Emirates adding live television to 777 fleet

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Emirates is in the process of outfitting its Boeing 777 fleet with Panasonic Avionics' global communications suite, which includes Ku-band connectivity, mobile phone service and live television, says Patrick Brannelly, Emirates' vice-president product.

The Dubai-based carrier outfitted the first Boeing 777 with the system just before the new year, says Brannelly. Emirates is monitoring the system on the first aircraft and has one more aircraft undergoing installation by the carrier's engineering arm. The first aircraft with the system is flying several different routes from Emirates' hub in Dubai to South America, North America, New Zealand and North Africa, as well as some regional fights.

Emirates is offering four channels of live television during flights, branded as "Ice TV Live." Brannelly says the carrier is looking to increase that content as the product is rolled out.

Emirates is in the process of gathering data from the first aircraft and expects to see similar internet usage rates as it does on its Airbus A380 fleet, which is outfitted with OnAir's wi-fi system, powered by Inmarsat's SwiftBroadband.

Brannely says Emirates has seen internet usage on flights between Dubai-New York stay above 8% since October 2012. That route is one of its strongest for wi-fi usage, but shorter flights may see significantly lower usage rates.

OnAir has been offering wi-fi on Emirates' A380 fleet since the carrier launched the service on 11 A380s in December 2011. On the 777s, Panasonic will be offering the connectivity through the global communications suite, but OnAir is working with Panasonic to provide ISP services for the aircraft so that Emirates can perform customer billing and payment collection in a consistent manner across its Boeing 777 and A380 fleets.

Emirates says it is looking into offering the live television on its Airbus A380 fleet at some point in the future also, however Brannelly says there is "nothing firm" yet on that plan.

Brannelly says he estimates it would be "at least another year" before the A380s would have the television product. The Panasonic deal only covers the 777s as of now.

Emirates have 115 Boeing 777s today, and a plan for how many aircraft will actually be retrofitted with the new services is yet to be determined. This is because some of the 777 fleet will be retired by the time they would be scheduled to receive the retrofits.

Emirates has about 98 aircraft outfitted with inflight phone service, says Brannelly, with eight supporting GPRS/EDGE data. Thirty-two aircraft have wi-fi, made up of 31 A380s and the Boeing 777 that has the Panasonic connectivity installed.