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.