Thales inks deal with airline to install complete in-flight connectivity suite

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Thales has reached agreement with a "very significant" airline covering installation of its TopConnect in-flight connectivity suite comprising such cabin applications as Wi-fi, VoIP (voice over internet protocol), GSM and in-flight entertainment (IFE) web portal connectivity.

"The connectivity solution we will be putting on this aircraft for this airline will be a complete connectivity suite, not just GSM, not just Wi-fi, not just connected applications for the IFE, but the combination of it all on a total Thales systems solution and on an airframe where connectivity hasn't been prevalent," Thales head of in-flight entertainment systems Alan Pellegrini told ATI and Flightglobal today during a press event to showcase the manufacturer's new connectivity demonstration area at its Crawley, UK facility.

"So I think it's going to be first in a first in a couple of areas and really serve as the pinnacle or the example of what can be done [with in-flight connectivity]. So whereas the industry and the airlines today have done what they can with elements of connectivity, this will, I think, bring it together and I think be an excellent example for all airlines on what they can do with connectivity on any aircraft platform."

Details of the arrangement are expected to be revealed in May at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg.

The deal underscores that a growing market exists for connected IFE, according to Thales. "More and more airlines are coming to us asking for this capability, because they want to set themselves apart from the competition and vastly improve the in-flight experience for their passengers," says Pellegrini. Applications that support social media networking via Twitter and FaceBook, for example, can be offered over the IFE system.

Oman Air, a customer of Thales' i5000 IFE platform and OnAir's SwiftBroadband-based 'Mobile OnAir' and "Internet OnAir' solutions, is already deploying connected IFE applications, reveals the Thales executive.

TopConnect combines Thales' TopFlight satcom with core avionics to provide cockpit voice and data, and cabin connectivity, and is supported by Inmarsat's SwiftBroadband aeronautical service.

SwiftBroadband, which is operated over L-band satellites and offers two channels of up to 432 kbps, is "foundational to our current strategy", says Pellegrini. "We think it's the right entry point for airlines today and for the foreseeable future."

Down the road, however, Thales believes Ka-based in-flight connectivity will also gain traction. The firm believes Ka "will leapfrog Ku" and will be the solution that will "augment" what the firm is doing with L-band, says Pellegrini.

Thales, meanwhile, has opened the doors to its new Crawley-based in-flight connectivity suite in order to give airlines a taste of what to expect from its SwiftBroadband-supported solutions. "The demonstration area is not only to showcase a growing number of connectivity applications and capabilities but also to allow airlines to use the area to work with business partners and customer focus groups to refine the connected experience in a live environment using real systems," says Thales.

"These include revenue generation or differentiation opportunities, such as real-time validation of passenger credit cards to protect against fraud, or real-time "connected IFE" applications such as alerting ground personnel of passenger needs, providing live news updates, seat back email, SMS and duty free shopping."