United 787 will get connectivity this summer

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Boeing will roll out the first 787s with linefit connectivity this summer, with installations on both the 787-8 and 787-9 occurring simultaneously, Runway Girl Network can reveal.

Boeing manager connectivity R. Stephen Call says the US airframer is working on the 787-8 and 787-9 “in parallel”, and both will “roll off the flight line with connectivity” this summer. “We already have a Qatar customer with connectivity and United is down the line for this summer,” says Call.

Qatar Airways’ 787s are currently fitted with Thales’ TopConnect hardware and OnAir service – operated over Inmarsat’s L-band-based SwiftBroadband – during post-delivery retrofit modifications at Boeing CAS. But these will start to be fitted at the factory by Boeing.

United’s 787s, meanwhile, are poised to be fitted at the factory with Panasonic Avionics’ Ku-band satellite-supported eXConnect broadband connectivity solution – representing the first installation of Ku on the 787.

Call adds that Boeing has already developed the antenna radome that will house the large Ku-band antennas on the 787 and is currently “developing the radome to support future Ka offerings”.

Delivery of Ka-band radomes, which will house Honeywell antennas and support Inmarsat’s Global Xpress service, is expected in the “2015 timeframe”, says Call. Development work on the radome is being carried out with an unnamed partner. The process of designing and developing the 787 radome is “a similar process to all our aircraft”, notes Call.

Heightened scrutiny of antenna radome bird strike testing by the US FAA will not affect the design of the 787 radome, according to Boeing senior manager cabin systems and connectivity Sean Sullivan. “We’ve built bird strikes into the design so we’re leading the industry in that functionality. All our models have taken this into account from day one,” says Sullivan.

Boeing also plans to “roll more connectivity into the 737 [MAX]”, says Call, and will “work closely with the industry and airlines”, which will “drive our decisions”.

Adds Sullivan: “Boeing has built a very flexible approach to in-flight entertainment and connectivity. We make our offerings based on market demand. It’s about offering a lot of flexibility and letting airlines make a choice.”

Another customer of the 787-8 and the 787-9, Norwegian, has made known its interest in bringing Wi-Fi to 787 passengers. The carrier already offers Ku-band connectivity provided by Global Eagle Entertainment unit Row 44 on its 737 fleet. But Global Eagle must wait for specs from Boeing and gain supplemental type certification for its system on the 787 before beginning any retrofits. Row 44 is also eager to gain linefit offerability, such as that enjoyed by Panasonic and Thales.

“We’re up for playing the game, and moving the ball down the field. We fully expect to be in the game,” says a Row 44 spokeswoman.

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