Lufthansa nears completion of Wi-Fi installs on long-haul fleet


HAMBURG: It’s no secret that Lufthansa believes the Wi-Fi equipage of its entire long-haul fleet is a high priority. But thanks to a relentless program of both linefit and retrofit system installations, Europe’s largest carrier is nearly there, reveals Aage Duenhaupt, director of group communications for the German carrier.

Asked how close the airline is to reaching its target of equipping 100% of its long-haul fleet, Duenhaupt replied, “I would say we are now above 90%; the A380s have been the last part of the cycle.”

A former Connexion by Boeing customer Lufthansa in 2009 tapped Panasonic Avionics instead of ViaSat as its partner for both reinstating Ku-band connectivity on CBB-equipped aircraft and equipping the rest of its long-haul fleet with Panasonic’s Ku connectivity system. But the carrier has generally remained tight-lipped about timelines for product delivery.

Some news articles dating back to 2011 – when the number of A380s in the carrier’s fleet could still be counted on one hand – tell us that Lufthansa execs knew even then that A380 would be the last aircraft type to get the eXConnect broadband suite, branded ‘FlyNet’. Having the system linefit at the Airbus factory was not an option at that time and it was still unclear which firm would get the STC for A380 retrofit installations of the eXConnect system.

Now however, both of those points are moot. Panasonic’s Ku-band aeronautical connectivity solution is available as a linefit option from Airbus and Lufthansa Technik holds the STC for aftermarket fittings: rather convenient for Lufthansa, and a coup for Panasonic, which fought for years to break into Airbus’ catalogues and ultimately convinced the airframer to offer eXConnect on the Airbus A350 XWB and then the A380.

Within the next eight to nine months Lufthansa’s full A380 fleet should be FlyNet ready, says Duenhaupt. In fact, passengers can already connect to the service on three of the airline’s 12 super-jumbos. Two A380s delivered this year (‘Hamburg’ and ‘Düsseldorf’) were linefit equipped with the connectivity solution at Airbus, where they also became the first of Lufthansa’s A380s to carry the new all Business Class upper-deck.

The third FlyNet-equipped A380 was the first of its type to see the system and new Business Class installed via retrofit modification. That aircraft was very recently picked up from Lufthansa Technik, where it spent the better part of a month. “The downtime is about 20-28 days for retrofitting the complete new business class and installing FlyNet,” Duenhaupt said. “It takes a certain time.”

The second A380 to see the Business Class and connectivity upgrades via retrofit is now taking its turn in the Lufthansa Technik hangar. The remaining will follow on a very tight schedule, as detailed here.

Though this major dual retrofit of 10 of the world’s largest passenger aircraft is costing Lufthansa approximately USD 1 billion (not to mention up to nine combined months of aircraft downtime), it is something that the airline sees as absolutely necessary to meet its customers’ expectation of consistent service across its network.

Lufthansa is not the only A380 operator in line to introduce Panasonic’s eXConnect offering. The queue is rather long and at least one other MRO is understood to have picked up a subcontract for aftermarket system integration.

Though Duenhaupt couldn’t speak to Lufthansa Technik’s specific strategy in this matter (or offer information about the possibility of other subcontracts), he did say that when the jobs pile up, subcontracting is certainly a preferable solution to turning them away. “If the market demand for a certain period becomes so high that you do not have the resources to complete it all, then you can send engineers, the STC and the ‘tools’ to another facility and supervise the installation by another company,” he said. “For us it is not a problem.”

Lufthansa previously signaled an intent to offer connectivity on its short- and medium-haul fleet, but it has yet to make a decision. It goes without saying that the integrated ATG/satellite solution announced by Inmarsat last week could give Lufthansa pause. After all, the carrier is rolling out its own Lufthansa Systems wireless IFE solution on narrowbodies; maybe IFE will serve as a stopgap to connectivity for the airline. But for how long?

(Photo above courtesy of @HAM_Aviation)