UK low-fare carrier set to prefer analogue ACARS to digital solution used by Southwest

EasyJet is within weeks of a commitment to equip its new Airbus A319s with an air-ground datalinking capability.

The UK airline will follow its US low-cost peers JetBlue and Southwest Airlines in adopting datalinking, but is set to opt for the analogue airborne communications addressing and reporting system (ACARS) rather than the digital system that Southwest uses. Sources close to the contest say EasyJet has excluded the VDL-4 option offered by Com4 Solutions and is assessing offers from ACARS service providers Arinc and Sita.

Both have worked to persuade EasyJet to sign for datalinking amid scepticism that the system yields adequate benefits for airlines with primarily point-to-point networks.

The VDL-4 concept has recently suffered a setback after Airbus and Boeing publicly, and controversially, declared that they did not intend to support it on their aircraft due to cost and safety concerns over the on-board fit and, in Airbus's case, Com4's ability to provide a "dependable" service.

An EasyJet programme official says only: "There has been no decision on datalink-type issues, but we are keeping a close watch on developments in that area."

Sources among the bidders, however, say the airline is looking at equipping only its new Airbus A319s and not its Boeing 737s, starting with the six A319s due to enter service at its Geneva base in September.

Arinc, which is determined to expand its datalinking market share in Europe from 20% to 50%, is said to be competing aggressively on price and, unusually, is offering EasyJet a flat monthly fee per aircraft - said to be as low as €400 ($460) - instead of the normal combination of monthly fees and rates per message or data bit.

"EasyJet is a key European airline," says Arinc corporate vice-president European operations, Graham Lake, "and we are willing to adapt our charging mechanism to whatever works best for them."

Source: Flight International