European airlines are quickly warming to the idea that they’ll soon have the option to equip short- and medium-haul aircraft operating within the continent with terrestrial-based inflight connectivity, when Inmarsat rolls out its hybrid air-to-ground (ATG)/S-band offering. British Airways was the first carrier to express plans for fitting aircraft with this solution, and now Lufthansa has signaled its intent as well, after issuing a request for proposals last year.
Though a timeframe for equipage of “terrestrially-supported” inflight Wi-Fi is still unclear, Lufthansa VP of the Americas Jurgen Siebenrock assures, “It is planned and decided and being rolled out.”
Speaking more broadly about seeing connectivity as a necessity, Siebenrock adds, “I think, looking at what’s happening in the US with Wi-Fi and on other airlines, sooner or later you have to offer something like that. It’s just part of the offering. Commercially, I think there is a lot of opportunity there, you can do a lot of other things [operationally]. To be competitive you need Wi-Fi.”
Siebenrock says Lufthansa is happy with the Ku-band satellite-supported inflight connectivity service it gets from Panasonic Avionics on its long-haul fleet. “We’re happy with the service you get; you will always find one or the other glitch, but overall it works well. My highlight was, last year during the World Cup, I saw a match live, in-flight, when Germany played somebody.”
Though a satellite operator “with ‘sat’ in our name”, Inmarsat Aviation president Leo Mondale tells RGN, “Deep down we do technology assessment and analysis and we try to do the appropriate technology for the mission in the market. And what you learn focusing on the aviation requirement is that if you have a certain traffic density and you have enough spectrum, air-to-ground outperforms satellite. If you’ve got a lot of airplanes together around hubs, or in heavy route areas, satellite can only get so much energy into so small an area. It took a degree of soul searching there that was not trivial but the facts are the facts.”
Asked if any provisions are being made to ensure carriers in Ireland and England can offer continuous ATG/S-band connectivity from their respective countries to continental Europe (buoys in the ocean, anyone?), an Inmarsat spokesman says, “All we can say at the moment is it will consist of a satellite network complemented by ground components.”
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Additional reporting by Mary Kirby