Q&A with Airbus on its connectivity strategy

I’ve just posted a rather lengthy piece about the debate over Airbus’ connectivity strategy on Flight Global’s new IFE&C channel, so do check it out if you get the chance.

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.

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2 Responses to Q&A with Airbus on its connectivity strategy

  1. affiliate networking December 22, 2009 at 10:55 pm #

    The theme is interesting, I will take part in discussion. Together we can come to a right answer. I am assured.

  2. mutuelle September 21, 2010 at 6:20 am #

    The debate about airbus connectivity is interesting.i would like to join in and share my opinions and ideas and to gain more info from you all.I would like to know a bit more about the tension between airbus and panasonics avionics of last year!thanks

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