Boeing, Airbus bolster inflight connectivity options on narrowbodies

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.

Kontron now Banner_Avionics-300x300Global 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.

5 Comments

    • Mary Kirby
      Author

      Yes. It has forged agreements with multiple Ku-band satellite operators to stitch together near global coverage (there are still a few holes in the coverage map, but the lion’s share of airline routes are covered). In contrast, Inmarsat is a single operator of both L-band and Ka-band satellites. L-band’s coverage is global except for the poles, and GX will have similar coverage once the third GX satellite successfully launches (the launch is delayed due to problems with the Proton rocket).

  1. eton

    Any idea why boeing would choose Panasonic and GEE but not 2ku, considering 2ku is the most efficient solutions for airlines?

    • Mary Kirby
      Author

      A few reasons:

      1) 2Ku is a much newer design, and Gogo hasn’t yet received type certification for it on a commercial aircraft (initial testing has, however, begun on Gogo’s 737 flying testbed aircraft).
      2) The Panasonic and GEE Ku connectivity systems that have been made catalog offerable on the 737 are traditional designs that more easily slot into what’s called the ARINC 791 standard. Here is a general breakdown of what that standard means. http://www.flightglobal.com/blogs/runway-girl/2011/10/the-dl-on-the-791-yo/
      3) Gogo is working to ensure 2Ku ultimately fits the ARINC 791 standard but 2Ku is understood to require a few more tweaks before it’s ready (as it is decidedly not a traditional design, something Gogo bills as an advantage).
      4) Linefit offerability is granted to a connectivity system after enough airline customers – or a big enough airline customer – pressures the airframer to install at the factory. For example, it would be logical to assume that Delta is pressing Airbus to install 2Ku on its A350 XWBs so that the carrier does not need to install the system via post-delivery retrofit modification. Here’s another backgrounder on offerability that might be of assistance: http://www.flightglobal.com/blogs/runway-girl/2011/08/want-to-be-linefit-bring-cash/