With spending down on travel and carriers slashing capacity, we can expect "a direct correlation" to in-flight offerings. There is lots more to digest here, of course.
Check it out at:
With spending down on travel and carriers slashing capacity, we can expect "a direct correlation" to in-flight offerings. There is lots more to digest here, of course.
Check it out at:
Interiors specialist Jon Norris, who twitters under the identity NonnyJorris, is at the WAEA technical meeting in Kuala Lumpur and he's pushing out newsy tweets at every opportunity.
Here are some of the big headlines being twittered by Jon at the event (and how about that ATG, L-band, Ku/Ka-band partnered service being proposed by ViaSat?)
"With the current progress on lightweight Y/C seats the IFE system will soon weigh more than the seat", Neil James, Panasonic
"Current trend of 'content-snacking' - bite size media snatches such as twitter should be embedded into IFE", Neil James , Panasonic
"Row44 will launch Ku-band service Trans-Atlantic and in Europe/Africa in June 2009", Fred St.Amour, VP BusDev Row 44
"Delta will have >300 gogo installed aircraft by end of 2009", Mike Henny, Manager Customer Experience, Delta
"ViaSat proposing 'blended' ATG,L-band,Ku/Ka-band partnered service to provide worldwide coverage from 2010", Don Buchmann, GM ViaSat
"Aircell have 'significant' airline deal to announce soon on top of American,Delta, Virgin America and Air Canada", Joe Herzog Aircell
"Premium class traffic down ~30% in Asia Pacific region", Andrew Herdman, DG Assoc. of Asia Pacific Airlines
Boeing has announced a new interior for the 737NG family and in so doing the airframer has reminded us that, aside from cosmetic changes, few things are being done to alter the way we fly in commercial narrowbody aircraft.
As reported by Flight's Jon Ostrower, FlyDubai will be the launch customer for the so-called 737 'Sky Interior' which features new colour-LED lighting, larger 777/787-style pivot bins, new sculpted sidewalls, revised window design, a flight attendant touch-screen panel, and changes to the individual passenger reading-light panel.
Try to curb your enthusiasm when watching the following video about the 737's new lighting.
Perhaps most significantly, Boeing - which will attach upgraded CFM56 engines to the latest iteration of its hugely popular narrowbody - also hopes to deliver a 2-4dB reduction in cabin noise.
Notably missing from Boeing's announcement is any mention of seating or IFE&C (wouldn't it be nice to see the latter of these as standard fare?). Those choices are made by the airline customer and no doubt we're going to see more of the same on the seating front (on IFE&C, we've got lots of reason to believe a paradigm shift in thinking is taking place).
The interior improvements mark the most significant change to the type's cabin since its introduction with Southwest Airlines in 1998, so bless the manufacturer for trying.
Blame the lack of wiz-bang changes on the apparent limitations of a metal tube or on a lack of innovation or on greedy airlines. Take your pick.
But for a thorough understanding of why economy-class seating is so miserable, check out Popular Science's excellent article on the subject. I can sympathize with "beleaguered, outsize traveller Eric Hagerman", who authored the piece.
My colleague Megan Kuhn, proprietor of the Terminal Q blog, has just written an interesting story for Air Transport Intelligence that I want to share with you. She writes that JetBlue intends to offer subsidiary LiveTV's "broadband-like" in-flight connectivity offering, Oasis, to passengers.
We've talked about Oasis' cached content before. But it's nice to see JetBlue pressing ahead with this offering in conjunction with the rollout across its A320 fleet of LiveTV's air-to-ground (ATG)-based Kiteline email and instant messaging product for Wi-Fi enabled laptops and PDAs. Equipage of JetBlue's Embraer 190s is also in the cards but no timeline has been set.
JetBlue director of product development Brett Cochran told Megan that, as JetBlue readies for Oasis and Kiteline installation to begin on some A320s before the end of 2009, the carrier is ironing out Oasis content.
The airline is contemplating a mix of destination and airport information along with voluntarily-viewed advertising, he says. For example, the airline worked with movie studios to enable passengers to watch stored movie trailers via BetaBlue, Cochran adds.
JetBlue also has the ability to combine Kiteline and Oasis to provide more detailed destination information. For example, the carrier could upload weather reports and traffic data using Kiteline and store other destination details on Oasis. Once installed, passengers will be able to access Kiteline and Oasis for free.
That proposition could change if JetBlue decides to eventually offer a full in-flight broadband service to passengers. JetBlue CEO Dave Barger thinks it would be appropriate for the carrier to charge for the service on long-haul flights such as transcontinental routes.
As reported this week, however, LiveTV remains on the fence about offering Ku-band-based connectivity to passengers, and is now also keeping a close eye on how the Ka-band sector shifts out.
LiveTV is not the only firm taking a serious look at the Ka-band satellite space. ViaSat, which is currently working with T-Mobile and others to bring a Ku-band-based in-flight connectivity service back to Lufthansa, is also keeping its fingers in the Ka pot.
Asked whether ViaSat's strategy will one day involve in-flight connectivity, ViaSat director of regulatory affairs Daryl Hunter says: "I think it's safe to say that we are looking at all sorts of applications for Ka-band."
Well wink, wink to you too.
Check out ViaSat's video about what it claims will be "the highest capacity satellite ever built":
But now I embrace my geekdom wholeheartedly. To wit, I recently participated in an Airplane Geeks podcast, and loved it!!! Take a listen, and while you're at it, check out the pretty colours. Those colours would have been especially mesmerizing in college :)
But now I embrace my geekdom wholeheartedly. To wit, I recently participated in an Airplane Geeks podcast, and loved it!!!
Take a listen, and while you're at it, check out the pretty colours. Those colours would have been especially mesmerizing in college :)
LiveTV remains on the fence about whether Ku-band-based in-flight connectivity is going to take hold. Indeed, the JetBlue Airways subsidiary is now looking at Ka-band and believes that "this network will finally deliver the cost and speed that is sustainable for a broadband service in the future", reveals LiveTV VP of marketing and sales Mike Moeller.
Continental, which has begun installing LiveTV's new 80-channel live television system on its domestic fleet, previously intended to offer LiveTV's basic Kiteline messaging and email product to passengers (JetBlue is flying the Kiteline service). But that is no longer a forgone conclusion.
"Currently, we are watching the industry to determine the best type of Wi-Fi service to offer to our customers," says a Continental spokeswoman.
Kiteline represents the first prong in LiveTV's previously-explained three-pronged in-flight connectivity strategy. The second is called Oasis, which offers a "feels like broadband" experience by combining Kiteline with the stored content-upload capabilities of LiveTV's wireless aircraft data link (WADL) system. Lastly, Ku-band-based connectivity could and would be offered by LiveTV if the market proved out.
To this end, LiveTV has bread boarded a dual-beam antenna to support television programming and Internet data. BUT it is still "waiting for the business to materialize", says Moeller. It now thinks Ka-band is the space in which to play.
So Ka-band, you say? An Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) article gives us a nice initiation. Key info from Eutelsat CEO Giuliani Berretta, who extolled the technical virtues of Ka-band at the Satellite 2008 conference in
"Satellite is the cheapest way to transmit television," he said, quoting a cost of about Є400,000/channel compared with some Є8m/channel for terrestrial systems, but a satellite optimised for TV "wastes power by transmitting to people who are not interested" in a given service. By contrast, he argued: "IPTV [Internet Protocol TV] is about transmitting to a person...and it is impossible to have a cheap solution with current satellites." Hence the move to Ka-band.
Although he admitted there was "nothing magic about Ka-band", Beretta explained that to produce the spot beams required for frequency reuse would require dishes too large to fit comfortably on the satellite. "That's why you go to Ka-band...smaller dishes," he said. As a key part of Eutelsat's 'Hot Bird video neighbourhood' at the 13° E orbital position, KA-SAT is designed to provide broadband communications and 'local' TV channels following its launch in 2010.
Say it ain't so! US Airways today warned employees that IFE is "on hold" until it can raise the financing to support installations. That is NOT good news for Lumexis.
The Lumexis trial has gone mostly well but that trial will be coming to an end soon. We're also negotiating with LiveTV, but the main issue here is financing and that is difficult to do in the economic environment we're currently in. It costs several hundred thousand dollars per aircraft to equip seatback entertainment. We're committed to the project, but until we can raise the financing to install, IFE is on hold.
I guess this is what happens when you wait too long to make a bold move like bringing new IFE&C onboard your aircraft. It wasn't very long ago that LiveTV and friends were able to finance equipage. From the sounds of it, those days are gone. And now, even if US Airways wants to get on the bus, it's efforts are being stiffled by that little thing called money or lack thereof.
My little blog about airlines charging fat passengers for an extra seat evoked a nice response so here is my solution for keeping passengers - big and small - happy in economy class.
John Guidon, CEO and co-founder of Row 44, has written a short op-ed arguing the case for airlines to install a high-bandwidth solution for in-flight connectivity - even if that bandwidth is more than their current model requires.
John's argument is that the growing demand for bandwidth-hungry services (live international TV, terrestrial-speed web browsing, downloadable audio and graphic-intensive games) will seriously strain many of the current low-bandwidth offerings within a couple of years.
Row 44, which offers in-flight connectivity over a satellite link, is currently being tested by Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines.
Here is John in his own words:
The case for high-bandwidth, future-ready in-flight broadband
By John Guidon
We are past the point of airlines deciding whether or not to install passenger connectivity services on their fleets. Passenger demand and airline revenue potential have made in-flight broadband a must-have offering for airlines around the world.
A key decision now facing many airlines is whether to install a low-bandwidth, limited-service solution--supporting mobile phone usage only, for example--or a true broadband system capable of delivering high-speed Internet, TV and other broadband services.
We argue, from an admittedly subjective perch, that installing a full in-flight-broadband solution is the smart play for airlines--because it will deliver a faster return on investment at far lower risk of future obsolescence than a low-bandwidth offering.
Low bandwidth equals lower profit and higher risk
Let's compare a few differences in the business models of the low-bandwidth, limited-service providers with full-broadband solutions like Row 44's.
One limited-service provider's website proclaims the service will provide "full voice and SMS services from launch date." That's terrific--but it means that after installing the system, your aircraft will have just one revenue source for the plane: mobile phone service.
This raises several questions:
1. What happens if some countries along your airline's routes outlaw mobile phone calls in-flight?
Assuming the law allows the passenger to even turn on their mobile phone, you will forfeit the voice portion of the revenue generated from this service, having to rely only on SMS text messaging. Keep in mind that passengers may generate more revenue for your airline through voice calls than by SMS texting.
2. What happens when your passengers demand bandwidth-hungry services like web browsing and live international television?
You will eventually be pressed by passengers to provide a broadband solution; it is only a matter of time. The question is: If installing true broadband service is inevitable in the next three years or so, why risk incurring the lost opportunity costs associated with lower-bandwidth services, and generating passenger frustration and disloyalty--as well as all the associated switching costs resulting from the inevitable upgrade to true broadband?
3. What happens when revenue-generating or cost-cutting applications become available, but you don't have the bandwidth to take advantage of them?
You will forego those opportunities, and possibly even lose passengers to your broadband-equipped competitors.
Outfitting your fleet with a low-bandwidth, limited-service offering is a higher-risk, counterproductive strategy that will ultimately cost your airline far more--a cost of time, money, competitive advantage, and possibly even passenger loyalty.
Satellite-based in-flight-broadband provider Row 44, by contrast, has developed a true broadband experience for the passenger and crew--a wireless hotspot in the sky.
Unlike the limited-bandwidth systems, which promise "full voice and SMS services from launch date," Row 44's system delivers--also from launch date--revenue-generating services including high-speed web browsing, live international television, personal and corporate email, stored video and audio with live updates, online shopping services supported by real-time credit card authorizations, full mobile phone usage (where permitted), and a host of cost-reducing airline operations services for cockpit and crew.
The Row 44 system is simply the most expandable and future-proof in-flight-broadband system available--and a system whose one-time setup costs pay for themselves within a short time frame, and generate a substantial ROI for years to come.
In a 2008 MultiMedia Intelligence report, analyst Amy Cravens notes that limited-service offerings from "AeroMobile and OnAir are betting that voice will be the winning service offering, making voice communications the foundation of their offering."
Can you afford to make that same bet?
I'm at Zurich International awaiting a flight, so I only have a few minutes to post this. A Swiss executive told me this week that the carrier does not intend to bring high-speed connectivity to passengers until it can offer the service to ALL passengers. The current satellite-based offerings on the table, he says, would only enable a portion of passengers aboard Swiss' new A330 aircraft to access the Internet. More later...
Continental Airlines has quietly started offering passengers LiveTV's newest live television service LTV3 on a single Boeing 737. So why didn't the airline do a big press splash? Other than obvious competitive reasons (I mean, come on, this is going to be the most kick-ass live TV offering in the skies), I'm not quite certain.
However, LiveTV assures me that 80-plus channels are coming "very soon".
Also, there has been no free trial. "All services are paid access," says LiveTV, adding: "The system is performing very well."
Continental intends to outfit with LTV3 every seat on its Boeing 737 new generation aircraft and Boeing 757-300s.
Speaking of TV, did you know that AirTran passengers are chomping at the bit for HDTV? Don't believe me?
Check out the carrier's new EveryFlight web site, which polls passengers about what they want to see onboard the carrier's aircraft. HDTV is pacing at number one right now, followed by Foosball!?! and Wi-Fi, of course.
SwiftBroadband-supported in-flight connectivity services are now alive and well on commercial narrowbody aircraft (as well as bizjets), so why is it taking longer to bring this higher bandwidth service to widebodies?
That's the question I recently posed to Inmarsat (foolishly thinking that the explanation would be a simple one). Here is company head of marketing for aeronautical services Lars Ringertz in his own words (because you can be damn sure I'm not going to try and explain it myself).
Just like Aircell or any of the Ku providers it's fully possible to supply a separate system and "just" get a supplemental type certificate (STC) and bolt the SwiftBroadband equipment onto any aircraft. (There are currently five manufacturers that have different combination of SwiftBroadband avionics type-approved by Inmarsat. In fact since October 2007 over 100 business aviation, government and airline aircraft are already flying with and using SwiftBroadband in daily operations).
Inmarsat is such an integral part of both long-haul aircraft systems and aviation operational and air traffic control communications and virtually all long-haul aircraft coming out of Airbus or Boeing come with the antenna and avionics required to use the Inmarsat services.
For the manufacturers delivering equipment to the airlines (from Honeywell, Rockwell Collins and Thales) it's a question of getting the specific equipment that they are supplying to Airbus and Boeing (normally an upgrade to the existing systems already being supplied) ready as "black label".
Then in order to be a "standard" part on the aircraft either as supplier furnished equipment (SFE) or buyer furnished equipment (BFE), Boeing and Airbus have to test and integrate them as a part of the TC on the aircraft.
This is an exercise coordinated with other changes you are making on the TC of the aircraft and normally adds months of engineering work test and certify the integration with the other systems of the aircraft. (Even if it is just a question of a software upgrade to a Swift 64 installation. Since this process simply takes time to go through the necessarily rigorous qualification and certification processes at Airbus and Boeing and their restricted engineering resources, this causes 'lag' that can be frustrating both for airlines and for us at Inmarsat.
For the last couple of years there has been loads of aircraft shipped with the provisions in place to use SwiftBroadband (777, A380, A340, A330 etc etc) , and the only thing we are waiting for is for Airbus and Boeing to flow through the upgrade for the airlines....
Frustrating for us; you bet!!!! But then as soon as they will have it they have one installation on the aircraft allowing them to do both Safety Services and Global Connectivity without having to put separate kit on the aircraft with the additional cost for equipment, drag and weight penalties you would get from adding a separate system.
Despite these challenges, Inmarsat is cooking with gas. "As Inmarsat, we are not as sexy as the new kids on the block; we are providing a service that is globally available today on different type of avionics and aircrafts to all airlines, no matter the size of their fleet. It's a lot more challenging and we're still in business (19 years in Aero) and we are maintaining our profitability," says Ringhertz.
Oh I don't know about that, Lars. I think you guys are pretty sexy!
(Pic above of SwiftBroadband coverage map)
Two consumer advocacy groups have asked Congress to commission a study on the use of wireless communications devices on US commercial flights before outlawing the in-flight use of mobile phones for voice calls and other wireless telephony. A study? A little bit of homework before making a permanent, broad-brush federal ban on in-flight mobile phone use (and VoIP)? Wouldn't that be nice.
The Coalition for an Airline Passenger's Bill of Rights (CAPBOR), a flyers' rights group, and the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council (SBEC), which boasts a membership of over 70,000, have sent letters to US House transportation and infrastructure committee chairman James Oberstar and ranking member John Mica urging them to seek input from stakeholders and to consider all the information before banning the safe usage of wireless communications on US flights.
Thank heavens. For a minute there, I thought I was one of the lone voices on this subject. Now before you get your knickers in a knot, let me ask you a few questions. Do you really want the government outlawing technological advancement? Do you really want to live in a nanny state (not that we aren't making strides in other areas)? Do you really think it's fair that "wired" telephony is allowed but "wireless" telephony is not? If in-flight mobile phone usage hasn't been a problem in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, why on earth do you think it will be a problem here?
Key quote from CAPBOR executive director Kate Hanni:
"Given the increased difficulties we face in getting to our destinations these days Americans are spending more and more time at airports and on board commercial aircraft. We believe it is essential that the federal government perform a full inquiry before deciding whether to ban the use of wireless communications on commercial flights and that all the relevant benefits and information be considered before a decision is made by Congress."
SBE Council president and CEO Karen Kerrigan adds: "In today's ultra competitive global business climate, deals happen and commerce moves at the speed of the latest telecommunications technology - hours and even seconds count. By denying US passengers the ability to stay connected while on flights, while our international counterparts are able to do so, could create a significant disadvantage for US business travelers."
In-flight mobile phone use is currently prohibited by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In an effort to ensure that a permanent federal ban remains in place, Representative Peter DeFazio and other lawmakers last year introduced the so-called "Hang-Up Act" to prohibit wireless voice communications during flights, while ignoring wired voice communications. The bill's language was recently added to US FAA Reauthorization legislation being considered by the House.
"It makes good sense for Congress to take into consideration the available data, and the real world in-flight experiences of passengers and flight crews before moving to deny US passengers access to commonly used and valuable communication services," says Carl Biersack, spokesperson for the In-flight Passenger Communications Commission (IPCC), a group established by mobile connectivity providers AeroMobile and OnAir to stop the Hang-Up Act from becoming law.
Who else is involved in the IPCC? Pansonic, Inmarsat and Rockwell Collins.
The IPCC points out that, because in-flight communications have now been available to a wide range of passengers on commercial airline flights in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, "actual data is now available on usage, policies and procedures that have been enacted to facilitate their safe and courteous use".
I know my stance on this hasn't been very popular, but I take you back to the aforementioned questions. Does this legislation make sense in 2009? I think not.
The news is getting big headlines, pardon the pun, but what should garner equal attention is the fact that economy-class seating is not growing to accommodate the increasing girth - and height - of Americans.
United is no exception. If the carrier was to make seating in the back of its aircraft any tighter, I assure you that this slender - but very tall - Runway Girl's knee-caps would be digging deeply into the seat of the passenger in front of me.
Which begs the question, if seat pitch gets any snugger, will airlines start forcing tall people to buy Economy Plus or get off the bus?
If you'd like to know how much leg room you're going to have on your next flight, I urge you to check out AirValid's new airline information and seat comparator web site.
You can compare and contrast up to four airlines at a time. Plug in the US legacies and you'll see that they are largely thinking on the same wavelength in that they don't facilitate anyone with a bit of leg length.
Will that change any day soon? Fat chance!
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and so I hope my colleague Rob Coppinger, proprietor of the fantastic Hyperbola blog, doesn't object to my copy-cat blog about how readers can access Runway Girl's videos on the YouTube channel RunwayGirlMaryKirby.
Check out the video below, and then scroll down for some of my blog's most popular vlogs thus far (I have a strong feeling that the popularity of the basic interiors webcam was aided by an all-too-generous camera angle, but whatever works :)
Alaska Airlines plans to equip its entire fleet with Row 44's satellite-based in-flight connectivity system by the end of next year.
Wi-Fi service is currently available onboard one Alaska Boeing 737 aircraft. But additional aircraft will be equipped in the coming months.
An Alaska spokeswoman tells Runway Girl: "They are planning to roll out commercial availability of the service by the end of 2010."
Now the carrier needs to figure out how much it is going to charge passengers for the pleasure.
During its single-aircraft trial, passengers have been able to use the service for free. But Alaska says it now ready to start evaluating pricing models, after receiving "overwhelmingly positive" feedback from customers (it also helps that Row 44 recently won that STC from the FCC, clearing the way for carriers to charge).
The pricing model study will occur "over the next several weeks", says the Alaska spokeswoman, noting that the carrier is not disclosing the prices it is evaluating "in order to get a true response of non-biased feedback".
Twitter will no doubt give us a good idea!
Row 44 has previously said it sees the pricepoint coming in at under the $10 mark. This would make it relatively competitive with Aircell's Gogo service, which costs laptop users $9.95 on flights of three hours or less and $12.95 for more than three hours. Aircell has been running various discount promos for months, however.
In addition to having more control over pricing and customer experience, Alaska opted for Row 44's Ku-band-based offering because it ensures the carrier can provide connectivity over both land and water, says the spokeswoman.
"Given their service routes to Alaska, Hawaii and Mexico, satellite-based was really important to them."
So what about VoIP and objectionable content, will they be blocked by Alaska? The short answers are yes, and no, respectively. Alaska says:
Although you can use your cell phone for surfing the Internet, sending email, etc. (assuming it has Wi-Fi capability) we do not allow passengers to use the system for voice communication either through a cell phone or Skype-like service.
If there were any lingering doubts about American Airlines' commitment to bringing connectivity to the in-flight masses, they were put to rest yesterday when the carrier announced it is offering AC power outlets in every row of the first- and economy-class cabins of its new 160-seat Boeing 737-800s.
It's a very sensible move since American is planning to install Aircell's Gogo in-flight Internet system on its domestic MD-80 and 737-800 fleets, after its passengers experienced - and continue to experience - the joys of Gogo on 15 transcontinental Boeing 767-200s.
And, frankly, it shows what American thinks about the future of in-flight entertainment (IFE) - that it should be in the palm of our very own hands.
American has long offered a "cigarette lighter" style outlet at each seat in the first- and business-class cabins of its Boeing 777, 767, 737, MD-80 and Airbus 300 aircraft, as well as most Boeing 757s.
However, these DC powerports are only offered in select rows of MD-80 coach cabins. And they only support devices with a maximum 75-watt capacity. Check out the Seat Guru's chart of domestic economy offerings at the following link: www.seatguru.com/charts/domestic_economy.php
In a statement yesterday, American said its new 737-800s will "have 110V AC power available to all passengers - a first in American Airlines fleet history and a customer convenience that ends the need for power adapters".
For IFE, the carrier is offering standard drop-down screens.
"It is significant that they are not putting in personal seat-back IFE screens. This saves weight and lets American use limited resources. But it also shows that American recognizes that the future for medium- and short-haul IFE is in personal devices that passengers are bringing onboard themselves," says leading industry voice Addison Schonland.
"Clearly power outlets will make much better exploitation of the Gogo technology. Moreover, if you consider that coach passengers don't have a plug per seat, but rather two power plugs per row, this means that users are able to recharge their devices even on transcon flights by sharing the power outlets. Drop-down screens really will become simply something used for flight safety announcements and other items like a moving map display."
Schonland champions American's decision to end the need for power adapters, noting that very few people "walk around with a cigarette lighter plug for their laptop".
American has taken delivery of the first two of 76 new 737-800s on order with the manufacturer. The aircraft are the first of the type to be delivered to the carrier since December 2001. Deliveries will continue through the first quarter of 2011.
Fellow Gogo customer Virgin America recently said it is not uncommon to see 30% of its guests on a flight using the Gogo service. Impacting those usage numbers is "the fact that we've got power outlets at every seat for travelers to stay plugged in", it said.
Speculation is rife that a deferral of both models by Emirates could occur, noted the Air Cargo Management Group (ACMG) at its recent workshop in Seattle.
"It is speculated that Emirates may defer its A380 and 777 deliveries in 2009 and 2010."
ACMG's workshop notes, a copy of which was obtained by Runway Girl, point out that Emirates, one of the fastest growing airlines in the world, "has not made a public statement regarding its current passenger and cargo traffic since 4Q 2008".
The carrier recently removed the 489-seat A380 from its Dubai-New York route due to a decline in passenger demand. Its nonstop service from both San Francisco and Los Angeles to Dubai is carrying "reported loads on the 777-300ER and LR aircraft of over 80%", notes ACMG.
The consultancy adds: "Rumours abound of closer cooperation with oil-rich Abu Dhabi's Etihad."
Industry analyst Richard Aboulafia recently suggested that Airbus' heavy reliance on Emirates for A380 orders and the carrier's local rivals should be a concern to the European airframer.
"One-third of the orderbook comes from a region that depends on very high growth rates yet has just seen a negative month and six slow growth months," he said. "Some Middle-East deliveries will certainly get stretched out. The current ramp-up schedule might soften further due to deferrals and production issues."
Emirates is one of the top carriers in the world for in-flight entertainment (IFE) and interiors, so it makes sense for us to keep on eye on this. Here's hoping that the speculation is just that.
I'd like to highlight one final video to come out of the recent Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg. In the following clip, Airbus aircraft interiors marketing manager, customer affairs Christophe Cossart shows Flight's Barbara Cockburn a new cutaway 1:120 scale model of its A350 extra-wide body (XWB).
The cutaway model highlights potential interior designs and features a first, business, premium economy and economy cabins. Most interesting to this journalist, however, is Cossart's admission that the aircraft's wider cross section "allows you to have the right comfort for today but also for tomorrow because we know the population is getting taller but also wider so it's very important to be able to have this right level of comfort for tomorrow".
As far as I'm concerned, tomorrow is today. I recently flew on a Boeing 737 and shared a not insignificant part of my economy-class seat with a very nice - very rotund - individual. It made for a rather uncomfortable flight.
When A350 customers consider whether to offer nine-abreast or 10-abreast configurations for economy-class cabins (the above picture showcases the latter), wouldn't it be wonderful if they acknowledged that large swaths of the population are already extra-tall (moi aussie) or extra-wide or both? To view the video, click the PLAY button to the right of the screen.
If you've tried to stay on top of the legal battle that has raged between rival portable in-flight entertainment (IFE) manufacturers DigEcor and e.Digital, then God Bless You. It has been a messy, multi-year spat that will culminate in a 4 May trial.
I had the opportunity to speak with DigEcor president and COO Brad Heckel this morning and he was very candid about the whole situation, admitting that, in retrospect, "This has been a waste of time. It has been very non-productive for both sides."
Additionally, says Heckel, the case has "been a distraction, as [DigEcor] has had to dedicate resources to it" such as staff.
The company remains productive, and is eyeing further expansion. But Heckle believes that, "had this [case] not been an issue that we had to deal with, we would have been even more successful".
So how did it all come down to this? In April 2007, I took the time to interview both sides for an article that ran in Air Transport Intelligence. I managed to boil down the dispute to three key paragraphs, which I'll use again today.
California-based e.Digital operated behind-the-scenes in the portable IFE market for years. The company played a role in the design and manufacture of the original DigEplayer 5500 handheld unit for system provider DigEcor, the successor to APS that was bought by US aircraft parts distributor Wencor in 2004.
But e.Digital's decision to later offer its own handheld system, dubbed eVU, directly to airlines, ignited certain legal action.
At the heart of some of the litigation is an April 2002 non-disclosure agreement signed between APS founder William Boyer - an Alaska Airlines baggage handler and the brainchild behind the DigEplayer idea - and e.Digital. The agreement forbade e.Digital from competing with him for seven years after termination of their relationship.
E.Digital argued that none of the agreements with DigEcor precluded or limited its marketing of eVU. It also believes the non-disclosure agreement was superseded by a subsequent October 2002 agreement that later expired.
DigEcor claims that there was a period of time when e.Digital was peddling its own portable player "to our same customers" when they were contracted to deliver players to DigEcor, but didn't.
Fast-forward to last month, and it turns out that the non-compete probably wasn't worth the paper it was written on. A partial ruling from a federal court in Utah dismissed DigEcor's claim that e.Digital breached a covenant of non-competition. Why?
According to DigEcor, rather than apply the law of Washington State - where DigEcor is incorporated and the agreement was signed - the court made the decision to apply the law in California, which happens to be the only state in the United States that does not honour non-competition contracts.
So what is DigEcor hoping to gain when outstanding issues go to trial next month? In addition to damages, the company wants "acknowledgment that we had an order in place, and they [e.Digital] were selling their players when they couldn't deliver ours. Getting that recognition would be one of the emotionally gratifying aspects".
I'm not a smoker - okay, I have the odd one when I've had a few drinks - but I know many a smoker who would appreciate the ability to suck on this during a long-haul flight.
But don't take my word for it, listen to Super Smoker's CEO explain the "electronic cigarette" in his own gloriously un-politically correct way. Click the PLAY button to the right of the screen (the one underneath doesn't seem to do the trick).
"If you think the Bizjet system is unique, wait until we release the airline system! For those airlines who cannot afford an entertainment system and do not want to pay up to $500K for an existing mobile phone solution, SafeCell will be the answer".
That's the quote that has prompted me to try and chase down SafeCell inventor Ron Chapman for an interview.
So what do we know at this juncture? According to a statement released by ASiQ, the SafeCell intellectual property "is a patent application and proof of concept to allow a mobile phone to be operated safely in-flight, by disabling a mobile phones primary transmitter and communicating via the mobile phones auxiliary communications port i.e. Bluetooth or USB SafeCell communicates with the ground via existing low cost (Iridium) satellite networks providing an inexpensive in-flight mobile phone messaging solution".
The offering "provides an alternative approach for corporate jet passengers to use their cell phones onboard aircraft without the requirement for installing complex and expensive GSM Picocell network infrastructure and jamming systems".
Significantly, as noted by Chapman above, the firm's aspirations don't end at the corporate crowd.
But here is my question - As commercial passengers learn the joys of AeroMobile and OnAir mobile connectivity (especially with SwiftBroadband), as well as in-flight Wi-Fi from the likes of Aircell and Row 44, will they be content with a less snazzy offering?
Panasonic Avionics dropped a number of gems into my lap yesterday. As reported here, the company intends to trial its in-flight connectivity service eXConnect on a 737 Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) in advance of commercial launch.
Yes, it would make a sweet - slightly ironic - story if these were the same birds. But enough of that tangent....
More importantly is the revelation that the Panasonic Airline Television Network - offered as an extension of eXConnect - has been selected by some of the firm's five-strong eXConnect customers.
As you no doubt recall, the Panasonic Airline Television Network is a proprietary broadcast TV distribution network that includes a selection of broadcast television channels specifically licensed by the firm for worldwide distribution to aircraft in-flight.
Internet protocol (IP) is the data delivery method for the programming but the experience "is much more in line with traditional DBS (direct broadcast satellite) in that we're not targeting the laptop or passenger device as the display device", says Scott Scheer, manager of programming and media services within Panasonic Avionics' global communication groups. "Rather we are integrating it into IFE systems."
Multi-year deals with five major television news groups have been announced, including Al Jazeera, BBC World News, the Bloomberg Television network, euronews and France 24. However, Panasonic intends to launch the service with seven to eight core channels, including some sports programming, and build from there as the market demands, says Scheer.
Scheer made some other truly interesting points not found in the article so let me urge you to read on.
Because Panasonic IFE systems - award winners across the world - offer tons of cached content, the company's initial focus for the live television product is news and sports.
Says Scheer: "Where we see this ultimately going is we start with the 24/7 linear feeds, such as news and sports. We basically control all access of content acquisition, aggregation and redistribution. We can provide individual events, or one-off type programmes either to an airline or all of them in total. We could put out a high demand live sporting event. We'll have the infrastructure; it's just a matter of making the economics work. Live events is the killer app!"
Once this is in place, then Panasonic will look at "subsets like weather and finance - programming that is the most appropriate for delivery via satellite", adds Scheer.
Okay, so if you've flown on Virgin America (or Delta), which offer Panasonic's current live television offering, you know that it isn't perfect. Don't get me wrong, I love Virgin America's IFE, and frankly I feel that any free entertainment kicks butt, but I have found that signals get easily lost over certain geographic areas.
Scheer says Panasonic designed the new television network to address "most of the shortcomings and challenges faced by the legacy (TV) offerings".
The Panasonic Airline Television Network "is a core set of channels that are meant to be serving aircraft in-flight". Other television services are meant to serve home markets. Those licenses are specific to geopolitical regions.
"In our case, we went directly to the providers to establish what in essence are global licensing rights. We are licensed to offer the channels as the aircraft transitions from region to region," says Scheer, adding that Panasonic will be defining a single encryption format across the network.
TV service "will be available anywhere eXConnect will be available".
Media and technology holding company Voyant has identified at least 100MHz of unlicensed spectrum in all the regions where it hopes to offer air-to-ground (ATG) connectivity to airlines.
That includes Europe, which abandoned one of the primary concepts for airborne voice telephony - the terrestrial flight telecommunications system (TFTS) - about a decade ago after it proved hugely disappointing. Remember Jetphone's demise?
"We are aware of the challenges that was TFTS in Europe. From the war stories, I'm hearing it was extremely difficult. We are not doing that. We've learned their lesson. We found unlicensed bandwidth," said Voyant chief marketing officer Steffan Koehler in an interview following our first discussion.
Unlike ATG architectures that rely on licensed spectrum - such as Aircell's US offering - Voyant intends to use unlicensed spectrum to support in-flight broadband.
"There are specific parts of the spectrum that do not require licenses. However, if you are going to use spectrum that you don't own, but it's in a band approved for ATG use - that usually comes with a whole bunch of rules and conditions. That's why people don't do it that often. Our expertise is in meeting those rules and conditions," says Koehler.
On transoceanic flights, Voyant could partner with a satellite-based connectivity provider to offer a seamless service, but Koehler admits: "That's not where our focus is right now."
"We'd love to be doing everything at once. We'd love to also offer Ku-band service over the ocean but we have to stick to one thing and build that business first."
Earlier this week I posted a video showing a simulation of Boeing's 787 electrochromic windows. And I asked the question - is the switching speed in the video a far-faster-than-real-life simulation?
It's hard to know for certain. But Boeing is still using a 100-second switching speed in its advertising materials. Check out the following link:
100 seconds seems like an awfully long time to go from light to dark and vice versa. As such, Research Frontiers - whose suspended particle device (SPD)-Smart window shades are licensed for use in aviation to InspecTech Aero - might find itself in a sweet spot as airframers and airlines study new window and shade technology to replace plastic pull-down shades.
So what makes SPD so special? SPD technology is fast. It only takes only two seconds to go clear. It can also be made out of lightweight plastic (electrochromic on aircraft needs to use glass), and has an infinite amount of intermediate settings (i.e. no pre-sets required) so that the passenger or the flight crew can precisely adjust how much light is coming into the cabin. Check out a video here:
In the King Airs that this technology is flying on (offered through HawkerBeechcraft's RAPID ordering system and elsewhere), each passenger has control over the window at his or her seat, but flight attendants and the cockpit also have full control over all the windows in the aircraft.
Significantly, the technology is also now flying in the bathrooms of Qantas Airbus A380s to much acclaim. Check out the final paragraph in Travel and Leisure's article about the Qantas A380. It reads:
The most extravagant detail of all, however, isn't in the first-class cabin itself, but in its bathrooms. They are large, with an expansive sink and counter, and there's a window. When you walk in, the window, the surface of which is covered in liquid crystals, appears to be translucent. (Who could look in from the outside to invade your privacy, I'll never know.) When you lock the door, it transforms, as if by magic, into a transparent surface. Where else can you shut yourself in a bathroom and gaze out at the world from 30,000ft?
So did Research Frontiers find itself busy at the recent Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg?
"I was pleasantly surprised with the general crowd at the show because our technology is used in the automotive industry and when you go to the auto shows this year, it has been kind of sour and dour, but in Hamburg, it was bustling, energetic and upbeat," Research Frontiers president Joseph Harary tells Runway Girl.
He says the firm's booth "was extremely crowded" and that executives "had probably five minutes throughout the whole show when there wasn't anyone in the booth". Indeed, Flight's own show daily folks dropped by.
The action is "a reflection on the high interest in switchables", says Harary, but he believes it's more than that. "People are not satisfied with the slow switching speed [of electrochromic] so far. The difference between two to three seconds [of SPD] versus the electrochromic on the Boeing web site [is significant]. What if it took 100 seconds to switch a radio station?"
Good question. What if it took 100 seconds to switch to another radio station? Would you bother?
Okay, so it has taken me a little longer to post this vlog than I expected, but the message to come out of ISTAT last month in Scottsdale is still all too relevant. There is a big - nay huge - divide between aircraft on order and aircraft that are currently financed (or have any hope of near-term financing).
Thus we're seeing delivery delays, order cancellations and - shock - white tails (Bombardier spoke of nearly 20 bizjet white tails during its latest earnings conference call. Is this a sign of things to come in the commercial sector?)
What does this mean for IFE and interiors? Right now, the industry appears to be cooking with gas. That's because carriers that placed their high-end orders - and worked out financing arrangements a while back (sometimes with the airframer) - are now taking deliveries.
We're seeing some of the best of the best in IFE and interiors coming to market (Emirates, Qantas, and next up, Lufthansa's A380s; you know what I'm talking about).
But when should we start having serious concerns about commercial white tails? Here's hoping the divide isn't as wide as predicted by these nice folks. Mind the gap...!!!
I'm working on a blog about the new electric-powered window shades now flying - much to the thrill of passengers - in the bathrooms of Qantas' Airbus A380 aircraft. So keep an eye out for that.
In my research, however, I spotted this new video of the Boeing 787 electrochromic windows in action. It was taken at the Future of Flight Museum in Everett.
Is it me or do the windows appear to be switching from light to dark and vice versa a little quicker than previously thought? Or is the simulation simply faster than reality?
He's known as Singapore_Air on the massively popular airliners.net web site. But I'm going to call him the "seat guru" after his truly amazing forum post about all the extra cool seating options at this week's Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg. I recommend you start at the beginning of his thread and scroll on down for pictures, video, commentary, you name it.
Personally, I found myself drawn to the section about the Thompson Cozy Suite, which we've touched on before. Here are the pics, and then read on...
Key quote from Singapore_Air, er, Seat Guru:
This was my first time experiencing the Thomson Cozy Suite. It has been chosen by Delta Air Lines for some of their aircraft. I am quite sure that the pitch you see there is 31" and the seat width is 17.9". However, the seat seemed much more spacious akin to a 19" wide seat (such as Singapore Airlines' New Economy Class) and the legroom was definitely generous. It's a fixed-shell design and it DOES RECLINE (contrary to some perceptions). There is a bar underneath the seat cushion which allows the passenger to recline in the same fashion as the JAL Premium Economy seat does. Further, the seat pan is automatically recessed into the seat which eases greatly movement for the middle and window seat passengers making it a more pleasant experience for all.
The seat has passed certification with more than flying colours and can also house the IFE which I think negates the need for even a slimline IFE box.
At 11-abreast on an A380. the Thomson Cozy Suite allows airlines to pack more people in (and earn more revenue) while, in my opinion, improving passenger comfort to those travelling Economy Class compared to existing products. It is an excellent product that I am confident will please in terms of spaciousness and comfort, not to mention innovation. Any airline that takes this product in its most basic form is taking a step in the right direction in my opinion.
I received a lovely surprise this morning. Communications specialist T-Mobile and VT Miltope, ViaSat and TriaGnoSys have formally teamed to offer a Ku-band satellite broadband and GSM telephony service for air transport.
We've known about this plan for some time, but now we have some details so let's celebrate.
With German-headquartered mobile phone operator T-Mobile acting as the service lynchpin, VT Miltope has defined an airborne equipment fit. California-based mobile satellite specialist ViaSat is responsible for satellite networking infrastructure and Munich-based TriaGnoSys for software development, writes IFE expert Brendan Gallagher.
Key details from Brendan:
The service offering comprises an on-board Wi-Fi hot-spot to support broadband access via passenger laptops and smartphones. T-Mobile will offer a variety of payment methods, and interface with the airline loyalty programs will be possible.
T-Mobile's team is known to have been involved in protracted discussions with Lufthansa in relation to what could be the last sticking points before a contract. They are also reported to be in discussions with two other long-haul carriers and to have reached a shortlist of two potential providers with one of them.
The team is continuing to study the all-important antenna choice. There are a number of potential suppliers of lightweight, compact second-generation Ku-band antennas.
Candidates are ViaSat itself, which provides equipment for the successful Arinc SkyLink broadband service for business aviation; AeroSat, now flying on Row 44's trial services with Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines; EMS Technologies, selected for Panasonic's eXConnect; and Germany's QEST, teamed with Tecom of the USA. Of these, AeroSat is understood to be the front-runner.
Amended to firm up rumour section!
I was asked by a fair reader if Air Canada intends to charge for Aircell's Gogo in-flight Internet service just like its American counterparts. Aircell director, airline solutions Dave Bijur confirms that indeed it will.
"Like all of our existing partnerships, Air Canada will offer its guests a pay-for-service plan that is aligned with our pricing strategy in the United States," says Bijur. "Launching our first international airline is pretty exciting, and we've conducted some research that indicates that passenger interest for in-flight broadband is just as promising in Canada, as it is in the United States."
Aircell did, of course, also get a major boost this week when American Airlines announced plans to expand Gogo to 300 domestic aircraft. And it has also made strides on the business aviation front as the following link suggests.
Hawaiian Airlines is in the market for next generation portable IFE equipment. In the next couple of months the airline is likely to select a vendor (they use DigEcor right now). The competition is down to two suppliers. Battery lasting power is a big consideration, says VP in-flight services Louis Saint-Cyr.
Rivals AeroMobile and OnAir pushed out interesting press releases this week. AeroMobile says passengers on Malaysia Airlines are proving some of the world's most enthusiastic users of in-flight mobiles. On some flights, passenger adoption has exceeded 40%!!!
OnAir announced its 10,000th flight with the mobile OnAir in-flight connectivity service in commercial operation, "making OnAir the clear leader in onboard connectivity both in terms of number of flights and airline customers", according to the firm.
It adds: "The milestone underlines the speed with which OnAir services are becoming commonplace onboard aircraft: the number of flights with the service is set to exceed 100,000 before the end of the year."
RUMOUR (since firmed up)
Now lets turn to Continental Airlines. The Wandering Aramean blog is reporting that Continental will launch LiveTV's latest live television offering, LTV3, tomorrow on Continental 1493, a flight from Orlando to Newark. But will passengers be able to view 80 channels from the get-go? According to Wandering Aramean - no!
Right now it seems that there is only a limited number of channels that will be available on the system - 35 instead of the planned 80. I really hope that getting the other 45 online can be done without taking the plane out of service again.
I've been in contact with LiveTV and it confirms the report. "On channels, [LTV3] will be over 80 very shortly and no down time needed to add, upgrade or change channel line-up."
Panasonic, meanwhile, believes it has found a way around the global channel challenge in launching the Panasonic Airline Television Network. A key quote from Panasonic's news this week:
"Current in-flight solutions utilize existing direct-to-home feeds for their programming. The beams or footprint for these feeds are optimized to serve consumers on land, not aircraft in-flight. Furthermore, the existing distribution agreements that govern the broadcast of content often are limited to specific geopolitical boundaries. In contrast, the Panasonic Airborne Television Network is not reliant on existing distribution networks and encryption formats. With these restrictions removed, Panasonic can offer the first seamless, synchronized, global TV network."
Good things come to those who wait. And boy have we waited a long time for Panasonic to show serious progress on its Ku-band-based connectivity service, eXConnect. Well, it appears the wait is over.
Flight sister publication ATI is reporting this morning that Panasonic this fall plans to launch eXConnect with no fewer than five initial customers, and that these customers have also signed on for Panasonic's eXPhone onboard mobile phone service offered in partnership with AeroMobile (is that the same five we reported about here?).
First announced three years ago, the new Panasonic service will be rolled out initially on the North Atlantic, with Asia and South America, the South Pacific and Africa following a few months later.
The launch will come at least 12 months later than originally planned, following a protracted antenna selection process, writes Graham Dunn, noting that the antenna has been the biggest challenge (and we've followed the story here).
But the EMS Technologies/Starling antenna in test now is proving to be very good, says Panasonic.
The IFE giant is promising generous data bandwidth to and from the aircraft - 30-50Mbit/sec from the satellite, 1.5Mbit/sec in the opposite direction.
Significantly, it also estimates that its cost per bit will be a quarter that of SwiftBroadband, the Inmarsat L-band service.
Panasonic faces a number of key milestones in the next few months. It needs the regulatory approval of each the countries that will be overflown by eXconnect-equipped aircraft. Thus far it has about a hundred national approvals.
So who are these customers? For that, we may have to wait.