Lufthansa is poised to set some serious standards in the world of in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC). The carrier, which is now taking a serious look at bringing in-flight Internet to its short-haul aircraft (even 30min flights), has also revealed it is eyeing live television (over IP) and offering high definition video.
"Connectivity enables programme enrichment, possibly with live television for big sporting events and the like. That is a possibility we're closely looking at," says Lufthansa vice-president product management and innovation Christian Körfgen.
"As you know, the Germans are soccer fans. [Showing] the German national soccer team, via live distribution, is something we're looking at."
With regard to HD video, Körfgen says Lufthansa will offer it "just as soon as the technology is available at a reasonable price".
The Lufthansa executive is less enthused about the possibility of being able to show 3D movies in-flight, particularly if it involves passengers wearing special glasses.
"They [vendors] are just working on the normal [3D] monitors that you can look at without using any special glasses. I think it would be crazy if you were to see guys in the cabin with glasses looking at the monitors in front of their seats. Perhaps in five to seven years or so, but it's not our focus right now," he says.
But back to Lufthansa's in-flight connectivity strategy. We know that Lufthansa is readying to re-launch its FlyNet-branded in-flight high-speed Internet solution on overseas flights under a partnership with Panasonic Avionics (okay, things have taken longer than expected, but the carrier is currently testing the solution on four Airbus widebodies).
Here's what you might not know, however. Lufthansa does not believe OR expect FlyNet to generate profits. "It's a service that is important for our customers. [As an airline] you can invest money in drink and food and in-flight entertainment or additional legroom. You have to make a choice about what is important for your customer, what is important for your brand, and we believe [in-flight connectivity] is one of the most important business items for business travellers, our most important travellers, but [we don't see it] as an additional revenue stream," says Körfgen.
Lufthansa will charge for the service, but "it's not only us setting the price points", he says, noting that "there is a whole consortium working on that right now", including Panasonic, mobile connectivity provider AeroMobile and T-Mobile.
While an exact price has not been confirmed or announced, the consortium is looking in the "ballpark" of a $24-$29 range for unfettered Internet access on long-haul flights (i.e. prices similar to the Connexion by Boeing service offered before the Boeing unit shuttered operations at the end of 2006).
"There will be different price points for one hour, for the whole flight, etc. There are going to be a lot of different choices for our frequent travellers. They may have the chance to buy packages and try to connect it with other services such as with our lounge programme. Most probably they can pay even with mileage so we'll offer different pricing opportunities," says Körfgen.
But as Lufthansa prepares to offer in-flight connectivity for short-haul and long-haul flights - across its entire fleet! - does it fear that connectivity will replace the need for embedded IFE?
"Not right now," says Körfgen, because Lufthansa is a firm believer in providing early bird movie content to passengers.
Equally, while there are logical 'connected' applications for IFE, such as news headlines or featuring the airline's portal, a completely connected IFE system is not in the cards for Lufthansa. "To connect both systems [IFE and connectivity] with each other and to marry them completely would be difficult and dangerous thing to do because early bird content is encrypted and everything is secured."
At present, Lufthansa only offers embedded IFE on its long-haul aircraft. However, in addition to eyeing in-flight connectivity for its short-haul fleet, the carrier is studying "different technical" options for entertainment that would not require the carrier to install seat-back screens.
Oh, now that's interesting! Any guesses as to what Lufthansa is planning, folks?