Saudia explains decision to go Panasonic eXO and BYOD on A320s

HAMBURG — Saudi Arabian Airlines is splitting its regional aircraft inflight entertainment types with premium cabins on 30 Airbus A320 aircraft to receive Panasonic Avionics’ eXO system, providing 13.3” HD monitors, and economy class fitted with overhead HD screens. Wireless streaming will be offered throughout.

Speaking to Runway Girl Network’s Mary Kirby, Seth Miller, Jason Rabinowitz and John Walton in Hamburg, Saudia director general Saleh Al Jasser confirmed that eXO “will start entering into our fleet by later this year and next year.”

Panasonic characterises eXO as its popular X-series inflight entertainment system, seen on many widebodies, moving into the single aisle market. Saudia’s Al Jasser “needed a solution that was incredibly flexible and delivered a true HD cinema experience. The ability to configure a unique entertainment experience in each cabin class is what made eXO an easy decision for our airline.”

The Panasonic buy comes in the middle of a strategy shift for Saudia, which has recently introduced a stack of new aircraft while its new hub at Jeddah nears the end of its long construction.

“Saudia is going through a major expansion and transformation program and we are improving our products and offerings,” Al Jasser explained to RGN. “We have been dealing with Panasonic for many years in the past and now we are coming together again and looking forward to expanding our relationship with them in the future. We looked at Panasonic products and we found them to be some of the best on the market. We are looking forward to a great customer experience at this point.”

“Saudi Airlines is a premium airline, and we are working hard on improving the quality of experience and consistency of experience by upgrading our products and offerings, and the services on board — the latest seats and configurations, latest entertainment and connectivity systems,” Al Jasser noted. “We are also looking at high speed connectivity. We are looking at all suppliers and comparing the products in terms of offerings, and in terms of economics, and we are looking forward to dealing with the best suppliers, like Panasonic.”

“We are working on upgrading our fleet, opening new destinations and also we need to work on communicating with the international customers,” Al Jasser concluded, explaining Saudia plans to do that by expanding its focus on local and Arabic media into “international media on international media on international levels.”

Saudia’s current customer strategy may well need to adapt in order to reach new international customers.

“We segment our main market into four distinct segments: premium traffic, domestic, religious traffic, and the labour market. We try to create for different products and different offerings for all these, four distinct segments. Some of these segments are distinct customer segments, but they share the same requirements. So we unify products for some of these segments.”

As part of the shorthaul aspect of Saudia’s strategy, the A320 aircraft with eXO “will be based in the Kingdom of course. Our main base is in Jeddah. We also fly out of Riyadh and other Saudi cities,” Al Jasser said. The aircraft will be flying “domestically and regionally, so on average less than three hours.”

In terms of content selection, it will be “very wide,” Al Jasser said. “There is the Bollywood and the Arabic content, and audio, video, games, and maps. Some of it is local content, but we also have the international content as well — Hollywood and bollywood productions.”

Interestingly, Al Jasser noted that Saudia passengers tend to go to for Hollywood and Bollywood blockbusters over the regionally sourced content from the Middle East.

Saudia’s new hub at “Jeddah Airport is progressing. In construction there have been some delays but currently the official expected date for offering is the middle of 2017. When this terminal is open it will be a major lead forward for the customer experience and the aviation industry in Saudi Arabia. Of course the capacity — having all airlines, domestic and international access, with very easy movement between different airlines in one terminal — will make the experience much easier. And it will provide excellant space for retail experience and for different lounges,” Al Jasser said.

That retail experience will customized for the Saudi cultural context, though not perhaps as much as some international observers might think. “You know, there is not much difference in terms of retail in Saudi Arabia compared to any other country, we all have all the big malls and all the products that you would see in any other country, so it’s almost the same experience.”

There will not, however, be alcohol sales in duty free. “Definitely not!” Al Jasser said with a smile when RGN asked.