Air New Zealand closes in on in-flight connectivity for 777-300ER

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Keen to allow passengers to stay connected to the ground while airborne Air New Zealand assures it is moving closer to offering in-flight connectivity on its new Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, as part of its broader effort to re-define the passenger experience for long-haul flying.

The carrier had hoped to introduce Panasonic Avionics partner AeroMobile's mobile and data capability by the time its first 777-300ER entered service earlier this year.

But that plan was stalled when Boeing put the breaks on line-fitting connectivity to its aircraft as a precautionary measure after blanking of Honeywell Phase 3 Display Units occurred during electro magnetic interference (EPI) testing of Aircell's Gogo in-flight Internet supplemental type certificate on 737NG aircraft in the USA.

AeroMobile recently told ATI and flightglobal that Air New Zealand is among the carriers expected to go live with its connectivity solution in 2011.

In an interview yesterday, Air New Zealand manager of aircraft programmes Kerry Reeves said: "We would love to have connectivity on the aircraft today but the technology for us wasn't quite available for the launch of the new aircraft at the beginning of this year.

"We're working very closely with Panasonic and there is some light at the end of the tunnel here that we think we're getting close to a solution that might be implemented not too far away and it will be cost effective, both economic for us and the customers."

He added that connectivity "certainly is the future, as a lot of people on the ground and in everyday life have an expectation of remaining connected wherever they are".

Air New Zealand offers Panasonic IFE on its 777s. In selecting its IFE vendor, Air New Zealand wanted to be able to allow different passenger personas - running the gamut from fully social passengers to well-travelled frequent flyers to disengaged passengers - to define the experience they want on board.

"An IFE graphical user interface that is simple and easy to find basic movies is all that some people want, but having the technology to support a more geeky interaction was important, and that widespread opportunity exists with the IFE," said Reeves.

The same can be said for Air New Zealand's food and beverage service. While the carrier offers a meal service, it does not force passengers to eat the meal at that time. "We have food and beverage on demand in between meals that can be ordered on the [IFE] screen in the seat. We don't charge for the meals served in between. They are free," noted Reeves.

A "little thing" that goes a long way to improving the passenger experience is the flight planner on the IFE "so if you're on a 14-hour flight, it will show the sections of times when meals are served, lights are turned off for sleeping, and a little airplane that shows you where you are. Just giving people that information takes away anxiety because they know what's happening."