(Clarifies that Korean Air will be deciding on what kind of connectivity options it will consider but will not be deciding on a supplier by year-end.)

Nearly four years after Korean Air's in-flight high-speed Internet service was switched off by provider Boeing, the carrier is studying its options for bringing airborne communications to passengers and expects to make its position clear by year-end.

Korean previously offered Boeing's Connexion connectivity service on 29 aircraft, a mixture of Boeing 747s and 777s that were fitted with Ku-band satellite antenna systems manufactured by the Mitsubishi Electric Company (MELCO).

All MELCO antennas have since been removed from the widebodies "because of the drag and weight issue", says Korean general manager of passenger marketing development Y. H. Lee.

However, Korean is again looking to offer in-flight connectivity to passengers, he says. "In-flight connectivity will be the next step to fulfil the need to keep connected with family, friends, and work. We currently are comparing both Internet and in-flight mobile phone connectivity. We have to make sure the system is reliable and has a life cycle of satellite communication for at least 10 years. We plan to make our position clear regarding connectivity by the end of this year."

In 2007, Korean made a very large commitment for in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems with Thales, and has since expanded its order. At present, the carrier is operating 20 aircraft with Thales' new TopSeries system.

"We already have six line-fit 777-300ERs out of 12; seven retrofitted 777-200ERs out of nine; three retrofitted 777-300s out of four; three [Airbus] A330-300s retrofitted out of 16; and a brand new A330-200EN, the first of six," says Lee. "We will have 110 aircraft equipped throughout with AVOD [audio/video on demand] systems including Panasonic 3000i and eX2 by the end of 2015."

Thales' in-flight connectivity strategy focuses on Inmarsat's SwiftBroadband aeronautical service. However, the firm is eyeing opportunities for potentially offering Ka-band satellite-based in-flight connectivity in the future following Inmarsat's recent announcement that it is entering the Ka market.

Panasonic, on the other hand, has centred its connectivity strategy on a Ku-band business model to fill the void left by Connexion. The manufacturer has secured several deals for its Ku-band offering eXConnect, including with Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news