Boeing under pressure to decide 787 in-flight connectivity

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In-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) stakeholders are eagerly awaiting a decision from Boeing on what connectivity solutions it will make offerable on the delayed 787, and say the manufacturer is under pressure to come up with an answer for its customers.

"There is a lot of things that Boeing is trying to do to deliver it [the 787] on time but the overwhelming and loud feedback from the customer is 'you have to address this issue [in-flight connectivity] and you have to do it very quickly'," reveals David Bruner, vice-president, global communications services for Panasonic, which is supplying in-flight entertainment hardware for 787 customers in addition to Thales.

Boeing famously failed in its own attempt to create a sustainable business model for airborne high-speed Internet in the form of Ku-band satellite-based Connexion by Boeing, which was switched off in the commercial sector at the end of 2006.

With regard to the 787, Boeing confirms that it has not selected its in-flight connectivity solution. "We are in the process of an extensive trade study on this subject at this time," says a Boeing spokeswoman.

The airframer is exploring Ku offerings in addition to solutions that use Inmarsat's SwiftBroadband (SBB) aeronautical service over L-band satellites, according to IFEC industry players.

"I was amazed because I thought they'd say 'it's going to be two or three years and we'll look at it [connectivity] again', but they've rekindled the effort with us and other providers to ask - 'what is the right answer for this aircraft'," says Bruner.

Panasonic was recently selected by Lufthansa to reignite the carrier's Connexion service on its long-haul fleet, and has inked other undisclosed deals for its Ku-band eXConnect system, which forms the basis of a Global Communications Suite (GCS) comprising broadband Internet, worldwide in-flight television distribution, and in-flight mobile phone connectivity provided in partnership with AeroMobile.

"We have a number of GCS customers that will be 787 operators and they are, in many cases, 777 customers now implementing GCS earlier than that so maybe what Boeing is doing is it is getting a little more confident," says Bruner.

Thales' connectivity strategy is centred on Inmarsat's SwiftBroadband aeronautical service. Company vice-president of sales and marketing Jeff Sare told ATI at the recent World Airline Entertainment Association (WAEA) conference and exhibition in Palm Springs, California that there is "a lot of pressure" for Boeing to make sure it has a connectivity answer for its 787 customers.

Lars Ringertz, Inmarsat's head of marketing aeronautical business, says: "Inmarsat obviously hopes that Boeing will select SwiftBroadband based on the fact that it is a service that is globally available and proven today."

Boeing this week reaffirmed that first flight of the 787 remains on track to occur by the end of 2009, with first delivery scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2010.