Under pressure from airline customers to provide factory-fit broadband Internet systems on narrowbody aircraft, Boeing and Airbus have each made headway in expanding connectivity options on their 737 and A320 workhorses, respectively.
The latest to bolster its offerings Boeing today announced that Global Eagle Entertainment’s Ku-band satellite-supported ‘Airconnect’ system is now catalog offerable on new 737s, meaning airlines can order the twinjets with the option of including Airconnect – complete with antenna and radome – on their 737s prior to delivery.
Global Eagle becomes the second provider of broadband connectivity to the 737; Panasonic Avionics’ Ku-band eXConnect system is already linefit offerable. Indeed, the two companies even share a customer in Transaero, which to date has been retrofitting Global Eagle’s Ku system to its 737s, but accepting delivery of new 737 aircraft factory-fit with Panasonic’s system.
“We believe offerability directly from Boeing is a key differentiator among our customers, and will drive future orders and customer wins for Global Eagle. It provides airlines that are expanding their fleets or replacing aircraft with another reason to choose our leading system as they plan future orders and installations,” says Global Eagle CEO Dave Davis.
Global Eagle – whose customers also include 737 operators Southwest Airlines, Norwegian and Nok Air, plus new customer flydubai – expects the first 737s to roll off the line with its Airconnect system by the end of first quarter 2016, company chief commercial officer Wale Adepoju tells RGN.
Across the pond, Airbus has been slower to incorporate new broadband connectivity systems into A320 assembly, but the airframer recently named Zodiac Inflight Innovations (Zii) as Buyer Furnished Equipment (BFE) for what it is calling the “Airbus High Bandwidth Connectivity solution” on the A320 and other types.
Airbus favors Inmarsat’s forthcoming Global Xpress (GX) Ka broadband service for its new “HBC”, just as it previously favored Inmarsat’s low bandwidth, L-band-supported SwiftBroadband service for connectivity across its portfolio of aircraft. Part of the appeal is the near global nature of SwiftBroadband and GX, when the latter is available.
In selecting Zii as the BFE “point person” for GX on the A320 as well as the A330 and A380, Airbus “is reacting to airline interest; that’s what they care about,” says Leo Mondale, president Inmarsat Aviation. “They’re announcing they have a provision for BFE GX on [nearly] every aircraft in their catalog. They’ve [previously] announced you can get GX connectivity as part of the Thales IFE offering [on the A350] and we expect that to be widely available as well.”
But the deal done here – and it was insisted upon by Airbus and Zodiac – is strictly unbundled, and not tied to any IFE offering. “If you want GX, you’ll tick the BFE GX box in your purchase with Airbus and you’ll be under a BFE regime and will have automatic terms and conditions [associated with BFE],” notes Mondale.
Rival Ku connectivity providers expect to ultimately crack into the A320 catalog, including Panasonic Avionics, whose Ku system is already linefit offerable on the A380 and A350 (the latter as part of a bundled IFE solution). Company VP Global Communications Services David Bruner tells RGN that Airbus is “going to have multiple [solutions], and as it came to the A320, somebody thought this might have made more sense to start with a different provider [Zii and GX]”.
In the end, Airbus and Boeing’s move to improve the connectivity options available to their narrowbody customers is good news for passengers, as it means they’ll have a greater likelihood of boarding a plane with inflight Internet.