Panasonic cites difficulty in securing Airbus line-fit approval for eXPhone

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Industry stakeholders have begun questioning why Airbus - part-owner of in-flight mobile communications provider OnAir - has not made rival connectivity provider AeroMobile's system line-fit offerable on any aircraft in the European airframer's portfolio, including the A380.

AeroMobile, a joint venture between Arinc and Telenor, currently supports GSM voice telephone and SMS text messaging services using Inmarsat's "Classic" L-band satellite system, and GPRS mobile data using Inmarsat's Swift64 aeronautical service.

Panasonic Avionics is a primary distributor of AeroMobile hardware, and offers it to airlines under the brand eXPhone as part of its suite of connectivity solutions, which also includes the Ku-band-based eXConnect high-speed connectivity system.

But the in-flight entertainment (IFE) giant reveals it is having difficulty receiving line-fit offerability for both eXphone and eXConnect despite several airline customer requests. "Panasonic is working hard with Airbus to try to work through these issues for the sake of the customers," says Panasonic Avionics vice-president, global communications services David Bruner.

Bruner declines to divulge specific details about the challenges faced in securing offerability for eXPhone on Airbus' A320, A330, A380 and upcoming A350 aircraft. However, sources with knowledge of the situation claim Airbus is offering only one option - OnAir - to airlines that want Inmarsat-supported mobile connectivity on new Airbus aircraft.

A joint venture between Airbus and SITA, OnAir offers airborne connectivity over Inmarsat's higher-bandwidth SwiftBroadband solution. The company is EASA certified for A320 line-fit and retrofit and Boeing 737 retrofit. Irish operator RyanAir is one of OnAir's high-profile customers, and is quickly equipping its 737-800s with the service.

OnAir expects to increase its number of aircraft certifications during the year and is prioritizing aircraft types in line with its customer list. Oman Air's launch of OnAir services, for example, is targeted for November on the carrier's new A330s in line with OnAir's certification on the type.

To date, all Airbus aircraft equipped with AeroMobile's services, including a substantial sum of Emirates' widebodies, have been equipped through retrofit.

Sources allege that at least one battle is being fought by an unidentified A380 operator, whose request for Panasonic's suite of connectivity solutions, including eXPhone, is being met with difficulty.

For its part, Inmarsat is maintaining a position of neutrality. "From Inmarsat's perspective we operate a technology neutral system and our responsibilities cover the satellites and defining operation to a common standard over those satellites. Inmarsat deals with all partners neutrally and has no involvement in specific implementations other than providing technical and related support as requested," says Inmarsat aeronautical business director David Coiley.

Airbus could not be immediately reached for comment.