Will Southwest buy Row 44? (And Norwegian quietly launches!)



Industry executives have speculated for years that Southwest Airlines could buy in-flight Internet provider Row 44, giving the low-cost giant the power to decide who does – and doesn’t – get the system (taking a page out of the JetBlue/LiveTV handbook).

But yesterday’s revelation to RWG that Southwest seniormanager, flight operations technologies Doug Murri has jumped ship to take up a role at Row 44 has set tongues wagging again.

My friend David Parker-Brown over at AirlineReporter was first to publicly draw a correlation between Murri’s appointment and a possible sale, tweeting: “Whoa. u think WN might buy R44?”

Another industry observer observes: “Why would a Southwest President’s award-winning executive leave Southwest to go to Row 44 if he wasn’t laying the groundwork for something bigger?”

Why indeed!

Even more suspect is the generic-sounding title given to Murri – he is now director, airline solutions at Row 44, although this IS NOT mentioned in the press statement issued today – and the fact that Row 44′s statement says nothing about what Murri will do in his new role (indeed, the statement reads like a resume for Murri…a very impressive resume).

Murri helped spearhead integrating Row 44′s in-flightbroadband system into Southwest’s planes so, presumably, he will be tasked with doing the same for other airline contracts.

But imagine you’re Southwest. You want to fit your fleet with in-flight Internet quickly, but your provider is financing the installs. So you buy the provider, sell the Internet service to all and sundry across the pond (and to a couple non-threats on this side of the pond) and use the money to finance the rest of your installs. Because, hell, in-flight connectivity ain’t free these days, ya know?

That’s just one of any number of scenarios that might be playing out. Perhaps Murri simply got so jazzed about Row 44′s in-flight connectivity system that he decided to leave the carrier for a new experience in the wonderful world of IFEC. It could happen, right?

Maybe Murri feels as if Row 44 is really onto something. He need only glance over to Norwegian to see that the European carrier has quietly launched Row 44-supported in-flight Internet (finally, ahem). I first got wind of this little nugget this morning via the following twitpic from @cencio4:

Norwegian WiFi confirmation.JPG

Then I tapped Norwegian for confirmation, and received the following email from the carrier’s communications manager Lasse Sandaker-Nielsen.


Hi!

We went live with our first WiFi-enabled aircraft, LN-DYC, yesterday evening. This aircraft is a test aircraft as we are officially launching the service on February 8 on another aircraft, LN-DYG with SKY Interior. By summer 2011 we will have 11 aircraft with Wifi and by the end of the year we will have 21. By the end of next year, 40 of our Boeing 737-800s will have WiFi.

We are proud to be the first airline to offer this service on European routes and are excited to offer this great service to our existing and new customers.

Best,

Lasse Sandaker-Nielsen

Communications Manager



Congratulations to Norwegian, which has become the second European operator – after Lufthansa – to offer in-flight high-speed Internet to passengers (of late). Also congrats to Row 44 for launching business across the pond! Next up Mango? South African Airlines? And whomever else Murri is pulling in as I write this blog post.



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10 Responses to Will Southwest buy Row 44? (And Norwegian quietly launches!)

  1. alloycowboy February 1, 2011 at 8:44 pm #

    I don’t know Mary, that could be a pretty risky move for Row 44 and Southwest as it could drive the airlines to Panasonic leaving Row 44 to sell its technology at fire sale prices. If I was Southwest I would looking to do it on the QT if at all.

  2. Mary Kirby February 1, 2011 at 9:33 pm #

    Don’t you think there is plenty of business for both, especially with Thales and OnAir touting L-band now and Ka-band later? For carriers that want high-speed now, the option is Panasonic or Row 44. Divvy it up boys!

  3. MoJoh February 2, 2011 at 12:14 am #

    The first Ka customers will be announced by mid year……..albeit for aircraft delivering in a few years time.
    The commitment has already been made

  4. Mary Kirby February 2, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    That is interesting. If Inmarsat’s Ka doesn’t come available until 2014 (and I just saw 2015 reported somewhere), that’s about a four year wait for ultra-high-speed. Is this undisclosed carrier going to graduate from SBB to Ka?

  5. MoJoh February 2, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    I don’t think so, there shouldn’t be any need ;)

  6. korokotikoala February 2, 2011 at 6:51 pm #

    Thanks a million. This is interesting hearing

  7. Tiger February 3, 2011 at 11:31 am #

    RWG on Ka launchin 2015…”and I just saw 2015 reported somewhere”
    Please share! Is the source Viasat or PAC?

  8. Mary Kirby February 3, 2011 at 11:47 am #

    Neither, my friend. It’s the very first line of the very first story in the APEX newsletter – 2014/2015. See:
    http://apex.aero/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=WveolN3pFi8%3d&tabid=37&mid=573
    And Medlock is quoted (10 pars from the bottom) in SpaceNews as saying the service will be operational by 2015. http://www.spacenews.com/satellite_telecom/100806-inmarsat-orders-boeing-satellites.html

  9. alloycowboy February 4, 2011 at 2:45 am #

    Hey Mary,

    My fear as an airline if Southwest bought Row 44 is that you would always play second fiddle to South West when it comes to parts,service, and customer support.

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