FARNBOROUGH: Thomson aims to be first 787 operator with connectivity

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Thomson Airways aims to become the first carrier in the world to offer in-flight connectivity on the Boeing 787.

The UK carrier, which will launch 787 operations in January 2012, is in the process of executing a final agreement with an undisclosed service provider to offer in-flight mobile connectivity and wi-fi throughout the aircraft.

Panasonic Avionics has been tapped to provide the "HD standard", seat-back-embedded in-flight entertainment for Thomson's 787s. The IFE giant is also understood to be offering the connectivity solution for Thomson. However, Thomson has not yet confirmed its choice of service provider, saying only that an announcement is imminent.

"We intend to be the first carrier to offer broadband access on the 787. At the moment, Boeing and the supplier are saying that's what we'll be able to achieve," says Mark German, head of aircraft management for TUI Travel, part of Thomson parent TUI Group, which holds a standing order for 13 787-8s. Eight 787s are destined for Thomson.

While Thomson wants its holiday travellers to be able to stay connected in-flight, its primary reason for bringing connectivity to the 787 is to achieve operational and technical efficiencies, such as real-time health monitoring.

The connected environment is "imperative" for Thomson to have "ongoing knowledge of aircraft systems so we can give customers a more reliable service", says German, adding that Thomson has turned the business case for connectivity "on its head" by focusing first on operational gains from connectivity, and second on cabin connectivity.

Thomson is not the only carrier hoping to garner the distinction of being the first to offer connectivity on the 787. Qatar Airways recently signed a sweeping deal with Thales for IFE and connectivity on its 787s. Qatar hopes to offer the service before the end of 2011.

German: turning the connectivity business case "on its head"