Will airlines sue Airbus over connectivity strategy?


Airbus continues to draw fire for its decision not to make any alternative in-flight mobile connectivity service provider’s solutions line-fit offerable on its portfolio of aircraft. And some parties are reportedly considering legal action.

If you’re coming to this discussion late, here is a quick refresher to catch you up to speed before reading on.

Airbus and SITA are joint venture partners in OnAir, an in-flight mobile connectivity provider. To date, Airbus has not given the green light for line-fit offerability to any mobile connectivity provider other than OnAir. This decision has impacted Panasonic, a primary distributor of OnAir rival AeroMobile’s hardware, which is offered to airlines under the brand eXPhone. Lufthansa is among several customers intending to offer eXPhone on long-haul flights.

Some stakeholders have questioned whether Airbus is playing fair in the highly competitive in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) sector.

But while there has been much rumor and speculation about the possibility of a lawsuit for months, AeroMobile chief commercial officer Peter Tuggey is quoted in the 4 January 2010 edition of the World Airline Entertainment Association’s WIN newsletter as saying:

“A number of airlines are considering action in the light of what looks like protectionism, and we’re aware of others also exploring legal action. However, we remain positive that Airbus will offer freedom of choice to its customers.”

In the same article, OnAir chief Benoit Debains says:

“We are fully open to requests from other service providers to be present on the hardware platform we have developed, using the standard interfaces and systems integrated into the actual aircraft design.”

Some industry players believe it would be foolhardy of airlines to sue Airbus.

“Why would an airline try to sue Airbus over connectivity? It can only damage their position in future dealings with them. If they really were that keen to get the solution on the aircraft why don’t they put their hand in the pocket and pay for an STC?” an industry source tells RWG.

I haven’t had a chance to speak with Airbus about Tuggey’s claim, but I can tell you the airframer has made NO APOLOGIES for its in-flight connectivity stance.

In an interview last year Airbus rejected claims of anti-competitive behaviour. Instead the airframer pointed to a changing environment that requires it to assume more control of the basic communications architecture of the aircraft as the need grows for robust connectivity to support cockpit and flight-critical communications.

“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,”  Airbus VP, cabin design office Jonathan Norris said at the time.

Norris said Airbus is “more than happy to support different service providers” but that they need to meet the architectural requirements of the aircraft.

The architecture referenced by Norris is known as Airbus’ Airline Network Architecture or ALNA, which provides the platform for airborne mobile telephony and Internet services, and enables satcom communication capabilities for third party applications such as electronic flight bag (EFB), IFE and telemedicine.

Learn more about ALNA here.

Threats of legal action – what a way to start the New Year, eh?

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One Response to Will airlines sue Airbus over connectivity strategy?

  1. David Parker Brown January 5, 2010 at 8:09 pm #

    Hmm. This is interesting. The firs thing I thought about was iPhone/ATT. If you want an iPhone you have to go through ATT. I doubt a customer would not pick an A380 b/c of their connectivity partner so you (as an airline) are trapped, much like a customer that wants an iPhone.

    Is this worth suing over? Probably not. It will most likely be short lived and I thought think enough A380′s will be produced to matter.


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