod connectivity onboard a Singapore Airlines Airbus A340-500.

The IFE giant’s market research has shown airline passengers want two simple features: (1) output their personal video and audio to the IFE system and (2) having power supplied to their iPod. Panasonic’s so-called eXport jack does both of these in a single cable. And since Panasonic is using USB technology to send power to the iPod, airlines can provide the service even if they don’t have in-seat (PED) power. Airlines from around the globe are signing up. 

AeroMobile High res photo shoot 007.JPG5) The fifth ”moment” involves AeroMobile and OnAir, which teamed up to fight the US “Hang-Up Act”.

The legislation is intended to outlaw the use of in-flight mobile phones for voice communications in the USA!?!   

Even as they were fighting the good fight against poorly advised lawmakers, the two firms gave each other mad competition during the whole of 2008.

Here are just some of the headlines:

Pakistan’s Airblue signs with OnAir for in-flight mobile connectivity

MAS puts AeroMobile in-flight connectivity offering on trial

WAEA2008: Ryanair testing of OnAir mobile to start mid-month

WAEA2008: AeroMobile in advanced talks with four airlines

Emirates fits first Boeing with AeroMobile phone service

V Australia first to sign for Panasonic/Aeromobile service

WAEA2008: OnAir inks deal with TAM

TAP Portugal begins OnAir mobile phone trial

*** Honourable mention: I feel absolutely compelled to give an honourable mention here to Row 44, which in January announced that Southwest Airlines had become the second US operator to agree to trial the company’s satellite-based broadband connectivity service, after Alaska Airlines. The low-cost giant’s decision to trial Row 44′s system on four Boeing 737s gave a huge vote of confidence to the California start-up. Over the last 12 months, however, there have been a number of bumps in the road and Southwest’s trial – and Alaska’s for that matter – has not yet occurred. Row 44′s application to the FCC faces serious objection from ViaSat and LiveTV. And this RWG has even become part of the argument (or rather, the content found on this blog). No doubt 2009 will be pivotal for Row 44

On a personal note, I’d like to thank all of you for your support in 2008 – a year when carriers finally started adopting connectivity on a broad scale (could it get more exciting, honestly?) It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell you that 2009 is going to be even bigger for the world of IFE&C. A good thing too, since RWG is focused on covering this sector for you. As always, I welcome your comments, whether they are posted to the blog or sent directly to me at Happy New Year everyone.

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