I'm grabbing my chimney sweep and heading for greener pastures for a week. That means doing the heretofore unthinkable and putting Runway Girl on holiday too. Time to disconnect and appreciate a bit of grass and sky.
July 2009 Archives
Standing-seat concepts are in the fray, following Spring Airlines' confirmation it has spoken to Airbus about adding standing-seats on its Airbus A320s, and Ryanair's query of passengers on the subject (they are keen to oblige if their ticket is free). But are standing-seats a realistic option?
I asked aircraft interiors expert Jennifer Coutts Clay of Jetliner Cabins fame (pictured left) to share her thoughts on the matter. And boy did she deliver. Below is the full text of Clay's guest blog. Are you ready for a new paradigm?
STAND BY YOUR SEATS
When CEO Michael O'Leary announced that he might install a special area for stand-up high-density-type seating in the new jetliners on order for Ryanair, reactions from the general public ranged from giggles of disbelief to shock and awe - not to mention a frisson of horror. Just imagine being strapped to some kind of bar stool for take-off and landing, and then standing up all the time throughout the flight, squashed against who-knows-who or who-knows-what!
But there is an interesting and relevant historical precedent which eventually turned out to be an enormous and enduring success. At the end of the 1800's, in central London, there was a social revolution in concert-going circles. Up to that time, classical music events were attended mainly by formally dressed sociable notables, who sat in serried ranks of theatre-style seats that were positioned in parallel rows. But in 1895 - amid cheers and jeers - Roger Newman, the founder of the 'Promenade' concerts, declared that he was going to make his annual series of performances available not just to the high-end cognoscenti but also to audiences who, hitherto, had not enjoyed access to such cultural delights.
Instead of installing a traditional seating layout in the stalls section of the Queen's Hall auditorium, Mr Newman organized a cheap and spacious EMPTY area to attract a radically new market segment of customers called 'Promenaders'. The intrepid pioneers were invited to 'promenade', or walk around, wearing everyday clothing -- and they were encouraged to stand in groups alongside the orchestra pit.
Mr Newman even installed a fountain to keep everyone cool during the summer months - a note for Mr O'Leary: now that could be a real 'wow' factor for your product branding at Ryanair!
The product advance was perceived as being akin to strolling in the viewing terraces while watching a military parade or sporting event, or strap-hanging inside a crowded train, bus or ferryboat when there were no seats available. In the 21st century, a modern parallel would be the close-up physical group encounters as witnessed at current pop or jazz festivals.
This year at the Royal Albert Hall (the home of the 'Proms' concerts since 1941) of the 6,000 places available every night for the highly acclaimed series of broadcast performances, 1,400 tickets were allocated for sale to standing-area customers - principally students and tourists - at just UKL5-00(five UK pounds) each, the price of a cup of coffee in a smart restaurant. Anyone who has ever spent a stand-up evening squashed against an army of aficionados, and within a fiddle-bow's length of fortissimo-style renditions of the grandest works by the greatest composers, will attest that the experience is unique, inspiring and incomparable. And long may it continue!
Question: Would Mr O'Leary's proposed aerial stand-up revolution meet with similar success? Concepts for stand-up seating have been presented at serious aviation conferences over the years, and the main topic of discussion has always been the potential testing processes necessary to achieve certification status for high-density-type seating options. Preliminary sketches showed structures reminiscent of vertical spray-tanning booths, fun-fair joy-ride cabs, funicular gondolas or avant-garde ski-lifts. Clearly, the technical requirements to develop stand-up seats suitable for use on aircraft would be extremely complicated. Other questions included:
How will safety procedures be implemented in the stand-up section of the cabin in the event of an emergency?
How will cabin crews be able to monitor and manage the flights?
How will passengers be protected during periods of unforeseen air turbulence?
What will happen to the closely packed group during take-off and landing?
Will children, pregnant women and people with disabilities have access to this new class of travel?
How will individuals cope if they feel sick or faint?
Some critics have dismissed Mr O'Leary's announcement as nothing more than an attention-grabbing PR ploy, pointing to the fact that his Boeing 737-800 jetliners are already 'maxed out' i.e. carrying the total number of passengers allowed under the specific aircraft type and model certification. But could there be a deep-logic plan in the air? If the existing permitted number of passengers could be huddled together in stand-up seating zones in, let's say, two or three 'sardine-can sections', then the other parts of the cabin could be opened up and used for different purposes.
Stand-up-seating passengers would be glad to stretch their legs by visiting the attractions on offer e.g. revenue-generating programs such as: pay-as-you-eat-and-drink cafeterias, pay-for-your-shower-and bathroom cubicles, pay-for-your Internet access to information and business services, entertainment and shopping galleries - or how about on-board casinos for gambling enthusiasts? This algorithm would not be new in the aviation sector: at major airports, passengers are typically herded into narrow corridors and scrunched into corners at check-in points and boarding gates while retail stores and commercial outlets monopolize the main areas of prime space.
From the customer point of view, stand-up-seating areas in the aircraft cabin would be welcomed more for ultra-short-haul hops (the aptly named 'banana flights') than for long-haul trans-oceanic or trans-continental multi-stop operations. Of course it would be necessary to explain clearly that the bar-stool brigade, albeit corralled in clusters, would not actually be tethered together as for a tug-of-war contest. And yes, this dramatically different configuration might well operate smoothly if all the passengers could be guaranteed to be of relatively small stature.
But what about everyone else? Well, if he can resolve the issues mentioned above, and if he can set his air fares at - or below - the cost of a cup of coffee, Mr O'Leary will probably succeed in generating an endless supply of aficionados beating a pathway to his jetliner entry-doors. The potential customer base could comprise not just students and impecunious tourists, but also ships' crews, sports fans, music groups, teams of workers - all those hale and hearty travellers who want to get from point A to point B at coffee-cup air fares.
Just think of the product launch buzz! The music theme selection for the boarding recording could be Sir Elton John belting out his hit tune "I'm Still Standing". And the advertising slogans? How about: "Fly to your dream location...Don't miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity...Zero-gravity coffee-cup air fare...An unforgettable experience...To be squashed up against the most perfect who-knows-who or who-knows what!"
Bon voyage, everyone! And now we just need a catchy name for this lucky new market segment.... Stand by for take-off? The captain's command takes on a whole new meaning!
Jennifer Coutts Clay
1) The carrier is testing new slim seats on a single Boeing 757. Check out the following airliners.net posting. Will slim seats - the likes of which we discussed here - accommodate fat passengers? Silly question RWG.
2) United confirms it is studying connectivity solutions for its overseas flights. I know, I know...everyone is studying everything. But this is interesting insofar as United's Star Alliance partner Lufthansa is planning to reignite its Connexion by Boeing service, and is in talks with Panasonic to do it.
3) United is in the process of updating the premium cabins of its international fleet (the 777 upgrades are on hold, however)...and yes, those premium cabins have Panasonic IFE (with iPod connectivity).
[Not unrelated aside - In light of United's connectivity studies - and upcoming domestic trial of Gogo - it makes sense to mention Glenn Tilton's speech at the 2003 World Airline Entertainment Association (WAEA) annual conference and exhibition. I remember Glenn said some interesting things about partnering with service providers on "win-win" revenue sharing models. I'll bet some of you remember it too! But here is the link and some key nostalgic pars:]
One of the key areas from United's perspective is to develop the new partnerships that are going to be successful for the long term. With IFE, we think these partnerships could extend to but not be limited to:
- Settling on a common standard and technology for inflight entertainment systems;
- Driving down cost by harnessing the power of collective purchasing, something that would be helped along by the many alliances and partnerships in our industry;
- Moving away from the model where airlines simply pay vendors for services and products, and this is potentially, in our view, the most effective approach and I want to suggest why from our perspective.
When it doesn't work:
And when it does (DJ Timbo?):
Jaunted is running a grand piece about Aircell's latest promo, which entails a 50% discount! Be sure and copy that discount code down!
Now here's an interesting exercise. Take Jaunted's piece about Aircell's promo and add a splash of Joe Sharkey's interview with Row 44 chief John Guidon (yes, it ran less than one week after my parking lot chat for those keeping track of the game) and you've got a very interesting discussion. What discussion is that, RWG?
Well here is Guidon's key quote:
"Right now, as we run these trials we're seeing healthy single-digit numbers of paying customers."These are early days, of course. And Guidon goes on to say that, as more people acquire Wi-Fi enabled personal devices, the numbers will grow as in-flight broadband becomes "an essential service that customers demand".
I have no doubt that in-flight broadband will become "an essential service that customers demand". But will they pay? That is the question.
Until we get that answer, check out the @GogoInflight customers tweeting away like robins after a rainstorm (plus other interesting stuff).
Over the last several days this blog has featured just some of the news to come out of the World Airline Entertainment Association's (WAEA's) single focus connectivity workshop, which was held on 14-15 July at Boeing's Future of Flight Museum in Everett, Washington.
Flight Global's new IFE&C web channel has also been running a list of stories from the show.
But now we need some photos to accompany all that text. An excellent snap-happy photog has supplied RWG with some pics of the 787, the chunky monkey Dreamlifter, the WAEA conference and the Aircell reception, where some of us let our hair down. Check it out.
There are ways to capture additional revenue dollars from in-flight connectivity above and beyond basic fee-for-service deals. And you can be sure airlines are keen to hear all plausible concepts.
During the recent World Airline Entertainment Association (WAEA) single focus connectivity workshop, AeroMobile senior commercial manager Adla Hendry described how the Arinc/Telenor joint venture is going about bringing value-added services to the equation.
Here is Hendry's entire presentation from the Inmarsat aeronautical conference in Vancouver (it is not dissimilar from the speech given at WAEA event).
But four key slides can be seen below.
We've talked about the company's Sky Buy handheld for credit card authorizations, but here's a key quote from that previous blog:
At present, credit cards are swiped via wireless handhelds on aircraft but the transactions are processed when the aircraft gets on the ground.
Because of this billing mechanism - which sometimes results in fraudulent transactions - there is a ceiling of the value of items that can be comfortably sold today.
Enter AeroMobile, which is harnessing its mobile connectivity service to offer a new in-flight credit card authentication service that will be trialled by Malaysia Airlines.
Isn't it refreshing to see Delta taking such a forward-thinking approach?
But just think about it - all Delta departments (flight ops, in-flight services, maintenance, dispatch, etc) could connect to the aircraft to make sure things are operating in the most efficient manner.
And, if flight-critical data needs an off-aircraft connection, the system could find the most efficient and cost effective way to get it to the ground (ie, it could decide ATG over domestic makes sense but a satellite link over water).
Word on the street is that Delta thinks that, if it could reduce fuel burn by 1% by using the system, it would be able to pay for its implementation.
FOCIS is a mighty ambitious endeavor but one that makes a tremendous amount of sense. There are plenty of questions to ask, however. Here's one - What type of firewalls would Delta need put in place to create to ensure that the Gogo-equipped folks in the cabin can't access FOCIS?
Delta next week will hold a vendors day to discuss FOCIS. It's my understanding that the following companies have been invited: Astronics, Teledyne, Astronautics, DAC International, NavAero, L3, IMS Flight Deck (Formerly Flight Deck Resources), Goodrich, Thales, ECS and VT Miltope
Here is the text of the invite. Are you going?
Subject: Vendors' Days at Delta
To: Selected Vendors
As many of you know, Delta Air Lines is in the process of building a business case for developing an information system to be incorporated into our airline operations. This project is entitled the FOCIS Initiative. FOCIS stands for Future Operations Communications Information System. This information system will be used across operational divisions like flight operations, ramp operations, in-flight services, dispatchers, and maintenance personnel. A key component to this system will be an aircraft PC or what you probably refer to as an Electrical Flight Bag (EFB). I try and avoid the term EFB because the term leaves the impression that this evolving technology is all about removing the pilot flight bag kit. That is not the primary emphasis of the business case or this information system. Delta is looking beyond the immediate desires of the cockpit. Delta is looking at this system development with a long term point of view. So with this little background in mind, we would like to extend an invitation to your company to attend a two-day vendors' exhibit event at Delta World Headquarters in Atlanta on Jul 27 - 28, 2009.
We will be setting up a room where all the vendors can set up their displays and marketing material and throughout the two days various Delta stakeholders will be able to visit and ask questions. In addition, a special committee will be setup to have one-on-one presentations by each of the vendors throughout the two days. Basically, each presenter will have one hour, followed by a half hour for Q&A. We also plan on making a presentation on our upcoming RFI / RFP in support of the business case. More details will be coming, but the intent of this email was for your planning purposes.
The general agenda is as follows:
Monday 27 Jul 09
0800 - 0830 Welcome Brief
0830 - 1130 Exhibit time
0830 - 1000 1st Brief
1000 - 1130 2nd Brief
1130 - 1300 Lunch (manning would help for those stakeholder visiting during Lunch)
1300 - 1600 Exhibit time
1300 - 1430 3rd Brief
1430 - 1600 4th Brief
Tuesday 28 Jul 09
Same format planned
May be change in afternoon depending on some other things which may be an opportunity for your marketing effort. More will come
Could you please let me know that your company plans on participating and how many you think will be involved? I will be sending out more information in a couple of weeks.
Anyhow, thank you for your support of Delta's effort and look forward to hearing from you.
Delta Air Lines, Inc.
It's a surprising move in light of the fact that US Airways recently opted not to expand a trial of Lumexis' fibre-to-the-screen IFE system, complaining that, despite its interest in IFE&C, financing for installs had dried up. Well, they're getting the financing from somewhere, you can be sure. (How big is Aircell's war chest?)
I must admit I am thrilled that US Airways is moving forward with in-flight Wi-Fi equipage (Not because it's Aircell. If it was Row 44 or another broadband provider, I'd be equally happy oh yee accusers of my bedding down with anyone.) God knows I've suggested it to US Airways a number of times.
US Airways has, in essence, seen the writing on the wall - it knows it has NO hope of competing with broadband-equipped carriers unless it equips its own aircraft because the rest of its domestic product is abysmal (As a frequent traveller, who lives outside of US Airways' Philadelphia hub, I can assure you I am educated on this point).
But this blog is not about abusing US Airways, which should be applauded for figuring out a way forward despite the current economic crisis (and keeping a secret in this highly-connected world). No indeed, this blog is about pointing out that Continental Airlines is now the only major carrier not to announce a broadband strategy in some sense, and to ask a few important questions.
Aircell's customers include Air Canada, AirTran, American, Delta, Northwest - yes, it considers this deal separate to its one with Delta...I just learned this today - plus United, US Airways, and Virgin America.
Alaska Airlines and Southwest are trialling Row 44's satellite-based solution, and would like to offer the service fleet-wide. Southwest says it will reveal its broadband strategy next month. Southwest has spoken to Aircell but a very smart cookie says it is unlikely that Southwest will follow the same strategy as its Dallas rival American. Time will tell.
JetBlue is offering subsidiary LiveTV's basic Kiteline service on an A320 but plans to expand with a 20-aircraft equipage from the fourth quarter. Kiteline is the same service that Continental previously said it intended to offer. In recent months, however, the carrier has declined to confirm that this is still the case. What Continental is doing is focusing on equipping its domestic fleet with LiveTV's 80-channel live television system.
So here's the question - is Continental taking a gamble by initially focusing on live television instead of broadband? Does Continental have some big cojones for striking out on its own (that is, of course, presuming it hasn't secretly inked a broadband deal)? The answer is - nobody really knows.
While Aircell has grabbed nearly every significant IFC headline of late, the company has not yet revealed its usage stats. It has also been experimenting with pricing. This indicates that the jury is still out about how much people are going to pay for in-flight Wi-Fi. To help us understand better, I urge you to take the IFE&C survey.
As hotels, coffee shops, my local Salad Works, some airports - most recently Jackson International - and others move to a free-Wi-Fi model, will airlines be able to sustain a fee-for-service model?
That is a question that LiveTV keeps coming back to. Last week at the World Airline Entertainment Association (WAEA) single focus workshop in Everett, Washington, LiveTV vice-president of sales and marketing Mike Moeller said the JetBlue unit believes in broadband but doesn't yet see how this will generate revenue for airlines if passengers start demanding it for free.
Some folks would argue that advertising, sponsorship and other clever marketing tools will augment the estimated $100,000 cost of installation per aircraft, even if carriers eventually bow down to pressure and offer in-flight Wi-Fi for free. Airlines might also collectively wrap the service fee into the cost of their tickets, especially if the entire US fleet is equipped).
The equation is sufficiently foggy that LiveTV has decided to focus on its weapon of choice - live television. Moeller points out that the average adult in the USA still watches 5.5 hours of television per day. Holy God! Where do people find the time? I'm happy to catch a glimpse of Brian Williams at 6:30pm.
Someone once said that television is the "Novocaine for the brain", says Moeller. So, if given the option between paying for 80 channels of live television or paying for broadband, LiveTV's reasoning is that passengers will choose the latter at this juncture.
Of course, if you've got broadband, then you can access TV over IP. But will the Gogo bandwidth support high-bandwidth requirements such as these when the US fleet is equipped? Aircell says it will. Here's how LiveTV answers the question of video over the Internet (it's a slide from Moeller's presentation).
Check out Moeller's entire presentation at the following link:
SFW LiveTV Presentation 7-15x.pdf
No matter how things shake out, things will no doubt all be gravy for Aircell since, for airlines, there is no turning back now. The travelling public has been given a taste of in-flight Wi-Fi thanks to Aircell and they are now starting to expect it. Someone will have to pay. But whom?
As you can see, there are still a lot of questions to be asked. We need some answers! I'm working on trying to get us some ASAP.
Q After the A321s, what fleet type will be equipped?
A We're evaluating potential further fleet types but no plans right now. We'll work with Aircell and, of course, customer feedback in laying out a future roadmap.
Q Does US Air intend to roll this out on its entire domestic fleet?
A See above.
Q Does it have a timeline for doing that?
A See above.
Q Why Gogo? Did Aircell review Row 44 and other provider's offerings?
A Gogo has a proven product our customers can rely on. In addition, many customers are likely to be familiar and comfortable with the Gogo system because it is used by most major airlines. The system is the lightest available, requires minimal space on the aircraft and is installed overnight, making it a sound investment in a challenging revenue environment.
Q How about overseas flying? Gogo is for domestic, but is US Air looking into satellite-based connectivity for its overseas flights?
A Nothing to add on the overseas front right now.
TEMPE, Ariz., July 23, 2009 -- US Airways (NYSE:LCC) is turning aircraft into Wi-Fi 'hotspots' by partnering with Aircell to provide Gogo® Inflight Internet service beginning in early 2010. Full Internet access including Web, Instant Messaging, email and VPN access will be available for purchase to passengers with laptops, smartphones and other Wi-Fi enabled devices.
"Gogo Inflight Internet will allow our customers to make the most of their flying time by catching up on work or relaxing and surfing the Internet. This is an exciting new option for our passengers that we believe will enhance their travel experience," said Andrew Nocella, senior vice president, Marketing and Planning.
Gogo will initially be installed on US Airways A321 aircraft, flying select domestic routes. A map detailing those routes can be found at www.usairways.com. And later next year, customers will be able to see if Wi-Fi is available on a specific flight by looking for the Wi-Fi icon while booking their flight on usairways.com.
The pricing for Gogo Inflight Internet on US Airways will be announced closer to the launch date. Customers will be able to choose service from Aircell's standard pricing structure, which currently ranges from $5.95 to $12.95, depending on the length of flight and type of Wi-Fi enabled device used.
"Gogo is for anyone who wants to make plane time their time," said Jack Blumenstein, president and chief executive officer of Aircell. "Whether you want to stay connected to the office, your family or friends; whether you want to work, play or learn; Gogo is for you. We look forward to working with US Airways to bring the world to its passengers."
More information about US Airways' new Gogo Inflight Internet service can be found online at usairways.com and gogoinflight.com.
Since I was writing within the boundaries of magazine space constraints, however, I didn't get a chance to report Airbus' full comments.
Pasted below is my entire Q&A with Airbus VP, cabin design office Jonathan Norris because I know there is stuff in here of interest to RWG readers.
1. Can you tell me more about ALNA V2?
Airbus's ALNA (Airline Network Architecture) connectivity system provides the platform for both airborne mobile telephony and Internet services. It also enables satcom communication capabilities for third party applications such as EFB, IFE & Telemedicine.
Airbus partners with industry players that have complementary offers to Airbus products in the value chain. The aim is to provide the best "connectivity product" available.
OnAir (a company owned by SITA and Airbus) has developed and markets the in-cabin value added communication services. Airbus and OnAir have chosen to rely on Inmarsat, the market leader in mobile satellite communications, to provide onboard connectivity.
Through an onboard mobile base station, the ALNA system creates a GSM network that uses satellite communications to route calls and data--via the SwiftBroadband (SBB) service provided by Inmarsat's I4 geo-stationary satellites--to and from networks on the ground.
The result is a range of services, tailored to passengers' differing communication habits and preferences on different types of flights.
Passengers are able to use their own portable electronic devices (PED), including laptop computers, mobile phones, smartphones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) and/or the airline's in-seat equipment to communicate during flights.
The ALNA system also includes features that prioritise and manage bandwidth use and enable the crew to control the level of service offered to passengers, for example switching the network to 'data only' should airlines wish to introduce quiet periods during flights.
2. Is it true that Airbus has been through several iterations of ALNA and other cabin network architectures? What has been the success rate with customer airlines?
The ALNA platform is available in a number of versions.
GSM OnBoard (marketed as Mobile OnAir) was the first commercial aircraft connectivity system to be certified (first for Air France A318 in June 2007 and then for the whole Airbus Single Aisle family in July 2008). EASA granted Airbus the certification for use on the whole single-aisle aircraft family (A318, A319, A320 and A321) in conjunction with the Thales TopFlight SATCOM system.
The GSM solution allows virtually unlimited smart phone / PDA GPRS usage, and up to 16 passengers can make voice calls at the same time. Passengers can use Mobile OnAir to stay in touch as they fly on over 8,000 flights each month, to over 240 cities in over 50 countries across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. OnAir has operated more than 22,000 fully connected SwiftBroadband flights to date and has signed agreements with more than 18 airlines worldwide and is set to exceed 100,000 flights before the year's end.
The GSM system is not limited to use on Airbus aircraft only. In fact the first fleet-wide installation of Mobile OnAir commenced in February 2009 on 50 aircraft of Ryanair's Boeing 737 fleet.
The ALNA v1 product has been developed for A380 entry into service and was also developed for Long Range aircraft. It offers limited internet capabilities (webmail, webchat), an on board wireless infrastructure for passenger and cabin crew, and communication capabilities for third party applications such as EFB (eg Electronic Flight Folder application on A380), Telemedicine and IFE.
ALNAv1 is certified and already flying with the following customers: Finnair; Jet Airways; Kingfisher; and TAP. Additionally, Singapore Airlines, Emirates and Qantas Airways use it on their new A380s.
The ALNA v1 system utilises the Inmarsat Swift64 service and is integrated with both the Rockwell Collins HST900 and Honeywell HS720 SATCOM systems.
ALNA v2 is a multi-program, scalable and modular platform that enables Internet and On Board Mobile Telephony System (OMTS) services--"Internet OnAir" and "Mobile OnAir" with SwiftBroadband (SBB) Satcom. The ALNA v2 system utilises qualified hardware and will be initially integrated with the Honeywell HS720 Satcom system on A330/A340 & A380 aircraft.
ALNA v2 is under development and is planned to be ready for deployment from the fourth quarter 2009. Contracted Long Range customers include Kingfisher Airlines, Air AsiaX, Oman Air, Egyptair and Hong Kong Airlines.
The ALNA v2 solution is designed on an open architecture that allows for future integration with other air-ground systems such as Ku-band or terrestrial Air-to-Ground systems.
On 24 June 2009, an Airbus A340-600 (MSN 360) completed a test flight during which both classic services (cockpit voice / data link) and SwiftBroadband (SBB) services (Internet, emails and up to 16 GSM simultaneous calls) were successfully tested for more than 10 hours.
During the test flight satellite handovers were performed (Inmarsat I4-EMEA to I3 then I3 to I4-Americas satellites) in order to ensure service continuation on classic Satcom (flight critical), even if SBB services were lost (note: Inmarsat I3 satellites are not SBB capable).
To simplify the whole process for potential clients, Airbus manages the certification of OnAir solutions with the aviation authorities, handles linefit installations on new Airbus aircraft deliveries, and has even designed the retrofit kit for installation of OnAir solutions on in-service aircraft. For non Airbus aircraft, airlines can purchase the on-board system via Airbus KID-Systeme
3. Why is it important for service providers to be integrated with ALNA v2?
Off-aircraft connectivity covers four areas of communication: ATS - Air Trafic Services - (flight safety communications and messaging e.g. FANS, ATN), AOC - Airline Operational Communications (e.g. ACARS, EFB, AHM, CLB), AAC - Airline Administrative Communications and APC - Airline Passenger Communications.
The communications manager software embedded in ALNA v2 handles today the prioritisation of these different types of communication with the exception of ATS. It is essential for service providers to be integrated with ALNA v2 to optimise and organise the usage of the satellite bandwidth between all on-board applications with the appropriate prioritisation.
4. Is it true that Panasonic does not want to be forced to integrate with ALNA v2?
Whilst I do not want to comment on specific supplier issues, I can confirm that integration with ALNA v2 is a prerequisite for offerability on Airbus Long Range (A330/A340) and A380 aircraft. Airbus can also confirm that integration with two IFE suppliers has already been achieved with ALNAv1 and is under way for ALNAv2 to either allow access to OnAir Internet services via the IFE or to allow satcom access for IFE hosted applications.
5. With the A350, is it true providers will have no other option other than to integrate with ALNA in the cabin extension domain?
There is an on-going RFP process for A350XWB IFE and Connectivity so I cannot comment on the technical definition of requirements.
I'm like a harried monkey, having just arrived home from a trip to DC, but I simply most let you know the following:
The Senate commerce, science and transportation committee, which today marked up FAA reauthorization legislation, as hoped has opted not to include a ban on wireless voice communications in its bill.
In other words, the committee has hung up on the Hang-Up Act, which remains part of the House of Representatives' version of FAA reauthorization.
The Senate committee will next report the bill to the full Senate. Probably in September. Then comes reconciliation of the House and Senate bills.
It's a relief to know that the Senate at least doesn't intend to legislate in-flight manners.
Last night I received an email from a pilot, whose friend flew a Gogo-equipped Boeing 767-200 from LAX to MIA. The pilot was able to log on to the Internet, go to the DUATS web site, and view the current NEXRAD radar map from present position (over Texas at the time) all the way to destination in near-real-time (NEXRAD updates about every 5 minutes).
This is exactly the type of weather product that could enhance safety of flight by being connected.
Airborne weather radar is limited to about 150 miles or so range at typical jet cruising altitudes, because of the curvature of the earth. By being able to view current radar downrange - as well as 24hr forecasts - longer-term planning for routing and weather avoidance is greatly enhanced.
Here's what some NEXRAD radar and satellite pictures look like. Now tell me this wouldn't be helpful in-flight.
Airbus is making no apologies for its insistence that in-flight connectivity service providers be integrated with its ALNA (Airline Network Architecture) V2. And Jonathan Norris, VP cabin design for the European manufacturer, made that point crystal clear at the World Airline Entertainment Association (WAEA) single focus connectivity workshop last week in Everett, Washington.
"Airbus is not opposed to competition either from service providers or hardware suppliers. Satcom or whatever other means of 'off-aircraft' connectivity is not the sole domain of an IFE provider. We have a need for off-aircraft connectivity which is becoming more and more non-IFE related, and more related to cockpit and flight-critical communications, and we don't believe that this is a domain where we should be beholden to one or more IFE suppliers.
"We are more than happy to support different service providers but they need to meet the architectural requirements of the aircraft. At the moment we don't have applications from other service providers that meet these requirements."
What does this mean for AeroMobile and Panasonic, the latter of which has branded AeroMobile's in-flight mobile connectivity service as eXPhone, as part of its broader connectivity suite? Their application to become linefit on new Airbus aircraft at present apparently does not meet the airframer's requirements.
Like Laurel and Hardy, peanut butter and jelly and a runway girl and her stilettos, in-flight Wi-Fi and in-seat power make a very good combo. Unfortunately, only a few broadband-equipped carriers offer passengers the ability to plug in and connect at the same time. Virgin America is a clear exception. And American Airlines is also working to remedy its prior reticence to offer in-seat power to coach passengers. But it would be nice to see more carriers follow suit.
Such an endeavour is easier said than done of course. Retrofitting an aircraft with in-seat power ain't cheap. That makes retrofitting a very big decision for carriers like Atlanta-hubbed AirTran Airways, which recently became the first "major" to equip its entire fleet with Aircell's Gogo broadband system, but whose average flight is just 1.9hr in length.
Another fact about AirTran that makes providing in-seat power on even a portion of its fleet a big decision is the carrier's penchant to move aircraft all around its network (ie, the aircraft flying transcon today might be flying to Florida tomorrow).
In-seat power specialist Astronics is one of the leaders in the game (Airbus' Kid-systeme is also a big deal). An Astronics executive last week told attendees at the World Airline Entertainment Association's (WAEA's) single focus connectivity workshop that personal electronic device (PED) power is now an expected amenity on all long-haul seats and all classes of service. Any Airbus A330 delivered new today has power outlets at the seats, for example.
He also pointed out that the average battery life of a PED is about 1.5hr, but that not all passengers come on board with a fully charged laptop (I must admit I'm able to squeeze a bit more juice out of my laptop jalopy, but everything grows quite dim without power, and I grow increasingly anxious that the whole thing is going to shut down mid-blog).
AirTran fleet manager, 717/737 engineering Lee Burns tells me that in-seat power is only one of several considerations for the carrier. Also of potential interest is what I refer to as Aircell's "feels like television" offering, which combines broadband connectivity with cached content to heighten passengers' entertainment and infotainment experience (those servers can hold a lot!).
At the end of the day, cash-strapped carriers are hopeful that connectivity will eventually translate into ancillary revenue. I'm hopeful they don't figure out a way to charge for in-seat power, but wouldn't be at all surprised if they do. Would you?
...the Senate commerce, science and transportation committee has already scheduled a Tuesday mark-up for its version of FAA reauthorization legislation, which DOES NOT include the text of the Hang-Up Act. Will the Senate wrangle with the House over in-flight wireless voice calls? That would seem a petty thing to come to blows about, especially in light of the fact that the House bill does not seek to prohibit in-flight wired voice communications.
LiveTV is working very hard to bring live television to Azul's Embraer E-Jets in time for the soccer World Cup, which gets kicked off in June 2010.
So said LiveTV vice-president of sales and marketing Mike Moeller this week at the WAEA single focus workshop, which, by all accounts, seems to have been a terrific success (I know I loved every minute of it).
Moeller points out that soccer is a pretty big deal in Brazil, where Azul is based. The country has won no less than five World Cup championships.
LiveTV has previously addressed the challenges of offering in-flight live television in South America here.
RWG understands that Embraer is working with LiveTV and antenna makers in developing a radome that will accommodate the antenna for the LiveTV system in Brazil.
This work is not just limited to what Azul can offer in Brazil but for all South American operators of Embraer aircraft. Needless to say, a big ole radome just won't cut it for E-190s and E-195s.
The brainchild of Azul is former JetBlue chief - and JetBlue founder - David Neeleman. LiveTV is a subsidiary of JetBlue.
Asked this week if JetBlue is still considering divesting its LiveTV unit (which has that rather significant Continental Airlines contract in the bag), a JetBlue executive declined comment.
Row 44's system works well, really well. That's what a Southwest Airlines executive said yesterday at the WAEA single focus connectivity workshop in Everett, Washington. The same Southwest executive said some other things too, like the fact that the carrier has talked to Aircell about its Gogo broadband solution. But he cleared up one important issue about Row 44's licensing. Southwest believes the Row 44 system will receive permanent authority from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the not too distant future.
Row 44's top executives, CEO John Guidon and president Gregg Fialcowitz, were in attendance at the show. Naturally, I wanted to talk to them about their product, and the objections they've faced from ViaSat at the FCC. I also wanted to ask them about Southwest's Aircell revelation. So, for hook or crook, I approached the two gentlemen and proceeded to give them what essentially was a sales pitch as to why they should talk to me. Why they should dispel the apparent myths about their product - those interference allegations - and a whole bunch of other whys.
But explaining the whys has not been Row 44's style of late. The California-based company prefers to leave others guessing on a number of issues. That's particularly unfortunate given today's news that Lufthansa - the first and largest Connexion by Boeing customer - is ready to reignite that service. Ku, in short, has just received a major shot in the arm at a time when Row 44 is the only Ku-band service provider now operating on aircraft (Alaska and Southwest's aircraft to be exact).
While Row 44's thinking does not do this journalist - or this blog - a lick of good, I must say I totally respect the company's prerogative. But here is my good faith effort nonetheless...
My chat with OnAir CEO Benoit Debains wasn't all about that Airbus offerability issue. Indeed, we talked a lot about what OnAir is doing these days (essentially, the Airbus/SITA joint venture is cooking with gas).
So here is a list of key quotes and info from that conversation:
OnAir, which is supported by Inmarsat's SwiftBroadband aeronautical service, now has 21 commercial customers plus five or six VIP private customers.
At present, OnAir's GSM and GPRS solution is only flying on narrowbodies (Ryanair is a big fan). However, OnAir recently inked a couple of important deals with Hong Kong and Egyptair for equipage on Airbus A330s, indicating that OnAir is getting stronger in the long-haul market with its GSM, GPRS and Internet services (that's a space that rival AeroMobile has been focused on). Stay tuned to this space for a status update on Qantas' equipage of OnAir Internet on its A380s. The carrier currently offers OnAir's basic webchat and webemail to passengers.
OnAir's latest customers "are for the long-range market, and I'm considering that very soon we will announce more deals", reveals Debains.
Lufthansa in mid- to late-August will make an announcement concerning its plan to reintroduce broadband connectivity on its overseas flights using the Connexion by Boeing (CBB) antennas still installed on those aircraft.
Speaking today at the WAEA single focus workshop in Everett, Lufthansa head of cabin interior and IFE Peter Lewalter confirmed the German operator is in "very, very close negotiations" with one of the Ku-band connectivity providers.
Although Lewalter does not mention Panasonic Avionics as the provider, readers of this blog know Lufthansa has been talking to the IFE giant, after opting out of exclusive talks with a teaming that comprised T-Mobile, ViaSat and others. ViaSat addressed the situation in the following article.
But back to Lewalter, whose speech this morning was killer (in a good way). He reveals Lufthansa plans to test a Ku-band solution on a test aircraft "early next year".
Because Lufthansa will use already-installed antenna on its aircraft, the carrier believes it will get the former CBB aircraft into service "very, very quickly".
"We are discussing a hybrid solution in order to come back pretty soon and it is our intent to have the remaining aircraft then also installed as quick as possible," says Lewalter.
Asked by Runway Girl if Lufthansa hopes to offer the Ku-band solution line-fit on its Airbus A380s, Lewalter said that as soon as negotiations with the service provider are completed, "we will start again our negotiations" with Airbus about that.
He believes Lufthansa's first A380 will not be outfitted with the Ku-band solution from the get-go, but has high hopes "that we can as soon as possible" have installations on ensuing A380s.
Fun key quote:
Due to the fact that Boeing is gone from Connexion by Boeing, "Airbus is a little more willing to do something."
But Lewalter's revelations didn't end there. He says Lufthansa is preparing a request for proposal to equip its narrowbody fleet with connectivity. The carrier is exploring various broadband options (ground based stations and satellite based), but admits that the landscape in Europe is different than in North America - where a dedicated air-to-ground infrastructure is in place (and used by US market leader Aircell).
The carrier is "very confident we have some way to move forward" with a decision on a broadband solution for its continental narrowbodies "sometime early next year".
Oh yes, and by the way, Lewalter thinks Ku-band can now succeed where CBB failed (for reasons we have discussed here - leased transponders, a need for fewer employees, and revenue from GSM connectivity for voice and non-voice data traffic, (to cite a few).
"We need in my opinion broadband in order to fulfil requirements of the future, and I also absolutely believe that this will be profitable," says the Lufthansa executive.
What a nice combination! One gives you a little lift and the other hopes to give you a little lift sooner rather than later (ahem).
I enjoyed Aircell's reception at the WAEA single focus workshop yesterday evening, and true to form, I handed off my camera to an attendee (thank you!) for a pic in front of the Boeing 787 test aircraft at Paine Field (if you squint, you'll see it in the background).
Let freedom and the telephone ring! The Senate HAS NOT included Hang-Up Act legislation in their base/foundation FAA reauthorization bill.
Here's the full bill: Senate Faa Reauth.pdf
And here is a summary:
The bill's sponsors are the chair and ranking of the full commerce, science and transportation committee and the aviation subcommittees.
Nice job Senators!
Now the legislative process goes forward through the committee and on to the full Senate and then finally reconciliation with the House.
Let's hope this process goes smoothly and rapidly and that no House members insist on inclusion of the dubious Hang-Up Act. For first-time readers of this blog, the Hang-Up Act is intended to outlaw the in-flight use of mobile phones for voice communications in the USA for all the wrong reasons.
Standardization. Standardization. Standardization. We've been hearing more and more about standardization in the passenger communications sector. Call it the new mantra (Or semi-new. Okay, maybe it's not new at all, but it might be poised to gain traction).
Airbus told me last week is has been "listening to its customers' long-standing concerns and is proactively supporting industry-wide initiatives to standardize interfaces between systems and aircraft".
The European airframer's comment was made in response to claims that it is shutting out in-flight mobile connectivity provider AeroMobile's solution from a line-fit perspective - and Panasonic's eXPhone by default - while flogging the OnAir solution, of which it owns stake with SITA.
Those reports have generated an interesting response from industry players. A few brave soles have left comments on my blog. Others have contacted me directly. But what appears clear now is that Airbus' so-called Airline Network Architecture or ALMA V2 is at the heart of the dispute.
What is ALNA V2? A rather enlightening Inflight Online article from 10 October 2006 deigns explain the whole business. Read the following, but here is the key par (which also happens to be the lead):
As the airlines scratched their heads over connectivity choices at the WAEA show in Miami Beach last month, Airbus briefed Inflight Online on a strategy designed to produce standard Inmarsat-based passenger communications infrastructures for its whole product range, from the A320 family to the A380, as well as retrofit and line-fit solutions for other aircraft types.
OnAir CEO Benoit Debains was kind enough to give me an interview yesterday morning, just before I got on the road to Seattle for this week's WAEA single focus workshop on connectivity.
Asked how ALNA V2 plays into the current argument, Debains said: "This is one of the issues but this is where I have to stop."
Debains relented a little, however, adding: "What I can say very simply is I found it absolutely normal that the manufacturer wants to be involved in the communications of the aircraft, and the way the communications to the aircraft is done, because the communications [is for] cockpit and cabin, and of course the critical one is always the cockpit.
"The cabin is nice but it is not as critical. So the big debate and the issue, I think, what Airbus said is it wants to remain in control of the basic communications architecture of the aircraft. What Airbus has said is they are designing a core design - ALNA V2... It doesn't mean they want to run it - that's up to the customer to decide (using Arinc etc)....but they want to be involved in the design of the solution."
Others don't see it this way. So, for a bit of balance, one source breaks it down - and hands us a big smattering of unsubstantiated information (so file this under RUMOUR). Thanks.
RUMOUR: Airbus has been through several iterations of ALNA and other cabin network architectures which have had little success with customer airlines.
The latest version (V2) comes in at around $900K to $1M per shipset and adds little more than Thales can do with their connectivity server or Panasonic will be doing with their Aircraft Interface and Broadband controller. This obviously means that Airbus need to leverage the sale somehow, they are clearly doing this by making it the architecture du jour for linefit connectivity solutions.
You can imagine how little success Airbus will have trying to push a retrofit ALNA solution to any airline, although they are very keen to do so even on Boeing airframes through their partner OnAir!!
So what do you think? There is a lovely little comment section to this blog. Feel free to post a comment - even anonymously.
Oh yes, and just a little reminder, I'm probably slightly more liberal than others - and generally need slapped in the face with an insult - but I will erase anything that steps over the line in terms of taste. You hounds know who you are.
For more information, check out my article now running on the new IFE&C channel
Southwest Airlines today told a packed room of IFE&C executives and airlines that, unlike most of its colleagues, it hasn't "chosen Aircell at this point".
Speaking at the WAEA single focus workshop in Mukilteo, Southwest senior manager, flight operations technologies Doug Murri said: "We have not committed to full fleet rollout. We are watching the market and letting things shake out a little bit."
Adding further intrigue, Murri says: "We expect in the next few weeks, a month or so, an announcement to share with all of you."
Southwest has been trailing Row 44's Ku-band satellite-based solution on four Boeing 737s. Alaska Airlines has been trialing the same solution on a single 737.
Row 44 has faced opposition to its application for permanent authority with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Until this crucial hurdle is overcome, Row 44 cannot install its system across Southwest or Alaska's fleets.
"We have been very pleased with the Row 44 system. We have had no technical issues with the throughput, bandwidth and speed of that system," says Murri. He admits, however, that Southwest has "also spoken a lot with Aircell".
I'm happily ensconced in my hotel room in Mukilteo, breathlessly awaiting tomorrow's WAEA single focus workshop on connectivity (and anxiously awaiting some fish and chips from next door).
Okay, "breathlessly" might be pushing things a tad, but I must admit I am excited about tomorrow's event. There is so much going on in the world of IFE&C. And without a doubt, connectivity is hot, hot, hot!!!
But the question remains - who is going to pay? I've asked industry consultant and former WAEA executive director Richard Owen to give us his two cents as everyone gets ready to kick off the conference. Here is Richard in his own words.
Connectivity makes IFE a high stakes game
My good friend and industry expert Rich Salter was quoted by Flight Global last week as saying that 'pay-per-view models in IFE & connectivity had come of age'. I think Rich was right, that the industry has been experimenting with connectivity pricing models since the Connexion by Boeing days and are starting to gather some valid customer data about the 'sweet' points of pricing. But it's too early to declare one model the winner.
That's what makes this week's connectivity workshop in Seattle so timely. Overshadowing all of the technical and marketing presentations by industry players will be the question of how much will customers actually pay -sustainably -for in-flight connectivity.
Some of the companies at the forefront of the race, such as Aircell, have been commercially offering connectivity long enough to start generating uptake data. Combine that with the customer data brought to the table by the traditional PPV IFE offering of Live TV, Panasonic, Thales and the many airline customers they serve and you get fodder for a great debate in Seattle.
No one argues that connectivity represents a huge growth market for the IFE niche of aviation. Several industry sources say that connectivity alone could represent half of the value of the IFE segment in the next few years. That's transformational.
Whether that growth turns out to be twenty-five, fifty or one hundred percent, it's enticing new entrants into the marketplace. But make no mistake that this is not all new money being spent by the airlines. IMDC noted last month that IFEC hardware expenditures (yes, including connectivity) will be down 20% in 2009 and take several years to return to 2008 levels.
If you like to think strategically and enjoy matching up current and new industry partners, this is a fun time to be at the table. It's a high stakes game in which a few will win big financially and a few others will lose their shirt. Many more will pick up incremental pieces of business, while others will exit the market.
I would argue that for the rest of us, there will be some great marketplace lessons regarding how customers respond to connectivity pricing. Lessons that can be applied to PPV movies, meals and duty free shopping. I just wish I could remember where I put that darn crystal ball.
Dublin's 98 radio station had some grand fun with Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary's recent revelation that the carrier is looking into standing-only configurations, the likes of which we discussed here.
Were O'Leary's comments a mere publicity stunt for the carrier? Does anyone care? Call me when O'Leary starts charging for air.
Regardless, after a week of heavy, heavy in IFE&C, it's time for some light parody on a possible interior of the future (God help us all).
Panasonic and AeroMobile's revelation this week that they face difficulty in securing offerability status from Airbus for the Arinc/Telenor joint venture's in-flight mobile connectivity service (branded by Panasonic as eXPhone) - and allegations by several sources that the European airframer is outright shutting OnAir's competitors out of contention - has prompted a response from Airbus.
Here is Airbus' position in its entirety.
1. Airbus has been listening to its customers' long-standing concerns and is proactively supporting industry-wide initiatives to standardize interfaces between systems and aircraft;
2. Airbus is not opposed to accommodating additional connectivity service providers. In fact we are fully open to receiving requests from other service providers to be present on the hardware platform developed by Airbus, and which would use the standard interfaces and systems that are integrated into the actual aircraft design;
3. Moreover, Airbus does not accept that the aircraft platform architecture should become vendor dependent to exclude other providers -- as that would then create a vendor-monopolistic situation;
4. It is Airbus policy not to comment publicly on the offerability of a specific product or supplier without prior discussion with that supplier or formal notification of a decision.
Tim Farrar of TMF Associates took a gander at my recent blog about Connexion by Boeing's numbers - and how one industry insider believes "voice can close the gap" - and the analyst figured he might as well chime in with a few thoughts of his own.
Farrar takes a rather more pessimistic view of the whole situation than our two previous players. (Isn't it interesting that so many IFE&C folks have such vastly different ideas about whether money can or cannot be made in this business? This is a risky business, but the gamble might just be part of the fun of it all.)
In any case, here is the third installation of Connexion - doing the math. Do you agree with Farrar's assessment?
Those numbers ($150K per plane per year for Wi-Fi) look reasonable for a heavily promoted service on an airline with power at every seat and lots of cross country flights (Virgin America). Not necessarily applicable to other fleet-wide installations of course.
Voice revenues might be roughly the same again, if you allow people to use cell phones (i.e. not in the US), but you'll have to give a big slug of revenue to the cell phone operator, negotiate roaming agreements, etc. Far from clear that this closes the gap to make it profitable for all concerned.
My estimate for Internet access in 2006 was about $120K average across all planes. Connexion was just over $100K per plane per year at the end.
Remember that OnAir's published proposition two years ago (presumably what was used to convince Ryanair) suggested EUR550,000 per plane per year in gross revenues from voice and SMS in Europe - laughably overestimated.
So surely we need to reject the idea that there's money to be made for both the airline and the service provider from any Ku-band installation. The same is very likely true for Inmarsat-based solutions (no usable flat-rate Wi-Fi after all) and possibly even the case for Aircell (if there's no voice and assuming they want to make a return on their capital investment in network rollout, although its really a sunk cost by now).
What's going on with the nefarious Hang-Up Act, which is intended to outlaw the in-flight use of mobile phones for voice communications in the USA, and which has been unceremoniously tucked into FAA reauthorization legislation?
Inmarsat's David Coiley is going to break it all down for attendees at the upcoming WAEA single focus connectivity workshop in Everett, Washington and I'll be sure to report back (which reminds me...I still need to book my hotel room!!!).
But in advance of what will no doubt be a highly-informative speech from Coiley, here is what I can tell you thus far.
All rumours indicate that the Senate will introduce its version of FAA reauthorization legislation soon - possibly this week or next.
Since funding for the FAA has been extended eight times - eight times, me lad!!! - in absence of an approved FAA reauthorization bill, the Senate has plenty of reason to urgently move its version of the bill through the commerce, science and transportation committee for mark-up, and consider it in its entirety in the near-term.
The House has already passed its version of FAA reauthorization legislation, which includes the Hang-Up Act word-age, verbiage and scourge-age. So swift action by the Senate is to be expected as it would avoid another FAA funding extension. Can you say pressure?
The In-flight Passenger Communications Coalition (IPCC), which comprises industry stakeholders AeroMobile, OnAir, Panasonic Avionics and others - an interesting group, but let's leave the irony of the last two days out of this for now - has been working diligently on Capitol Hill to stop the Hang-Up Act from being included in the Senate's version of FAA reauthorization.
IPCC executive director Carl Biersack is encouraged by what he and the group have heard on the Hill. "We often got longer meetings then anticipated to talk though all aspects of the policy and operational performance internationally. I have been personally pleased with the interest and penetrating questions from the staffers. They are doing their due-diligence," says Biersack.
What else is IPCC finding out on the Hill?
• We found only three Congressional offices that said 'we are for the ban' despite our presentation of the system-management-crew multilayered controls and the limits and inhibitors (i.e., number of lines for simultaneous use and cost per minute).
• We found that the vast majority of offices want to support the natural evolution of technology and passenger expectations of having the same connectivity they enjoy on the ground (especially when they discover interference matters are resolved).
• We found offices that were pleased to learn of the controls and disciplines (self and systemic) that can effectively address the social issues.
• We found that the committee has some very big aviation policy issues to address; where solutions are not simple and our matter is not in that mix.
• We found a great concern for the fiscal health of the industry and how it intersects the economic events both here and globally and they were pleased to hear that our issue is about a positive revenue stream.
I know I've made this argument before, but it bears repeating. In-flight mobile connectivity is happening right now all over the world. To be precise, it is now on three continents, 16 carriers, 52 nations, 240 city destinations, and 7.000 flights per month.
Some 1,000,000 passengers per month ride on a flight where in-flight voice communications are offered. ONE MILLION!!!
If everyone else can act responsibility when it comes to this technology, why can't we, America? But of course we can!!!
"Part of the strength of our story in Washington is the actual operational performance around the globe. It should trump anecdotal hypothetical 'illustrations' every time," says Biersack.
"Another part of the Washington story is the media coverage we have received and support from affiliated stakeholders from the aviation - communication marketplace/community. Our story is being heard."
Not long after I wrote today's blog about AeroMobile being as yet unable to receive line-fit offerable status on Airbus aircraft (while the airframer allegedly is flogging only OnAir), I spoke with Panasonic Avionics vice-president, global communications services David Bruner, who revealed the following (which I've pulled into an article for the new Flight Global IFE&C channel):
"Yes Mary, we are having difficulty receiving offerability for both eXPhone and eXConnect despite several customer requests. Panasonic is working hard with Airbus to try to work through these issues for the sake of the customers."
Panasonic Avionics is a primary distributor of AeroMobile hardware, and offers it to airlines under the brand eXPhone as part of its suite of connectivity solutions, which also includes the Ku-band-based eXConnect high-speed connectivity system.
The other day, in-flight mobile communications provider AeroMobile announced it has completed certification of its system on the Boeing 777-300ER, bringing to six the number of aircraft types now certified. The others are the Airbus A330, A340-300 and A340-500 plus the Boeing 777-200 and 777-300 variant aircraft.
What AeroMobile's statement didn't mention, however, is that while AeroMobile enjoys a line-fit offerable position with Boeing (V Australia is, for example, currently taking new 777s with AeroMobile installed and ready for activation later this year), the Arinc/Telenor joint venture does not enjoy the same line-fit offerable position with Airbus.
Any Airbus aircraft currently equipped with AeroMobile's service have been equipped through retrofit.
Now people in the IFE&C industry are starting to wonder why Airbus has not made AeroMobile's in-flight mobile connectivity solution line-fit offerable on any of its aircraft - that includes the A320, A330, A380 - yes the A380! - and the upcoming A350.
Several sources with knowledge of the situation tell Runway Girl that AeroMobile together with Panasonic Avionics has a long-standing request for offerability at Airbus (remember that AeroMobile is a partner in Panasonic's eXPhone solution).
To date, however, the European airframer has allegedly given no indication that it will make the service offerable.
Indeed, Airbus is allegedly proposing a single option to airlines that want Inmarsat-supported mobile connectivity on their fresh-off-the-line birds and that is OnAir, of which Airbus happens to own a stake (SITA owns the majority).
Airbus is also allegedly telling airlines that the A380 is being tuned totally for OnAir for the cabin and SITA for the cockpit.
Sources say there is a battle raging right now concerning an A380 operator that wants Panasonic's suite of connectivity solutions, including eXPhone, but is being met with difficulty.
Airbus could not be immediately reached for comment.
If Airbus is not giving airlines a choice of mobile connectivity service providers, as is alleged, then the implications are rather enormous, don't you think?
There are lots of obvious competitive concerns (competition does, after all, ensure better, cheaper products). But it goes deeper than that. Such activity would go against the EC's 2005 approval of the Airbus/SITA joint venture, which stipulates that "post merger Airbus will remain free to install competing products if so requested by customers".
See paragraph 29 of the following document.EC ruling.pdf
And what if Airbus were to acquire a full-fledged majority stake of OnAir? Airbus would certainly not be the first airframer to offer a connectivity solution in-house (who can forget Connexion by Boeing?) But is it locking out competitors?
If Airbus locks out competitors, this would have an impact on the data applications as well. In other words, not only would OnAir be the only GSM operator you could install with Airbus on brand new aircraft, it would be the only satellite service provider you could pick too. You couldn't pick Arinc, for example.
So the question is - why has Airbus not made AeroMobile line-fit offerable on its aircraft yet?
I look forward to the airframer's response.
JetBlue Airways subsidiary LiveTV knows it is "the voice in the wilderness" on passenger-pay models for in-flight broadband right now. While the company is well aware there is "a lot of interest" in in-flight connectivity, it believes not many people are really digging around to find out what is really happening and why. Digging around for what, I ask?
How about hard and fast user stats, for example.
I can tell you that those stats are not the easiest thing to come by, although Virgin America was pretty candid about its user rates in a recent article that ran on Flight Global's new dedicated IFE&C channel.
I'm trying to get a better sense of the facts myself by running an IAG survey about in-flight Wi-Fi interest, which asks - what pricing option best suits your needs? I intend to write about the results so PLEASE take one minute to fill this baby out. http://survey.iag-inc.com/interview.cfm?id=126
But back to LiveTV. Company CEO Nate Quigley yesterday responded to my blog about MIT Professor Hansman's comment that smartphones are changing the passenger experience.
Quigley left a lengthy comment on the blog (reprinted below in its entirety), after stepping off a Gogo-equipped Delta 757. His is just one assessment but it does provide some good food for thought.
As you know, we at LiveTV don't necessarily disagree with the good Professor Hansman - at least not on all of his points. "At Home in the Air" will definitely involve wi-fi broadband and personal electronic devices. Of course we also believe that "At Home" will certainly include a screen in every seatback.
I wish Victoria would have asked Professor H what his living room looks like. I bet he's got wi-fi....AND, I bet he's got a screen positioned at a comfortable angle directly across the room from his sofa. In fact, I bet he watched the Wimbledon finals on that very screen yesterday while sitting comfortably on that sofa!
As it happens, I just stepped off a GoGo-equipped Delta 757-200 on a flight from JFK to SLC. The aircraft was also equipped with Panasonic's excellent AVOD system that many readers of this blog have experienced. It's a great system and it performed well. We departed at 9:30AM and flew about 5 hours. Being the inquisitive guy that I am, I walked around and took notes on what people were doing on the plane. Here's what I saw (can you see where this is going?):
In Business class:
- all 26 seats full
- all 26 screens were tuned to something
- 1 laptop came out midflight, woman working but not on wifi
- couple snoozers
In Economy class where I was sitting:
- nearly full flight of 158 economy pax. Maybe 4-5 empty seats.
- Using IFE - 72
- Reading book, magazine, or newspaper - 34
- Sleeping - 31
- Personal Electronic Device for fun (game or movie) - 14
- Working, reviewing or writing on paper - 6
- Working on laptop - 5
- Using Gogo wi-fi - 1 (Me)
I'm not making it up. Maybe it was just an anomaly, but on this flight at least the score was "IFE 100, Broadband 1."
This comment is turning into more of a blog post, so I'll wrap it up by reaffirming that at LiveTV we believe in broadband because we believe in "At Home in the Air". But we continue to ask ourselves three questions based on what we're seeing out there: when, how, and who pays?
Thanks Nate! Very much appreciate your contribution!
Forget about the chronic delays of the Boeing 787 for a moment and head on over to the Simpliflying web site for an exclusive tour of the cabin mock-up by Boeing exec Colleen Rainbolt as well as Simpliflying's assessment of the tour. Rainbolt expertly explains why the aircraft will be a brand differentiator.
Thales has become more vocal about its TopConnect suite of connectivity solutions of late. The company gave a solid break-down of TopConnect in Paris and then went on video with moi to explain things further.
But before Paris, Thales was in Vancouver for Inmarsat's aeronautical conference. There Thales head of AVS civil business Andrew Musgrave showed a brilliant video of Thales engineers putting TopConnect through its paces during in-flight testing on a McDonnell Douglas DC-9.
Using Inmarsat's higher-bandwidth aeronautical service SwiftBroadband, TopConnect is able to support Internet browsing, Wi-Fi connectivity, GSM and corded or cordless voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) telephones. Thales is also working on an integrated in-flight entertainment (IFE) system.
Airbus/SITA joint venture OnAir acts as Thales' service provider for TopConnect's GSM and GPRS solutions. You can see where some of those deals stand (in the graph to the right...click on the image to make it bigger).
Here are some useful slides (in keeping with our desire for visuals).
The first shows the TopConnect architecture (wouldn't "Leaky Line" make a great band name?) Ahem. That's not to discount its importance, of course.
The next slide shows how the whole kitten caboodle comes together for a complete offering in the cockpit and the cabin.
Oh go on then and read the whole thing. You'll find it at the following link.
Okey dokey smokey. I just booked my flight to Seattle to attend the WAEA single focus workshop on connectivity this month. This should be REALLY interesting as it comes at a time when airline and passenger interest in airborne communications is soaring.
Check out the whole agenda here. You'll see that it boasts an incredible line-up of speakers, including IFE&C specialists, airlines and talking heads.
"On the speaker side, I've been organizing technology committees with WAEA for a number of years. I can't ever remember an event that had so many speakers trying to volunteer and speak," Lumexis chief technical officer Rich Salter, who co-chairs the WAEA's technology committee, told me last week.
"I know we're going to be bulging at the seams keeping people on schedule and contained. The interest is just phenomenal," he added.
Personally, I'm particularly excited about Wednesday's session on "regulatory and industry activities". The session will address the woeful Hang-Up Act, which seeks to formally ban the in-flight use of wireless devices for voice communications in the USA (and which has been wiggling its way through Congress at a rapid rate).
I'm also keen to find out what people think about Professor John Hansman's suggestion that airlines should scrap obsolete in-flight entertainment.
Hansman, who is director of the International Technology Center for Air Transport at MIT, said last week at the SITA IT conference that airlines should instead focus on providing the elements necessary to allow users to access media stored on onboard storage or the Internet through their own devices.
My colleague and friend Airline Business features editor Victoria Moores had a chance to chat with Hansman last week. Check out her video interview here.
It's true that connectivity is making everyone think differently about IFE of late. Indeed, the "C" in IFE&C (or IFEC if you prefer) was only tagged onto "IFE" in recent years, but its new spot alongside the venerable IFE acronym is "an example of how important and prominent the communications part has become", says Salter.
Another co-chair of the WAEA technology committee, Inmarsat aeronautical business director David Coiley notes: "We have major players Thales and Panasonic very much embracing connectivity in different ways, and looking to supplement and enhance their entertainment and infotainment."
Like I said, this workshop should be VERY interesting. Plus, I can't wait to catch up with my friends in the IFE&C world.
I've been meaning to get this video blog out for weeks. It covers my trip to Vancouver for the Inmarsat aeronautical conference, which was highly informative and, well, loads of fun. But some very unfortunate events occurred to prevent the video from making a timely entrance, including but not limited to - a complete crash of a hard drive, the temporary loss of my camera and a little thing called the Paris Air Show. But enough excuses. Here is the vlog for your edification (okay, okay, it might not improve you spiritually or morally, in fact I know it won't, but I like that word).
What happened to Air France flight AF447? The answers aren't coming easily or quickly, with the latest reports saying the Airbus A330 did not break up in mid-air. But one firm, aviation consultancy Innovation Analysis Group (IAG), has been talking with experts about the tragedy since 5 June.
In less than a month IAG has compiled what must be one of the most comprehensive series of recorded interviews concerning the tragic event - and what could have been done differently - than any other organization.
IAG's Addision Schonland has talked to everyone from former NTSB VP Robert Francis to AeroMechanical Services president Richard Hayden, who explains the possibility of moving up to 88 data points off an aircraft and where the data could be sent - even to a CEO's cell phone!
Hayden believes, and I'm sure many will agree, that the world would benefit from greater data flows off aircraft, especially in a crisis.
I know this is a delicate subject but don't you think it might be time to start talking seriously about the role connectivity can play? Airbus is already thinking outside the box.
Schonland tells me that, after some internal debate, the decision was taken to make the AF447 information free as a public service, which is why I'm urging you to check out this site.
"The idea of creating the AF447 content was driven by the highly unusual circumstances - a relatively new plane, with a great safety record, from a tier one airline and what appears to be an experienced crew and in odd circumstances," says Addison.
"For instance, AF459 out of Rio came 20 minutes after AF447 and diverted 70NM around the same storm - why? There has been scant news about this. There is little we know about the crash - there appears to be clogged pitots. The pitot problem on the A330/340 is old news, but can we fault AF? There are a host of questions and we have tried to avoid speculation. "
But what has been the most interesting item discovered so far?
"The most interesting item we discovered so far is that the missing CVR and FDR problems might have been made less of a problem had the plane been equipped with an ability to send out masses of data via satellite. Apparently such an ability would add significantly to the missing information. Not the least of which is the last location of the plane.
"An FDR stores up to 88 data points - with high bandwidth capacity all these and more could have been "squirted" off the flight not only in an emergency but even on a regular basis, like every 5 minutes. Imagine how much more the investigation team would have to work with? Could this event be a good time for IATA to take the lead in coming up with a solution for the industry on the basis of safety? There are so many redundant system in planes for safety - as we move to ever more sophisticated equipment, perhaps such a data service would be appropriate. Unfortunately we learn from crashes to avoid them in future. A dearth of data is not appropriate in the 21st Century."
Good God almighty, it seems I mixed up my FCC filings the other day (I can't imagine how that happened. That site is a walk in the park). But I digress. Here is the appropriate filing - you'll see it has a rather similar thrust to the 2008 document.
But much more importantly, here is the link to Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines' 1 July 2009 - yes, 2009 - request to the FCC to approve Row 44's application.
Three key quotes:
"...competing airlines are moving forward with their own in-flight broadband services, and Southwest and Alaska Airlines need to move forward promptly with their own in-flight broadband offerings."
"ViaSat, a competing satellite provider that has been unable to gain a contract with any of the major airlines, has been doing everything it can to slow down or stop approval of Row 44's system, but the commission should not reward these anti-competitive efforts by further delaying a grant of Row 44's application."
"...Southwest and Alaska Airlines urge that the commission should move expeditiously to a grant of this application."
Though they don't come right out and say it, Alaska and Southwest clearly see that they will be at a competitive disadvantage if they can't go fleet-wide with Row 44 in the near-term. Here's hoping this whole mess is resolved soon.
Gulf Air today announced that CEO Bjorn Naf is to step down and be replaced by current Royal Jordanian Airlines chief Samer Majali.
In what could be the Swiss exec's last public appearance as Gulf's CEO, Naf spoke lovingly about the iPhone.
More to the point, he said he wants to use it for every aspect of his travelling experience - EVERY aspect, including his own health monitoring (but of course, connectivity could be used to help monitor aircraft health as well).
Welcome to the new world, folks. It's just around the corner.
Here is the key quote from Naf's speech:
"I want to use an iPhone for every aspect of my travelling experience:- to book my flight, check-in, pass through security, buy my Duty Free, board the aircraft, let my taxi know whilst in-flight that I am delayed or - you never know - arriving early. I even want a device on my phone that checks my temperature to indicate that I am fit and healthy to travel across borders!!
"And this technology should and must transcend borders! Governments, airport operators, airlines and service providers need to collaborate and support each other in bringing new, innovative and creative initiatives to the fore."
If you haven't done so already, head on over to SITA's web site and check out CEO Francesco Violante's speech today at the Air Transport IT summit.
He has loads of interesting things to say, but for the IFE&C crowd, here is the big news: Some 68% of airlines plan to invest in IP broadband connectivity both to and from aircraft over the next three years, according to a joint survey conducted by Airline Business and SITA.
The mobile passenger is connected onboard via the technology already available - for example, by OnAir - as we will hear later today.
The aircraft will become another 'NODE ON THE NETWORK'. A FLYING DATA CENTRE linked through wireless broadband to an airline's ground-based network.
High-speed upload capabilities will produce time-savings and operational efficiencies in areas such as software loading and in-flight entertainment loading.
The huge volumes of data generated by e-enabled aircraft will be used to improve aircraft turnaround - and give us the CO2 data necessary to measure our environmental performance.
These are not distant scenarios!
So, if you are an airline and you haven't thought about your connectivity strategy yet, don't you think it's time?
UAE's national airline Etihad Airways has launched an advanced new online 'micro-site' to showcase its in-flight and ground experience. The carrier previously showed us pics of its new Airbus A340-600 first-class suites (which are sweet). Now it doing one better and offering "Experience Etihad", a fully interactive 3D tour available at etihadairways.com.
But here are key pars from Etihad's latest PR:
Among the highlights is a detailed demonstration of Etihad's recently launched first-class suite which will include facilities such as a 23-inch television screen; personal wardrobe; an extra-large seat that extends to a fully-flat, 80.5 inch, bed; and screen doors which slide shut for total privacy.
The micro-site also features video interviews with Etihad Airways' onboard food and beverage managers, an award-winning service that delivers a five star hospitality experience.
A new digEplayer - dubbed the digEplayer XLP for "extra long play" - has hit the market.
This compares to the 10-hour battery life of the digEplayer XT (although digEcor has a version of the XT with an LED backlit screen that offers 12 hours).
I've posted an article here. No public word yet on the launch customer.
But check out my follow-up Q&A with digEcor. Can you dig it?
1) How many years did it take to develop the XLP?
This is a tricky question to answer. Since much of the architecture is based on the digEplayer XT, one could say it has taken years. Though, the actual time devoted to turning the XT into the XLP is probably much shorter.
2) Had you wanted to bring this to market sooner?
Who wouldn't say yes to this question? We devote a lot of time, money, and resources to asking the industry (which includes passengers) what they want and what they need. Instead of trying to compete today, our focus is to provide what you need tomorrow and beyond. The advantage is that we are able to create high value products and services that the market can use for a long time. The downside is that it prolongs the decision and implementation process. Personally, I believe that we and more importantly, the industry are better for it though.
3) Have you shown the prototype of this model before (was this the prototype model at WAEA last year)?
This was not the player that we prototyped last Fall. Though that prototype was important in that it helped us better understand the market's requirements. The digEplayer XLP was shown to a number of individuals at the Aircraft Interiors Expo as well as a number of airlines to gather feedback and arrive at the final production model which is now available to airlines worldwide.