The inflight entertainment and connectivity RFP process is evolving, with increasingly savvy airlines realizing “they don’t need a fully integrated RFP and can shop for the best option for the different layers”. So says SITAONAIR VP of strategy Dominique El Bez in a wide-ranging interview with Runway Girl Network, during which he also revealed that the Aireon space-based ADS-B service is exceeding expectations during testing.
“You still have some RFPs with IFEC together, but what I tend to think is we see more and more maturity out there and I think that airlines have started realizing you don’t need to blend the two together to have a good solution. We’re seeing RFPs from airlines asking [solely] for a wireless Internet service provider on board,” he says.
El Bez stresses, however, that, “It’s not everywhere. I think it requires a certain level of maturity for airlines, but we start seeing that and it’s very encouraging. And it means the market is entering a different maturity level. And I would say that will force every actor to be ‘best of breed’ in every competence they select as their prime business.”
Not unlike Gogo, which has had to fight passenger perception that Gogo means “slow-go” or “no-go” as its air-to-ground (ATG) service became capacity constrained, SITAONAIR has been the subject of unfavorable reviews as its Inmarsat SwiftBroadband-supported Internet service failed to deliver the speeds expected by the modern traveler. But as Inmarsat’s broadband Global Xpress service has started to roll out, SITAONAIR has a new spring in its step as a GX service provider.
The “Ku versus Ka” debate “created a certain level of confusion” amongst airlines, suggests El Bez. But that confusion “has dissipated to a certain aspect and people are moving much more into a certain action and I think [now that] GX is a reality, it is something that people can see and touch now … and experience, and that is making a difference.”
As RGN has suggested in the past, some customers of SITAONAIR’s light cabin connectivity – linefit offerable across Airbus types – will opt to simply upgrade to GX for the cabin, whilst using the SwiftBroadband channels for other tasks. For instance, certain operators will decide to effectively redirect the channels to the cockpit to power real-time electronic flight bag applications like rich weather data. Some will employ SwiftBroadband for cabin crew applications, so that attendants can better interact with passengers, and offer an improved #PaxEx. Applications which are not safety related can leverage “the existing connectivity” as long as security is respected, notes El Bez.
Other carriers will formally upgrade to the SwiftBroadband-Safety solution on the flight deck, which will require new hardware (available in the second half of 2018). SITAONAIR is among the service providers for SwiftBroadband-Safety as well.
Given that the firm can support nose-to-tail connectivity (cockpit comms and safety services in the cockpit, and cabin connectivity), is SITAONAIR seeing RFPs requesting nose-to-tail responses? Reveals El Bez: “If you ask me whether I’ve seen an RFP from one airline that covers nose-to-tail … my answer would be no with an exception of one recently. It’s not really an RFP, it’s more an airline that understood our vision and said, ‘since I need both, I want both from you.’ When we talk RFPs, there is still certain silos in airlines in terms of initiating projects and purchasing decisions, because the cockpit is a different owner than the cabin and the business case is different. So we don’t see RFPs for both.”
At the same time, SITAONAIR – which is owned by members of the air transport industry – has started adding airlines that nonetheless trust them for cockpit and cabin connectivity, as they opt to offer the different services in phases. “Someone did cockpit, then passengers, then cabin crew,” says El Bez.
He adds, “That’s really exciting because our vision is not to come [with] a big bang approach. Our vision needs to … have a nose to tail vision and implementing it in phases.”
Naturally, RGN asked SITAONAIR about industry consolidation, given that even some financial services firms have started weighing in on who might serve as good suitors in the market. “Longer term, we believe ENT [Global Eagle] will be a strategic acquisition for the likes of Panasonic, SES, Rockwell Collins or Inmarsat,” suggested Northland Capital Markets in a recently published note.
Says El Bez: “Consolidation is part of the economic cycle. I’m not surprised to see it in the industry and as soon as you do consolidate, it opens doors for new airlines to come in … Airlines should care about sustainability of the model where some players are drastically losing money. I think you don’t need to have a PhD in economics to know that if a company is losing money for too long, it can be a risk.
“What I care about is my customers – these airlines investing into something that is expected to have a long lifetime and we are talking about a service that is sensitive, because it is about connecting an aircraft. We are not talking about buying something in the shop down the street. We are talking about flying assets and for me it is very important [that] the airlines watch out carefully some of the players and their financial stability and health.”
If providers “want to keep [the] same service level, and same quality and ability to invest in the future”, they need a viable economic model, he adds.
- Aireon space-based ADS-B tracking exceeding SITAONAIR expectations
- Airlines now ordering aircraft with Global Xpress connectivity
- Sitaonair fights for position in rapidly changing landscape
- Consolidation is hot topic again as inflight connectivity matures
- Consolidation seen as inevitable for inflight connectivity industry
- In restructuring connectivity unit SITA makes lofty ambitions clear