Scandinavian budget carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle's decision to start equipping its entire Boeing 737-800 fleet with Row 44's satellite-based in-flight connectivity in the fourth quarter gives the California-based service provider its first non-US customer and a nice boost in a downmarket. But back here in the states, Row 44's most prominent client, Southwest Airlines, has yet to expand its four-aircraft trial of the system.
Southwest senior manager of technologies and flight operations Doug Murri said last month at the MRO show in Dallas that no firm date exists for the placement of Row 44 on a fifth aircraft. A firm date is expected to be decided within the next couple of months.
Once that decision is taken, Murri says the carrier will have an aggressive schedule for equipping its fleet, which according to Flight's ACAS database currently stands at 538 Boeing 737 classics and next generation aircraft. He estimates Southwest would aim to complete fleet-wide installations in one to two years.
But check this out - Southwest has been using several methods for gleaning customer feedback, including having some marketing folks collect feedback from passengers during the actual Wi-Fi flights. The most negative response Southwest is getting? Well, I wouldn't call this negative per say, but customers are asking Southwest not to charge for the service.
Don't hold your breath, in-flight Wi-Fi lovers. Southwest is studying several revenue options for its connectivity offering including pay-as-you go, subscription models and offering the service at the time of ticket purchase.
Other fun facts from Murri:
Southwest has got installation of the 170lb 77kg) system down to under four days on the four prototype aircraft.
The carrier expects to find additional efficiencies in the process to reduce the install significantly as it equips more aircraft.
Southwest is still working through its pricing model for in-flight connectivity, but expects to be the price leader in that area.
Southwest saw limitations in air-to-ground (ATG)-based connectivity, the likes of which is provided by Aircell.
Unlike Aircell, which has more control over price, allows Southwest to control the pricing and marketing.
More than 25,000 Southwest passengers have used the carrier's in-flight connectivity offering on more than 1,500 flights. The bulk of those users are accessing email.
The system has exceeded Southwest's expectations, particularly in the area of streaming video.
We know that Row 44 still requires a crucial permanent green-light from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). But both parties have made known they are rather certain that authority will come.