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.