Pissing matches, Skype calls and aircraft anointing

I’ve returned from my holiday to find a mountain of stuff just begging for a blogging outlet. And when that happens, we need a News and Rumour roundup. So let’s get this party started.

Ryanair 4.jpg

For those who have not been clicking onto Flight Global’s new IFE&C channel, let me urge you to start doing so. Last week you would have learned that while Qatar Airways has opted to allow the in-flight use of mobile phones via OnAir it demanded the Airbus/SITA joint venture give it the capability to switch off part or all of the Mobile OnAir system being installed on its aircraft. (I get the sense there is more to this story, however, since OnAir already offers a clear ON/OFF sign on Ryanair aircraft, as seen to the right).

But here is the key quote from the ever-quotable Qatar CEO Akbar Al Baker:

“There was a very big pissing match between us and OnAir because they want to make revenue on all of this. We told them we also want to make revenue. But the comfort of our passengers will take precedence over any revenue we will generate. Losing a passenger is far more revenue than we would make from their cell phone.”

Perhaps more interesting than that, however, is Al Baker’s claim that some of the carrier’s competitors are getting negative feedback from the in-flight usage of cell phones, especially at night, and that, in addition to shutting down the voice portion of the system, flight attendants may also turn off the email and Internet functions if it is irritating passengers “We will not allow people to receive email with a very large sound,” he says.

Email with a very large sound? Egads! Those are some highly-sensitive passengers. Or perhaps I have simply developed a higher threshold for noise irritants (caring for a colicky baby will do that for a gal). I’m guessing my chirpy Tweet Deck won’t pass muster on Qatar.

While in-flight mobile phone usage is banned in the USA (for loads of nonsensical reasons), in-flight Wi-Fi is not. And it seems folks are Skyping away on some aircraft, as seen here.

 

Delta Air Lines, which is equipping its entire mainline domestic fleet with Aircell’s Gogo broadband system, recently responded to my queries about its new strategy to make each aircraft a node on its network as part of a Future Operations Communications Information System (FOCIS).

Delta says it is still early days in the programme and that I should not expect an update in the very near term (So essentially Delta gave you a non-response, RWG? That is correct.) However, the story has helped to spawn a very interesting discussion over at LinkedIn. Key pars from thread starter Aviation Wikinomics principal Michael Denis:

“Aircraft Operators & MRO’s are beginning to invest in technology to drive up productivity, efficiency, customer services effectiveness as well as address long standing regulatory compliance issues.

“Mary Kirby’s exclusive scoop on Delta Air Lines “FOCIS” IT strategy, American’s project Motega, and Continental & United’s recent announcement to co-develop IT capabilities got me thinking – is the eight year recession in IT “capital” spending and the pent up demand of aviation operators & maintainers finally over?”

Tis something to think about for sure. And indeed Bombardier vice-president, commercial aircraft programmes Ben Boehm helps us to conceptualize why robust connectivity makes very good sense from an operational standpoint:

“The airlines are really, especially in this day and age, doing 20 minute turnarounds. Airlines see the value in knowing what that airplane is doing to have the right people, the right tools, and the right parts sitting on the ground waiting for that aircraft when it lands. Previously, to do a brake change on an airplane, you’re talking probably a delay if not a cancelled flight. On the CSeries, which will have electric brakes, the system can tell you how far the brakes are worn… If airlines can get the data off the airplane and get advance warning, this could help the passengers (because the carrier wouldn’t have to delay or cancel the flight) and help the airline in the long-term. The earlier you get the data, the better off you are. That’s without a doubt,” says Boehm.

The Bombardier executive, in detailing the airframer’s plan to make its CSeries compatible with different connectivity solutions, also made an interesting prediction:

“Right now all the customers are watching both ends [L-band and Ku-band] and waiting to see where it goes. Half the world will try the Ku and half the world will try the L-band. One will survive. One will have the better volume. We’re keeping our eyes on both. That’s the privilege we have right now and don’t need to lock into one or the other. I think [airlines] are hoping for a third competitor to come out there,” says Boehm.

One carrier that has not yet detailed its connectivity strategy is Continental Airlines. The carrier, which is equipping its domestic fleet with LiveTV’s 80-channel live television system, originally planned to offer LiveTV’s basic Kiteline service, but in recent months has not re-confirmed that plan.

Enter blogger Wandering Aramean, who appears to have the inside track at Continental. Wandering left the following juicy titbits on my “Does Continental have big cojones blog”. File this under “Rumour” since I haven’t had it confirmed from Continental.

I’ve talked to some of the higher ups at CO about this specific topic several times over the past several months, most recently with soon-to-be CEO Jeff Smisek in June during the party celebrating the 75th Anniversary Livery plane (which is beautiful, BTW).

He repeated their oft-stated line which is that he understands that some people like the concept and the technology, but they are still waiting for someone to show that there are actual profits to be had (or revenue to be lost) on the basis of having IFI available or not.

They are still planning on moving forward with the KiteLine install in Q1 (assuming that LiveTV is actually ready with the service in mid-November – a HUGE assumption to make). They’re going to put it on ~30 planes and fly them around for a month and see how many people use it and how well it is received.

Lots of folks want the internet to be there but most of them still aren’t willing to pay a sufficient price to actually cover the costs of having the service on all the planes. It really becomes a question of whether people want free crap, expensive good stuff or neither; the free/cheap good stuff just doesn’t seem to be there yet, at least not in broad distribution.

Plus, there are a lot more folks willing to pay for the TV than the internet service, despite the fact that those of us talking/blogging about it really would like to think otherwise. ;)

That last statement is rather profound, especially in light of the fact that Southwest Airlines plans to bid on Frontier Airlines, which offers live television to passengers for a fee.

Will LiveTV – a subsidiary of low-cost carrier JetBlue – look to secure a meeting with low-cost giant Southwest to discuss the value of offering such a service to Southwest passengers (if the Frontier deal goes through)? That would make sense. The LiveTV stats from Frontier are pretty impressive, although it is clear that IFE ancillary revenue alone cannot save a carrier from bankruptcy.

Southwest is trialling Row 44′s Ku-band connectivity service right now. That arrangement received a major boost this week with the FCC’s approval of an operating license for Row 44.

Key par from the FCC’s ruling:

1. With this Order, we grant blanket authority to Row 44, Inc. (Row 44) for domestic operation of up to 1,000 technically identical transmit/receive aircraft earth stations in the Aeronautical Mobile Satellite Service (AMSS). The aircraft earth stations will operate in the conventional Ku-band, transmitting in 14.05-14.47 GHz and receiving in 11.7-12.2 GHz. We also grant Row 44 a waiver of the U.S. Table of Frequency Allocations (Table of Allocations) to permit its operations in the 11.7-12.2 GHz band. These earth stations will be used to communicate via leased transponders on three geostationary satellites: Horizon 1 at 127º W.L., operated by Intelsat LLC; and AMC-2 at 101º W.L. and AMC-9 at 83º W.L., operated by SES Americom, Inc. Today’s grant will allow Row 44 to provide two-way, in-flight broadband services to passengers and flight crews aboard commercial airliners and private aircraft. We believe that implementation of Row 44′s AMSS system, pursuant to this authorization, will enhance competition in an important sector of the mobile telecommunications market in the United States.

You can read the entire ruling at the following link –

DA-09-1752A1.pdf

 - but do read the FCC’s responses to all ViaSat’s claims, which were many and varied.

So now the big question is – will Southwest go fleet-wide with Row 44? The carrier has said it will announce its strategy this month. Some interesting comments are being made over at the Airliners.net web site.

Rumour has it that Row 44 is in the market for some capital (who isn’t). But let’s not forget that Row 44′s broadband solution is supported by the global infrastructure of Hughes, which says it has shipped more than 1.9 million broadband satellite terminals to customers in over 100 countries.

Chris Quilty in his latest Raymond James report on Hughes says the following:

Hughes reported excellent 2Q09 financial results that reflected better-than-expected

growth in service revenues, EBITDA, orders, consumer activations, and ARPU. On the

whole, revenues declined 4% to $256 million (in-line with consensus), while adjusted

EBITDA increased 7.6% to $40.4 million, exceeding the consensus estimate by 5%. These results exclude a one-time charge of $45.4 million relating to Sea Launch’s bankruptcy.  

If and when Southwest does decide a course of IFE&C action, perhaps it should do like the lovely folks at Thai Airways and anoint its aircraft. A little divine intervention can’t hurt.

Thai 1.JPG

 

For the record, the IFE on Thai’s new A330s entails the following:

“In-flight entertainment on the Airbus 330-300 aircrafts features personal screen with on-demand system in every seat, with 15-inch screen in Royal Silk Class and 9-inch in Economy Class. The in-flight entertainment system in this aircraft offers 40 entertaining movies, 30 hours of brand documentaries, 600 songs from 80 albums and 30 single and multiplayer games for passengers,” says the airline.

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3 Responses to Pissing matches, Skype calls and aircraft anointing

  1. alloycowboy August 7, 2009 at 7:07 pm #

    Mary, you definetly have an economy of words in your writting style. I found my head hurting after read this post. Kudos on your information density.

  2. Mary Kirby August 7, 2009 at 7:17 pm #

    Thanks! I was feeling a bit of information overload. :)

  3. humanclay57 August 10, 2009 at 6:15 am #

    Mary… I am a fan. Lovely post.

    One thing is confusing me .. What on Earth is “an email with a large sound?! ” I do however acknowledge from experience that it is important to switch the GSM system on/off as well as control it during night flights. A system without those capabilities will be annoying!

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