Cathay aims for IFC critical mass, narrowbodies and new portal

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As Cathay Pacific progresses in its Gogo 2Ku installation, the airline is looking ahead to the next steps in its inflight connectivity strategy: selecting a provider for its Cathay Dragon narrowbodies, harmonizing the portal across all providers, enabling full-journey packages, and being able to adjust pricing.

The airline has Panasonic Ku-band connectivity on all its Airbus A350 aircraft, and is currently in the early stages of rolling out Gogo 2Ku to the remaining widebody fleet, Vivian Lo, general manager customer experience and design, told Runway Girl Network in a meeting at the airline’s Cathay City headquarters.

“We are 12 aircraft in [with] the Boeing 777-300ERs, and we plan to implement that [2Ku] for the rest of the 777s and A330s as well. So far, the performance has been very strong. We’re quite pleased with it. We’re looking to have critical mass for our longhaul fleet for the end of 2019, and critical mass for our widebody fleet by the end of 2020.”

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Critical mass for Cathay Pacific in this case is 50% of the fleet, while the widebody fleet also includes the twin-aisle aircraft operated by Cathay Dragon, Lo confirmed.

“We are still working on the decision about our narrowbody fleet, which is Cathay Dragon. The 777s, classics as well as the -ERs, and the A330s. Obviously the intention is to have full fleet, and by the time you have full fleet there’s a lot more you can do in terms of monthly passes, daily passes, transit passes, etc. That’s where we would really like to be, ultimately.”

Lo was not aware that Cathay has experienced any of the the radome issues suffered by other Gogo customers. “Not that I know of. So far in terms of the 12 777-300ERs that we’ve had, the experience has been very steady and reliable, and has been meeting the service standard we set with them. Generally, the stability has been quite good.”

As the rollout continues, Cathay Pacific is turning its attention to a combined portal across the Panasonic and Gogo (and a possible third provider for the narrowbody aircraft). The airline is presently looking at the case for such a move, and is looking to choose a provider to build it.

“That provider could be either one of the two incumbent service providers or a third party,” Lo said. “But the appetite for the wifi provider to want to do that is still a question mark. We’ll see how it goes.”

A key objective for the network carrier is to enable connecting flight packages.

Right now, the overall operation is totally with that particular provider, so it is a Panasonic operation using a Panasonic portal, Panasonic account, and then Gogo. Right now there’s no integration between the two platforms. You can’t even use your loyalty number to sign in.

When you have a harmonized portal, that’s the aim. It could be that, in the interim, if that takes too long, you can harmonize the individual portals so it looks more the same, but then the passing of the codes between the two systems would be a bit difficult, so it’s not something we can do right now. We are really putting a lot of hope on the harmonized portal.

Indeed, noted Lo, “most airlines are now in the priority of trying to harmonize between different portals internally, building to a future that can potentially work across alliances. For us, our immediate priority is to get our two systems to talk, but there are ongoing discussions both in terms of oneworld and in terms of the APEX organization to see how we can go beyond the individual airline.”

The portal, together with new commercial agreements with service providers, will allow Cathay Pacific to start changing its pricing, which is currently priced by flight, incentivizing passengers on the longest flights rather than shorter ones given that the per-hour pricing of a flat sub-US$20-per-flight rate effectively drops every extra hour travelers fly.

“In terms of the A350 we don’t see the full potential yet because we also have roaming,” Lo said. “The Hong Kong [mobile phone network] providers provide very cheap data roaming passes for the flight, so that’s competition there. We should in time see better overall uplift in terms of the data usage.”

As for the take rate that Cathay is seeing, “we are still in early stages. Obviously the longer haul it is the more popular … It also depends whether it is a day flight versus a night flight. We think we will be able to see a much bigger step change once we get to critical mass. Right now because we only have it in some aircraft, the A350s and twelve of the 777-300ERs, it’s still growing and getting increasingly popular.”

Cathay Pacific provided flights to enable this interview.

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